As we embark on another year, faced with growing dismal news about the economy and the prospects for employment, it may be worth reflecting on how universities like ours i.e. UDSM, SUA and the mushrooming private ones such as St. Augustine, Kairuki, Tumaini etc., can play their part in the forthcoming economic downturn which currently is terrorizing developed nations such as USA, France, Japan, Germany and UK. Are these shocks not going to affect Tanzania?
Indeed, President Kikwete’s end of the year speech, followed by recent remarks on current and future economic challenges by the Governor of the BOT, make one think critically on the role of higher education in the future economy of Tanzania.
Around the world universities are seen as agents of economic change and not simply providers of education and training. Inevitably, contrary views are beginning to emerge about the role of education in this state of affairs. In the circumstances we should be expecting our influential leaders to be talking about re-skilling for unexpected shock.
I would like to call for a shift of emphasis away from up-skilling towards re-skilling. In my view the difference between these two words is important; the former assumes that the real challenge is to raise skill levels as the current market warrants; the latter stresses the consequences of providing alternative skill sets for those who may be facing unemployment. Universities are engaged in both forms of skilling. Primarily, they help individuals to enhance their skills. But they also offer a wide range of courses or provide opportunities for individuals to change direction.
The irony is that if the reported decision to provide loans to individuals is correct, then this is the way forward. But if this isn’t correct then a bit of rethinking has to take place. Of course, I do understand that any policy takes time to take root and to deliver benefits.
In this situation where the right skills are needed for the right jobs, are the employers in the private sector in Tanzania prepared to engineer co-funding of courses? Or when are we going to have training commissioned by employers? I believe this can help to provide the kind of graduates the market needs.