Across Africa’s higher education sector there is an awareness that the fourth industrial revolution is here. Educators now have a tremendous responsibility to prepare the people and organisations of the continent for a time of rapid change.
It can be argued that in the time of Industry 4.0 the stakes are higher in Africa than anywhere else in the world. Africa’s economic development has been accelerated by an ability to harness technology to leapfrog developmental steps in multiple industries. However, in a continent where many places have never seen the benefits of Industry 3.0, there is a danger of many being left behind as the demands of industry no longer match the skills available in the workforce.
Technology has the power to uplift millions of Africa. Similarly, it carries the threat of leaving millions more unemployed and locked out of the global economy.
How is the higher education sector preparing young Africans for an uncertain future? And how can Africa ensure it remains globally relevant in the fourth industrial revolution?
“The rate of change means there is going to be huge disruption in multiple industries; higher education is just one of them. The real challenge of our time is to start experimenting now rather than waiting for a complete set of mature technologies and then deploy them.
What we have done most obviously is to reform and think through the curriculum with respect to technology and how it is going to change the professional disciplines. If you go to our computer science or software engineering programmes, there are new courses we have developed in this regard. However, even if you are to go to traditional programmes which you would not see as technologically grounded such as journalism then you would also see huge curriculum reform introducing people to social media, to new forms of distribution, to discussions on the new ethical boundaries we would need to think through.
It is important as we go forward in this new era to not create a new form of inequality in which poor people get online education and rich people get face to face education. That is not what we want to create, we want to create a much more complex and nuanced delivery of educational possibilities. Some people might start online and then move to face-to-face and use all of these possibilities in a complex structure. That is something we will be moving towards in the next twenty to thirty years and that is something we should be experimenting on now. We are one of the few who are at the cutting edge of that experimentation.”
“It all starts with leadership.
To be successful in the time of the fourth industrial revolution organisations must be able to adapt, be able to innovate, and able to collaborate. This is very important; it all comes down to leadership.
We phrase it as collaboratist leadership. Collaboratist leadership is super transformational leadership. That is what we need in organisations for Industry 4.0
By far the most important things in Industry 4.0 are trust and support. We call it trustworthy support, and this includes integrity, competence, consistency, and openness.
Openness is required from leaders for teams to share ideas and information freely when you collaborate.
Integrity is required from leaders, and this is extremely important as this is where ethics come in.
If you do not have leaders on board who are honest you are going to have problems. They need very good judgement in handling new situations, which is where consistency comes in.
We live now in the time of innovation. The key to this time is collaborative innovation. The collaboratist leader must encourage innovation and must encourage teamwork.
The problem we have is that our students come back to us after they have returned to work and tell us there are serious problems. When they try to implement these wonderful ideas they have learned around Industry 4.0, leadership, changing supply chains and governance there is resistance from the top.
This mindset is the problem. We need to get rid of the old paradigms. If we do not have leaders that can adapt then we are going to be in big trouble.
It seems some leaders are almost scared of Industry 4.0. We can only correct this situation through education.“
“The fourth industrial revolution will be all about interconnecting processes, industries, and institutions through new technology.
Bearing in mind that there is a global reduction in higher institution funding, it is prudent to use technology to utilise resources efficiently.
African institutions of higher learning have a duty to create spaces that foster ideation, innovation, and incubation of ideas that will develop into technological solutions.“
“How do we work with business to confront and navigate major technological disruption?
How do we do that in a continent where we can’t assume that the demands and challenges of the third industrial revolution have already been met?
If we are not alert to the way that technology is being rolled out globally, then in Africa we will find ourselves only being consumers of these technologies. That would represent a missed opportunity to be part of the global value chains that are associated with actually producing and delivering these technologies.
You can’t set up an insolated think tank to deal with this. You need to embed it across curricula. This is hard in institutions where academia is seen as having the answers, I think the role of academia is to ensure that we are asking absolutely the right questions and to be working towards finding those answers.”
Prof. Nicola Kleyn, Dean of Gordon Institute of Business Science University of Pretoria. South Africa.
“We must not try to emulate or copy what is practised in economically advantaged parts of the world. If we follow behind Western institutions like Cambridge, Oxford, and famous French Universities we will be in trouble. Copying those institutions means we will always be behind them. I have seen this copycat model of education in South East Asia as well, where they copy the education system in places like Finland. This model just doesn’t work because everything is different, the funding, the geographical location, and the perception of education.
African regions must turn the education system on its head and confidently create their versions of higher education. Sadly our education system is based on what happened in ancient Greece and Rome. We have to revolutionise it in a way that takes stock of Africa’s challenges and opportunities. In Africa, we have developed an appetite for E-learning. E-learning can be quite useful except I am not a fan of it. I am a big advocate of deep learning which involves face to face learning. This way of learning in my view is more effective than e-learning.
Africa also needs to confront the gender disparities that exist. On this island, for instance, we didn’t see a lot of female representation as far as the candidature. We, therefore, need to push for more female representation in leadership, education, and in the workplace. If we get it right, Africa can be a leader by doing things differently.
Mauritius has already put this in motion through its free higher education programme. This is better than the system in most of the UK where families have to go deep into debt for children through higher education. Education needs to be democratised and seen as a right and not a commodity, just like this island has done. We must be wary of post-colonial opportunists who come to Africa to make money by offering watered-down education. These postcolonial opportunists often offer an education that is of lesser quality than what is being offered by poorly funded local schools. There is, therefore, a need to curb this mentality of education being a commodity. We must also stop seeing foreign students as cash cows. I will make it a priority to ensure that foreign students who come to this institution are charged the same as the locals.
A good spotlight on education is great because it is the most important thing on the planet. If we are conscious of what is going on and how it affects us, we can change the planet. The public perception of education in Africa right now provides an opportunity for Africa to be a leader in education. This is because Africa will do things her own way and I will be delighted to be part of that.“
Dr Keith Robert Thomas, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Technology Mauritius
“The fourth industrial revolution is upon us and a lot of industries will be disrupted. This digital economy will enable someone sitting in Chad to sell a pair of shoes to someone in Guatemala. To get to that point, we must do a lot to improve our connectivity infrastructure. I feel that Africa is the laboratory of the digital economy because it is very advanced when it comes to digital transactions.
Africa can, therefore, handle the changes that will come thanks to the fourth industrial revolution. Western models are not necessarily tailored for African economies. We feel like we are supposed to run our organisations, and our education the way the west does it. We have to realise that our economic structure is completely different. We have to educate people in a way that suits our needs.
Educating our people in our own way does not mean that we veer away from global standards. We must stay updated and competitive. Globalisation will help a great deal with that. This is because our people will have access to education from other sources. This way they will not have to just depend on local educational offerings to get ahead. Students will be able to expound on what they already know and learn what the local system may be late to teach.
Education will look very different in the future. People will be able to monetise any skills through the internet. Someone in the Ivory Coast who makes shoes will be able to sell them to someone in Poland, for instance. Payment products like the one we have at Wari will facilitate these transactions. This globalisation will essentially wipe out borders. There will be no Africa, China, or Europe because we will be able to trade skills, information, and products. People in Lagos, for instance, will be able to source for skill in Europe if they can’t find it locally.“
Kabirou Mbodje, CEO of Wari. Senegal.
“Our primary focus now can be described as ensuring better preparation for the future and for the digital world.
This will encompass everything from renewable energy to dealing with data sciences for business to internationalisation.
Obviously, renewable energy is very important for a country like Morocco which doesn’t have a lot of oil and the energy that we produce is expensive. With solar, biomass, and wind power we can save the planet, save the environment and save the economy as well.”
Prof. Driss Ouaouicha, Vice-Chancellor of Al Akhawayn University. Morroco.
“Innovation is at the centre of our goals. The University should not be considered the centre of our work, innovation is at the centre and the University is a partner in developing innovation. This is an important mindset shift.
We are working with a significant number of companies to build our business capital and jointly develop research.
The mindset is all about opening up the University and not being in that ivory tower. It is about opening the university to industry and opening the university to the community.“
“Collaboration is the key to the future of our University and our country.
Our role at present is to create an intellectual atmosphere within the country and attract companies to join us in building this atmosphere. Now is the time for Unisey to start building capacity for the country as well as the region by creating research that contributes to the main pillars of our economy – tourism, hospitality, blue economy, environment and financial sector.”
Our major strategic goal is making Unisey a national project and building connections both locally and internationally. As an institution that is only 10 years old, we need partners to grow. We need to educate people on the critical role we will play for the future of our nation. It is crucial to spark a conversation amongst businessman, educators and policy-makers as to why they need to fully support this university. Together we can build the local knowledge within the country and make higher education accessible to a larger group of people.”
Dr Justin Valentin, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Seychelles
“Technical universities in South Africa do not focus on research. In my opinion, innovation and research should be at the core of universities providing technical education.
The main focus is to put the knowledge into use. We are not interested in essays and paragraphs, but in results. Our strategy is based on the traditional slogan “publish or perish.” We use an improved version known as “collaborate or collapse.”
Being a new-generation university, we have less resources as compared to well-established Universities. We are moving towards the quadruple helix approach. This approach will help establish a meaningful interaction between the government, universities, private sector, and our communities. A real, strategic, and vibrant collaboration between these entities is required.”
There is an acceptance that industry leaders and universities must work together to find solutions and prepare for change.
Now more than ever before, industry is opening up to us and we are opening up to industry. We need to engage with industry captains and find ways how we can have our Ph.D. students embedded in their organisations. We wish to have industry leaders attend our seminars and be involved in our projects and policy briefs in order for us to conduct research relevant to the private sector.
We must help industry build their staff and research capabilities and we are actively pursuing new partnerships at present. We use our faculty and our alumni to connect with industry. We have a dedicated team to engage with policy response teams so we are able to have an immediate response to any issues that come up in the corporate world.
Professor Justice Nyigmah Bawole, Dean of the University of Ghana Business School.
“Any perception that African universities and organisations are completely unprepared for the future is inaccurate.
I think the world doesn’t know about the knowledge and new inventions that are being generated in Africa and we can only blame ourselves for that. If you look at that new knowledge creation from the public and some private institutions in South Africa, I firmly believe that South Africa is making a significant contribution to the world.”
I believe there are indeed great initiatives in Africa and it is in our hands to show to the rest of the world that we are on par and that there are many unique pockets of excellence in which we are competing and in some cases doing better than the rest of the world.”
Professor Henk de Jager, Central University of Technology, Free State. South Africa.
“There is now a debate around the place business schools have in the world.
Business schools have had a hard time due to a popular misconception that they only serve the agenda of businesses and pursuing profits. African business schools have come to realise that their role is much bigger than just reproducing knowledge and people for the world of work. They also have to add value, therefore it is important for business schools to theorise the role of business and then the role of business schools in their space.
The role of business is a social justice role. Business is the applied economy and all of us participate in economic life. Business must serve toward the prosperity of human beings. Once we understand that, then we can train individuals to become the citizens our world needs.“
Dr Randall Jonas, Nelson Mandela University Business School. South Africa.
“The fourth industrial revolution will built upon disruption. Technological advancements will also play a huge role. The biggest disrupter though is Africa’s bulging young population.
Africa is currently seeing a youth bulge similar to the one that was seen in Asia back in the eighties and nineties. We have millions of youth below the age of twenty-five. These youth have needs and aspirations, and we are struggling to meet them. Business schools are trying to figure out what these youth should be learning, and what credentials they need to impact their economies. If African institutions of higher learning fail to draw effective curriculums for the twenty-first century, our relevance will be in question.“
Dr. Ahmed Shaikh, Managing Director, Regent Business School. South Africa.
“Education is going to be massively disrupted by the rate at which industries are changing. People are going to have to retool constantly after they enter the job market. In the past, you could work a job in your area of training without much need for diversification of skills. Things are vastly different today because industries are continuously demanding new skills. The new skills being demanded are, most of the time, quite different from a professional’s area of training.
Our institution works very closely with Ghanaian industries in several ways. First, we ensure industry involvement in your curriculum design and review processes.
We constantly survey industry to follow up on how our students are doing in their internship and permanent placement jobs. The feedback we get from interns and alumni in corporate Ghana is used to inspire changes in our curriculum where necessary. Our institution keeps up with how automation is changing our industries. There has been a lot of fear that automation may kill jobs. What we may not realise is that automation may lead to the rise of jobs we don’t know of yet.
It would do us good to worry less about automation, and instead focus on research. This research has to be relevant to our situation so that our industries flourish.“
Mr Patrick Awuah, Founder and President, Ashesi University. Ghana.
“We need a radical shift to keep up with changing technologies in this era of the fourth industrial revolution.
Often, when it comes to technology in Africa, we find ourselves in the back seat. We must react much quicker in the face of changing technologies, especially where production is concerned.
This reaction will have to be spurred by policies both at the institutional and government level. In our case, institutional policies are often guided by government policies. This works against us at times because government policies are often behind the curve. Our local regulators, for instance, want to revise our curriculum every five years. This is problematic because we all know that industries are changing at a much faster rate than that. We want to be able to keep up by making changes way sooner.
The fourth industrial revolution is upon us at a time when Africa has an enormous youth bulge. We have to respond to the economic needs of our youth by encouraging innovation and entrepreneurship. We have made those two topics compulsory here at the International University of Management in Namibia, at least for the first two years into all student programmes. Students then decide whether to continue on that path or not.
However, even as we make efforts to adjust accordingly in the face of the fourth industrial revolution, we must remember that some things will always remain as they are. We will always need food and shelter, so our innovations and research must centre these two key areas. We must emphasise the need for smart farming in rural areas and research ways to improve housing for our people.“
Prof. Kingo Mchombu, Vice-Chancellor, International University of Management Namibia.
“The type of education we currently have, which emphasises theory over practice, has failed Africa. We have to adopt a brand of education that will help us industrialise through technical and vocational training. Founder of the World Economic Forum Klaus Schwab once said that talent will be the capital of tomorrow. His words speak to the fact that technical and vocational universities will play a major role in skill acquisition on this continent.
African higher education institutions need to present themselves as resourceful. We should come across as partners in development as opposed to institutions that are charity cases. When we come up with solutions to the problems in our communities, we will easily attract funding both from international well-wishers and local industry.
I want the Cape Coast Technical University to be seen as an innovative university, a university that takes innovative approaches and does not just stick to the traditional ways of doing things. We also want to build the image of an entrepreneurial university that produces builders of the economy who will have an impact at the local, national and international levels.“
Ing. Prof.Joshua Danso Owusu Sekyere, Cape Coast Technical University. Ghana.
“In the age of the fourth industrial revolution, there is a rapid evolution when it comes to skills required. As a university, we have to start teaching data science as a new area. I bet that will change in the next two years and we will be required to upgrade that.
Most universities will struggle to keep up with these swift changes in skill demand. We will then become institutions that teach the basic principles and fundamentals of new areas. I foresee new institutions belonging to the private sector that will then be formed to carry out rapid skill transference. Good examples of collaborations with individual institutions for the imparting of skills are Udemy and Udacity. I foresee a parallel education system outside the traditional universities, that will come in and train on fast-changing specializations.
The higher education system in Africa will face significant disruption because of two factors. One will be the push factor. Africa is set to have the youngest working population in the world in decades to come. Analysts have predicted that the rest of the world will have to go to Africa for human capital and skills since we will have a large working-age population. This youth bulge will push institutions of higher learning to invest in better programs, better technology, and relevant skills. The second factor will be the pull factor. Africa’s higher education institutions have no option but to adopt new technologies and deliver quality programs if they are to pull students into their schools. Failure to adapt to the changing environment will render them irrelevant.
The earlier we recognize this and change the way we teach and conduct research, the better for our survival as institutions.
We want to have a robust research focus as an institution that will be propelled by our PhD program. We are looking into artificial intelligence technology as well as computer science. Our research focus is not just limited to the P.H.D level; our bachelor’s programs also form a basis for research.
We also need to attract private sector institutions to invest in our research projects, just like it happens in the developed world. We can do this by providing a value proposition that will ensure a symbiotic relationship.“