• Oct 09, 2021 . 7 min Read
  • The next generation of high education: What can we do?

The next generation of high education: What can we do?
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By Alicon Auf Tumwebaze

The most important question of this century in the education circles of the underdeveloped world is certainly still an issue of if and when. It has neither been probably answered, rightly stated nor answered by the right people.

This question is whether the education systems in these parts of the world are designed to solve the pervasive cross-generational socio-economics handicaps. By the end of the year 2020, most rudimentary predictions around the world on covid19 were suggesting that 2021 was purely ordained to be a year of recovery –until when things turned out to be different. It is almost two years down and the pandemic still looms over, and as usual Africa suffers most socioeconomically.

Apart from the health, of course, the other most hit sector is education –with a blurred future and an atmosphere of hopelessness on whether things can ever be the same again. Taking a look at education, especially higher education, the storm seems to be in its primary stages with an unpredictable prognosis in the next five to ten years.

The current state of gambling by the majority of our education institutions communicates a previous state of pseudo flamboyance in a calm sea with no underlying concrete strategies in case of a crisis.

Many universities in the early quarter of 2020 were quick at laying off their employees just after the closure of education institutions by the government. This was enough to send a wave of doubt to the public of some of these institutions with many questions left unanswered. Ideally, universities and other related higher education institutions cannot survive on students’ tuition alone.

There should be a lot more resources that keep them afloat, otherwise, the traditional beacon of academia cannot be sustained with peanuts save if the whole economy is doomed.

Nonetheless, there is a ray of hope as closure of education institutions continues and higher education grapples with continuing students to complete academic years. It has indeed been crisis management situation and I can comfortably state that only the frugal rather than the strong will survive this wave.

Moving forward, higher education institutions should utilise this long spell of uncertainty to replenish their strategic planning processes as they prepare and plan for a seemingly neutralised corona world.

This is similar to a fallow period in agriculture where cultivation is terminated for some time to let the land gain more fertility. However, farmers will use this period to plan and prepare for the next season. Higher education stakeholders in Uganda ought to use this period to plan and prepare for a realistic contextual and geo-economically compatible education that is beneficial to our needs as a country.

There has been too much commercialisation of higher education hence rendering graduates unemployed and unproductive in many sectors. This is even worsened by the incompetence and lack of basic skills even in the so-called STEM disciplines that have been known for economic development. In 2005 the National Council for Higher Education in Uganda conducted a tracer study survey and some of the findings indicate that only 49% of degree holders found their training relevant to the skills needed on the job and employers suggested that institutions of higher learning should emphasise hands-on training, computer skills, ethics, communication, leadership, and interpersonal skills.

It will be very unfortunate when the resumption of business is just a mere old wine in new bottles, despite what we have witnessed during these two years of lockdown, social distancing, and hand washing.

The pandemic has been a good eye-opener for us to realise that after all we may not be underdeveloped like contemporary neo-colonial economics has forced us to believe, but that we may be just derailed and only need to be redirected.

You see the concept of development in nation-building is just as old as post World War II, before that the most commonly used was social change. Development in the case of economic and social development simply means the improvement in the well-being and quality of life of any society.

On the other hand social change, a term that has been around since the times of Rome and Greece implied mainly continuous progress of society and this became fundamental in the 19th Century. August Comte in his laws of 3 argues that societies’ progress from theological stage of mainly religion, metaphysical of abstract speculative thinking, and positivist of empirically-based scientific theories.

Most colonised nations of the world were denied this metamorphic opportunity because the first and foremost initiative of colonialism was replacing the knowledge systems of the colonised in the name of a better system. Professor Vinay Lal calls this “the conquest of knowledge”, where by even after the departure of the coloniser, the colonised remained colonised. The colonised were therefore denied the progressive opportunity of social change as elucidated by the likes of Comte and other philosophers.

Wolfgang Sachs concludes that the idea of development today stands like a ruin in the intellectual landscape accompanied by delusion and disappointment, failures and crimes hence concluding that it has failed. We can change our lives without necessarily copying and pasting ideas from the developed world, but by manipulating and contextualising these ideas to fit in our circumstantial socio-economic connotations given our capacity, resource base and geographical advantages.

Neo-colonial capitalistic and highly Eurocentric education and literature has coerced us into believing the hegemonic stratification of our world in terms of levels of development, where we have the least developed, developing, and developed countries. The least developed and developing countries are always trying to do what developed countries did to get where they are and this is how they have gone wrong for decades.

The lockdown has created a crisis of opportunity for strategic education planners and awakened the pseudo comfort zoners. Fast track Adjustment to the economic and social changes is going to be the next course of action for most institutions of higher learning. Why institutions of higher learning?

It is institutions of higher learning because they have at least remained to some extent independent of the authoritarian underlying caveated policies and principles of nation state-building. For instance, in Uganda, nation-state building has influenced historical literature, curriculum, and the entire lower education although higher education is still somehow safe.

There is a need for an education system that is needs-based and hence approaches the challenges of our time with the most important idealistic questions. Ideally, it is no longer a problem of only the right answers anymore, but also the right questions.

Therefore; (1) there is urgent need for successful strategic planning and preparation, and after which institutions will inevitably have to acknowledge that opportunities lie in appreciating the fact that this maybe the only time available for us to revamp our higher education if we are to produce a productive graduate.

(2) The revamp should stem right from the policy level and that is the Ministry of Education and Sports through of course the National Council for Higher education given its role of supervision and monitoring of higher education standards.

(3) Then adopting sustainable approaches of operation is right now the only guarantee that higher education institutions can offer to the public if they are to win back their trust. These approaches may not only be in line with continuity during a crisis but also guarantee that programmes offered are an antecedent to productive and employable graduates hence a formidable alumnus.

(4) That aspects of research, expertise, and vocational identity plus community outreach which are also objectives of a contemporary university, are not compromised too. There is therefore enough time to plan and prepare an overhaul or revamp of the system that shall dominate the institution’s successive strategic plans for the future.

If reliable institutional strategies are adopted and implemented, they will mark the beginning of an academic revolution geared towards Uganda’s socio-economic transformation. Therefore, is it the strategic curriculum review? Or the comprehensive systems check and upgrade? Or the partnerships, collaboration with other universities, organisations, agencies both domestically and internationally?

Or the strategic needs-based concurrent training within higher learning environments? Additionally, is it about endowments that can be key financial stabilisers so that the institution can comfortably engage in research and community outreach.

It could be that answering all those questions and more that is needed, as long as the answers are directed towards solving the unemployment and production challenge of the country.  These will be some of the smart moves made by prepared institutions after the pandemic.

It is now evident that many education institutions were caught off guard by the pandemic post-outbreak prevention measures, implying that their sustainable planning was wanting or non-existent.

Many scholars agree that sustainability and sustainable development is only possible if it engages the social, economic, cultural, ecological and political factors interactively. However, it takes strategic management for an organisation to reliably implement sustainable development objectives and reap out of them. Organisations like universities have continuously pursued multiple objectives that are sometimes unconnected and in worst case scenarios end up conflicting hence rendering them victims of crisis situations like the covid19 pandemic.

Organisations can no longer deny that strategic management is now a key resonate of sustainable development and in the case of higher learning institutions, we are talking about improved academic-administrative innovations, processes and structures aimed at producing a competent productive graduate.

The writer is a lecturer of Islamic University in Uganda and Higher Education Consultant

aliconauf@gmail.com

aliconauf@uobg.edu.so

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