PART of the reason why graduates lack the skills businesses are looking for, academicians say, is because the private sector is often reluctant to accept students for industrial attachment.
Speaking on the first day of the Academia-Private Sector Partnership Forum 2013 at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre, various speakers expressed concern over the lack of cooperation by some organisations when it comes to offering students internship opportunities despite the fact there have been persistent complaints from the private sector that the graduates churned out in the region lack the necessary skills to drive East African economies.
"We sometimes have to beg private organisations to offer our students opportunities for field industrial attachments," said Dr Tombola Gustave, Vice Rector for Academics at the Rwanda Tourism University College.
The reasons for this problem, the forum heard, includes fear of leaking company secrets and financial commitment. Uganda's Madhvani Group was praised as being one of the companies with an excellent arrangement for assisting students benefit from industrial attachment.
Failure by the private sector to cooperate with the academia in developing the human capacity needed by East African countries is bound to derail both social and economic development efforts in the region.
"Human capital is our greatest asset and we must utilise it if we are to realise our development agenda," said Prof Keto Mshigeni, the Vice Chancellor of Hubert Kairuki Memorial University in Dar es Salaam during his keynote presentation at the forum.
Ongoing efforts to bridge the academia and the private sector through public sector engagement were applauded by more than 200 participants. Some of the key areas of partnership, the forum noted, include research, science and technology, development of new technologies and innovations.
This will translate into mutual benefit for both sectors. There is need to cooperate in the area of curriculum development so that students are provided with an education that will enable them contribute to both social and economic development, the forum heard.
Close collaboration between the academia and the private sector is called for in developing university curriculums. What could be taught at university could include content that meets the common good of both sectors.
The private sector was encouraged to contribute to funding so as to transform the region into a knowledgebased economy. Funding of higher education will lead to expansion of tertiary education resulting in increased enrolment.
Funding in infrastructure development, research and innovations, construction of facilities such as lecture theatres and hostels were noted as key areas requiring more financial injection.
A bold move was suggested to have academicians experience how the industrial sector operates was also proposed. Many university lecturers do not have hands-on experience in what they teach.
"There is need to have a programme where academicians join students in the industries and the staff at industries join the university to teach for specific durations of time," said Prof Ratemo Michieka, chairman of the Kenyatta University Council.
This, he said, will boost an exchange of skills and knowledge between the academia and the private sector.