GFAR blog

On vocational approach in university education: Is it the way to go?


The loyal non-critical civil servants that the university was set up to provide to the colonial administration and subsequently to the new independent state is no longer in demand. So, the design of higher education in Africa is increasingly out of sync with the labor market demands. Is it high time that universities considered a more vocational approach to their undergraduate education. Universities must find ways to enabled academic theory with practical experience. Review of curriculum with complete involvement of employers is mandatory to fix these disjunctions. Inclusion of employers’ demands in the review such as training of graduates on hard skills/practical knowledge relevant to work environment, Agribusiness and good communication skills is mandatory for all agricultural related graduates to ensure production of graduates who meet the job market demands. Finally, employers must be involved in delivery of the curricula (Onyango et al., 2017). RUFORUM has already suggested ways that this could be done at the universities, and it is envisaged as a key thrust in its Vision 2030 agenda. Employers should also be consulted and functional partnership forged between universities and TVETs institutions, and others interesting in skilling the growing youth population in the continent.

In the late eighties and early nineties, when note was made about the deteriorating quality of undergraduates, efforts were made to review curricula. However, due to the massive uptake of students in the past decades the deterioration in quality of graduates has continued. New terminologies to describe graduate quality were coined: half-baked; incompetent, unemployable; and the like.  The low quality was invariably explained as inability of the graduates to apply themselves and their theoretical knowledge to practical problems commonly encountered in the work place. This inability has been occasioned by increase in class sizes, and deterioration in practical laboratory training and funding for field classes as well as limited quality enhancement mechanisms. Underlying problems include inadequate emphasis on effective and relevant tertiary agricultural training and an inability to attract the best students into agriculture (Dramé-Yayé et al., 2011).

The response has since the 80’s predominantly been to try to enhance the practical component of the curricula. Mainly through prolonged attachment, and demand that students implement a project and a write a report on it.  This has proven insufficient and has failed to address the root of the problems which were class size and deterioration of physical and human infrastructure do to dwindling finance for higher education. So, on one hand we have a deteriorating quality of education producing an ever-increasing number of unemployable young undergraduates. On the other hand, we have globalization of the job market and a growing private sector that demands a work force having specific skills to remain competitive. Graduates must possess relevant vocational skills and competen­cies to meet current and future developments demand (Seth et al., 2016), passive theoretical knowledge is not in demand. Talking with the growing private sector in Africa reveals their frustration. Despite an increasing number of university graduates they still have to import skilled workers to meet their demands and quality criteria.

Read the full post on the RUFORUM blog here

Blog post by: Prof Raphael G Wahome and Dr. Carl ES Larsen

Photo credit: RUFORUM

This post is the fifth issue in a series of articles released as part of the RUFORUM AGM Digests. Click here to access previous issues. You can get more details about the meeting at


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