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Why skills growth may suffer in Africa with continuous closure of tertiary institutions – AFDB

Production of skilled manpower needed in Nigeria and indeed other countries in the Sub-Saharan region to compact the effect of Coronavirus pandemic may suffer with the closures of universities in Africa. A report by African Development Bank (AfDB) has revealed.

The report estimates inflation triggered by the pandemic will lead to a loss of 10 percent of a standard deviation on educational outcomes, adding that even a relatively short period of missed school has consequences for skills growth.

According to the report’s outlook on how countries in West Africa will cope with challenges for building higher education and labour skills in the foreseeable future, inflationary effects of COVID-19 are expected to decrease the number of students transitioning to tertiary education, with outcomes in science, technology, engineering and mathematics

The AfDB’s report on West Africa Economic Outlook: Coping with the COVID-19 pandemic, indicates that most countries in the region have less than 20 percent of tertiary graduates in Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields.

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“So far, there are indications that a severe skills mismatch and low human capital development in the region are likely to be worsened by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. At tertiary education level, only five out 13 countries Benin, Cape Verde, Ghana, Togo and Senegal have enrolment rates higher than the regional average of 12.6 percent, which is critically low by international standards” the report notes.

Furthermore, the reports have faulted universities in Nigeria and other West African countries for failing in the past to balance the academic and professional qualifications of graduates with the needs of the economy, with particular attention paid to graduate output in STEM fields.

“Priorities are given to legal training, marketing, project management, accounting, entrepreneurship, purchasing, and product management, all areas that are not of key concern to the industry,” the report states.

AfDB’s report indicates that although the demand for technology-based skills in West Africa is emerging, tertiary education in those areas is minimal. Subsequently, the potential new jobs that would emerge from skills in artificial intelligence, robotics, automation, digitisation and other fourth industrial revolution technological trends are missing in West African countries.

“What has emerged from the two studies is that most of the West African labour force suffers from massive under-education, as compared to other countries in the continent. West African countries in general have lower incidences of over-education in comparison to their counterparts. Under-skilling is more pervasive than over-skilling, an aspect that reflects the low quality of university education”, the report states.

While acknowledging that higher education in Nigeria and other West African countries are grossly underfunded, AfDB called on stakeholders during this time of COVID-19 to think about new strategies for provision of higher education. The pandemic could be used as a best test for the education technology interventions to improve on skills that are required in the job market.

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