Review University engineering curriculum

14Dec 2021
Gerald Kitabu
The Guardian
Review University engineering curriculum

ENGINEERS, academicians and researchers in Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) have raised serious debate on the role of engineering colleges and universities in training quality and qualified personnel that meet Africa’s employment needs.

Engineers, academicians and researchers attending a stakeholders meeting that debates the competence of latest graduate engineers in the market held in Dar es Salaam last week. Photo: Correspondent Gerald Kitabu.    

The STI stakeholders wondered whether graduates from colleges and universities on the continent have capacity to deliver on mega projects, industries and public service in terms of competence. They also questioned to what extent are the three major actors: the government which make policies and decide; academic training institutions; and the private sector, are they supporting the engineering ecosystem in line with global fast changing technologies.

These and other many questions stirred a heated debate with some of them calling on the academic communities, policy and decision makers in Africa to make sure that the training of engineers responds to actual demand of the employers in terms of quality, standard and numbers.

The stakeholders also advised that there is a need for engineering students and graduates to be placed on mega projects for a specific period of time so that they acquire experience and practical knowledge for employability.

Dr Bitrina Diyamett from Science and Technology and Innovation Policy Research Organization (STIPRO) said statistics from researchers indicate that Africa is producing far less engineers than it needs for social economic development. Dr Diyamett said that engineering practices play a crucial role in addressing development challenges by bringing innovative ideas into reality, hence contribute to the transformation of the industrial sector that triggers economic growth.

She said currently when the countries are aspiring for industrialization, there is increasing need for qualified engineering practitioners. However, most of the engineers in the region cannot be employed due to lack of quality and required standard.

“Teachers know this, parents know this and even policy makers know that these graduates cannot find employment because some of them can’t be employed which forces them to abandon the field and opt for other fields such as accountancy. There is a big problem here,” Dr Diyamett said.

She said that research carried out by STIPRO, has revealed that some engineering graduates have gone back to school hence leading to a mismatch between demand and supply of the professionals. “I device that there is need to make use of the research findings, to review the policies and make them evidence based. I call upon university community because are the ones who prepare the curriculum, and the broader national policies because the policy operate within the academia,” she noted.

Seconding Dr Diyamett’s observation, Project Coordinator for East and Southern Africa Higher Education Centres of Excellence Project, Dr Jonathan Mbwambo urged the university communities and governments to take advantage of the mega projects that are going on to expose engineering students to such investments so that they can acquire experience and gain knowledge on latest technologies.

Dr Mbwambo whose regional body is responsible for quality assurance in East and Southern Africa, explained that there are a lot of mega projects on the continent in which governments are investing huge sums of money.

“These projects are coming with not only finance but also knowledge and skills, so what we see is that there is a lot of potential for university students to learn from. We are challenging colleges and universities to bring these engineering students to the centre of implementation of these projects,” he advised.

“We believe also that these projects may be used as benchmarks changes to be made on our engineering curriculum. Instead of just changing the curriculum so that what is being learned can meet the expectations of the industry and match up with the needs of East and Southern Africa market,” he argued. 

He called on governments to continue investing in mega infrastructure projects saying if the investments match well with the curriculum, it will help higher learning institutions upgrade their training manuals to produce more employable graduates.

Former Vice Chancellor at Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology and Saint Joseph University, Professor Burton Mwamila urged the university communities and governments to urgently review engineering curriculum in order to meet latest market demand.

Citing an example, Prof Mwamila said China took deliberate efforts to train its engineering students at Europe universities which has resulted in improving the quality of curriculums and the engineering field, after returning home.

Prof Mwamila was backed by Makerere University’s Prof Henry Alinaitwe who added that the supply of engineers in Africa is very low hence, the need to produce more qualified and competent engineers for the continent is to develop rapidly.

“There are lapses in the quality of engineers produced in Africa due to inadequacies in the ecosystem. This can be improved upon if governments are committed just like China did,” Prof Alinaitwe recommended. He also suggested that there is need to have a minimum percentage of local engineers participating on mega projects even if the funding source is from external sources.         

“All engineers should be attached on such massive projects to gain knowledge and experience in a structured manner. This practical training scheme is necessary to mould fresh engineering graduates with work based skills that lead to registration and early retention in the profession,” he recommended.

The meeting was aimed at spurring national and regional debate on the relationship between theoretical engineering taught in higher learning institutions and job market needs as perceived by employers.