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“Out of touch”

by Floreana Miesen

In brief

Remote sensing lab at the Uiversity of Ghana

Remote sensing lab at the Uiversity of Ghana

Entrepreneurs are crucial for economic development. Higher education plays a key role in preparing young people for the challenges of running their own businesses. All too often, however, universities fail their students in this regard.
Edward Marfo Yiadom of the UCC concludes that universities and companies need to become aware of their respective roles and assume responsibility.

Getting the economy going is important for alleviating poverty. However, in some countries there are not enough young professionals who know how to run a business. Professor Rosemond Boohene from the University of Cape Coast UCC in Ghana worries that the focus of the local universities is often irrelevant to the country’s needs: “We expect universities to provide students with skills to solve eco­nomic problems.”

In Ghana, companies complain that they have to train university graduates themselves. “Often, the universities’ curriculum is out of touch with the real world and doesn’t meet the demands of the economic market,” Boohene claims. Education and industry should become partners, she suggests. For instance, higher education institutions should invite industry representatives as guest speakers, so students will get a more practical idea of topics taught in class.

Sub-Saharan Africa still faces a lack of small- and medium-size enterprises, although they are the motor of economy. Hartmut Ihne, president of the Bonn-Rhein-Sieg University of Applied Sciences BRSU in Germany, criticises that donor programmes have focussed too much on basic education. In his view, higher education is essential for development, and must serve countries as a tool for finding their own solutions.

Practical-oriented education is especially difficult when universities are far away from specific business sector, says Karen Hauff of Germany’s GIZ. At a conference held by UCC and BRSU near Bonn at the end of last year, Hauff advised universities to assess the economic potentials of their district, and to address specific needs in their curricula. Many students, more­over, shy from the risks of entrepreneurship. This is especially true of women. Ghanaian women tend to be less prepared to take risks due to cultural traditions, says Boohene. Indeed, female-owned firms are generally smaller than male-owned firms. Nonetheless, women entrepreneurs make important contributions to economic development see article next page.

Edward Marfo Yiadom of the UCC concludes that universities and companies need to become aware of their respective roles and assume responsibility: While higher education should serve to teach students to be knowledgeable and innovative, companies should provide the practical experience.