It is a global fact that investment in quality higher education and training, science technology and innovation propels industrialisation, modernisation and sustainable socio-economic development; and knowledge acquisition necessary for foresight planning and mitigation against global challenges such as climate change, associated food, water, energy insecurity and diseases. The role of universities in the generation of knowledge for driving the socio-economic transformation and modernisation of Africa and in particular Southern African Development Community (SADC), is more urgent now than ever before. The new global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and African Union Agenda 2063 present SADC countries with new opportunities to accelerate the development of human and institutional capacities in higher education, research and training in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) to take advantage of these new aspirations. The 17 development goals of the SDGs couched on People, Planet and Peace calls for a building productive capacity in addressing challenges of poverty, inequality, unsustainable production, environmental degradation, climate change and security. These are also key features of the ‘Common African Position (CAP) on the post-2015 development agenda and the SADC Industrialisation Strategy 2020. SADC Ministers responsible for Education and Training and Science Technology and Innovation at their joint meeting in June, 2018 in Durban, South Africa reiterated their support for investments in quality higher education, new scientific knowledge, creativity and innovation which are crucial to achieving robust economy in which different learners are thoroughly equipped to compete on the global market. The SDGs, in particular Goal 4 seeks to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all and to ensure equal access for all women and men to affordable quality technical, vocational and tertiary education, including university education by 2030.
Notwithstanding, higher education in SADC countries is faced with challenges of access, quality, relevance and management and governance, which impair competitiveness of graduates on the global market. Thus, the implementation of the Addis Convention which seeks to provide an enabling environment across Africa for the recognition of higher education qualifications such as certificates, diplomas, degrees and other academic qualifications thereby allowing for the mobility of learners, academics and workers across the continent is imperative. The Addis Convention also, encourages the sharing of resources and establishment of Centres of Excellence in the region that can enhance abilities of scholars and their students to produce quality research and collaborative teaching and learning programmes.
Realising the need to strengthen human and institutional capacity the African Union’s Science, Technology, Innovation Strategy for Africa (STISA) 2024, and Education and Training Strategy 2016 calls for revitalizing its higher education systems towards Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education which is key driving force for implementation of the Seven (7) Africa Aspirations 2023. And many African governments have affirmed their support for revitalising and refocusing higher education to produce innovative graduates in STEM fields since they produce and manage the knowledge that will give relevance to other institutions: governance, trade, defence, agriculture, health, finance, energy and diplomacy. Nonetheless, the SADC region has huge skills gaps in science and engineering to drive national development aspirations and the SADC Industrialisation agenda. For example, the recent National Critical Skills Audit, 2018 by the Ministry of Higher Education Science and Technology Development, Zimbabwe indicated a total -94% deficit in Natural and Applied Sciences, -97% in Engineering, -95% in Medical and Health Sciences and -18% in Applied Arts and Humanities and compared to 21% surplus in Commence and Business Cluster skills (of which Business Administration is oversubscribed by 320%). The imbalances in skills such as high proficiency in science and engineering, ICT, advanced electronics design and manufacturing, renewable energy, agriculture, pharmaceuticals and medicine, which are basic requisites for socioeconomic transformation, will certainly delay the aspirations of many SADC countries in harnessing the region’s massive human and natural resources for the future we want.
There is urgent need to bridge the skills gap through quality higher education in which educational and skills training institutions and industries work together to produce the requisite and future knowledge-based economies which can propel SADC’s competitiveness on the global markets. Investment in STEM and TVET skills are central to continuous growth, competitiveness and economic transformation which require sustained investments in new technologies and innovation in areas such as engineering, agriculture, clean energy, education and health.
It is against this background, that the UNESCO in partnership with the Government of Zimbabwe through its Ministry of Higher Education Science and Technology Development and SADC seeks to bring together Policy makers, Vice Chancellors and Deans of Education, Science Engineering and Technology Institutions, Development Partners, Private Sector Practitioners, Identified Youth Groups, SADC Secretariat and Development Partners to deliberate on the following:
What policies strategies are required to address the huge critical skills gap which are imperative for national development and regional industrialisation?
How can higher education institutions champion these implementation strategies with partners and what measure are needed to monitor the quality and effectiveness of various education and training programmes in responding to national and regional aspirations;
What joint actions and partnerships are necessary to accelerate higher education and STEM and Innovation for socioeconomic transformation and industrialisation of SADC?
This 1st SADC High-level Regional Conference of Vice Chancellors and Deans of Higher education seeks to provide the platform for policy makers, university leaders, academics, educators, researchers and private sector practitioners for exchange of ideas to address these questions among others and to forge strategic partnerships and synergies for joint collaboration, and to develop concrete action plan and framework for socio-economic transformation to accelerate the achievement of the SADC Industrialisation strategy and enhance global competiveness. …..