Southern Africa’s links to England, and aspirational ties to the United States, have lead to a situation where academic universities are regarded as the crème de la cream of higher learning, to the detriment of vocational and technical education.
This has lead to turmoil in the employability of graduates from the region’s education system, impacted on the development of entrepreneurs and dampened economic growth.
Yesterday, technical advisor to the Human Resource Development Council (HRDC), Roy du Pre, said the inordinate focus on academic universities had robbed SADC’s economies of greater competitiveness.
“For example, engineering drives the manufacturing and construction world, yet Oxford does not believe in engineering as an academic discipline and it insists that all that is needed is Mathematics and Science,” charged du Pre at the Botswana Tertiary Education Conference (BTEC).
“Unfortunately, the type of education that SADC countries have inherited does not foster a knowledge-based economy.”
The professor said the failure to prioritise and popularise technical and vocational education was directly linked to SADC’s lack of global competitiveness, and economic diversification, as resources largely remained the economic drivers.
He added that the latter part of the 20th century had witnessed a paradigm shift characterised by the rise of technical universities, technical colleges and vocational institutes the world over, with a focus on applied and practical skills.
Countries that took an early lead, and committed to technical and vocational education were sitting at the apex of global competitiveness.
“The competitive ranking of countries shows a strong correlation between economic growth on the one hand, and technological innovation and high-skills on the other,” said du Pre.
In Switzerland, which tops the world competitiveness rankings for 2014/15, the majority of high school students go the technical education route after Grade 9, before advancing to universities of applied sciences.
These are reported to produce highly skilled knowledge workers, du Pre said.
“The result is that Switzerland has for years had the highest per capita income in the world, mainly as sellers of knowledge and they are now in position one on the Global Competitiveness list,” he said.
“Technical and vocational education training should not be the step child. It shouldn’t be seen as the last choice when nothing else works.”
He added that a vibrant and dynamic vocational training sector in Botswana is critical in producing the kind of graduate with the right skills and knowledge to respond creatively to change.