There has been a sustained erroneous narrative that attempts to portray universities as pure instruments of economic development, implicitly meant to teach for the market. This is a dangerous path that need to be called out.
The Education ministry comes off as an entity with short-term objectives. Whereas it is necessary for universities to contribute to economic and technological development, such a role is not sufficient.
We equally need humane, critical and inquisitive minds that can foster our social fabric and promote innovation.
Confining students to the prevailing expectations of industry stifles innovation and creativity, effectively producing automatons that are rendered obsolete when expectations shift.
After independence, for instance, some people trained for the then available opportunities only to face harsh unemployment once the few positions were filled up.
Universities have a duty to prepare knowledge for the unpredictable future. They prepare graduates who will be adaptive and intellectually capable of ‘wagging’ the industry and not the other way round.
Who will reimagine prevailing solutions and make meaning out of their world. It was a pity to hear the good Professor talk of “certificates that can’t guarantee employment”.
In the current time and era, I do not know of any certificate that guarantees employment upon graduation.
Granted, unemployment will forever be with us. And for those lucky to secure a job, they may not always land positions that are in line with their training.
We have medical doctors working as journalists and teachers in banking. Industry shouldn’t expect ready-made products from universities but customise graduates into their preferred modes.
It’s good that some are already doing that under graduate trainee programmes.
Instead of summoning the universities’ leadership and lecturing them over shoddy degrees and ‘half-baked’ graduates, the ministry should establish why the institutions are not producing adaptive and innovative products.
You cannot expect good results from understaffed institutions and congested lecture halls, let alone persistent management crises.
Universities should remain institutions that foster education through creation of knowledge and incubation and dissemination of ideas.
They must, therefore, be enabled to perform this noble task. Students should not only be skilled through technical and professional courses but also equally equipped with essentials to render them adaptable to changing situations - a condition for lifelong learning.
Lastly, the humaneness aspect: why are we silent on the many well-trained professionals whose morals are down south? Don’t some accountants thieves? And some medics value money more than human life?
A society that views the role of higher education solely in the economic prism risks losing sight of the bigger picture.
History is replete with stories of great economies that were brought down overnight by a slight misunderstanding.
Those who care to know the true definition of a university will agree that it is more than just an engine of economic growth.
Mr Osabwa is a lecturer at Alupe University College, Busia, Kenya. [email protected]