World Higher Education Conference: Why we need higher technical skills development for youth


UNESCO hosted the World Higher Education Conference 2022 from 18 to 20 May in Barcelona. Youth skills development, an essential element for youth empowerment, was highlighted during the conference with a round table themed “Youth Skills Development through Higher Technical Education in Africa”, held on 18 May.

The round table was held with the support of the China Funds-in-trust Project Phase III: Higher technical education in Africa for a technical and innovative workforce (CFITIII).

The discussion brought together key stakeholders in higher technical education in discussing the development of mutually beneficial partnerships that will enhance youth skills training through higher technical education. During the panel, particular attention was given to technological-driven solutions to skills training in higher technical education and the sharing of best practices in enhancing employability via university-industry collaboration.

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“It is urgent to equip the African youth with the right skills for employment. Education holds crucial answers to these challenges,” Ms. Maki Katsuno-Hayashikawa, Director of the Division for Education 2030 at UNESCO highlighted the challenge of youth unemployment that Africa faces and the significant role of youth skills training in addressing the issue.

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Ms. Yu Xiaoping, Counsellor for the Chinese Permanent Delegation to UNESCO, expressed her expectations on leveraging the CFIT project to support youth skills development, “It is our sincere hope that the CFIT project will facilitate the development of a competence-based, employment-oriented and flexible technical education model in Africa, and make a significant contribution to the educational, socioeconomic development of the project countries and the implementation of the 2030 sustainable development goals.”

Perspectives ranged from policy-makers, higher education institutions, and employers to youth. Panelists included Professor Oliver Sagna, Director of Studies and Cooperation at the Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Innovation in Senegal; Dr Dorothy Okello, Dean of the School of Engineering at Makerere University; Professor Ahmed Bawa, Chief Executive Officer Universities South Africa; Mr Nwangele Chukwuemeka Godwin, Rhodes Scholar at the University of Oxford.

Mr Nwangele shared his entrepreneurial journey and his thoughts on challenges facing higher technical education in Africa, highlighting the importance of leveraging innovation to empower the African youth and address local issues. “The idea of ensuring that every young person develops the skill to engage in entrepreneurial thinking is critical”, noted Professor Bawa, “The big question is how to ensure a direct articulation between what’s required in the labour market and what’s being done in our education.” Dr Okello pointed out that African universities aced in theoretical technical knowledge training but have been limited to conducting simulations due to the lack of equipment. The situation explains the importance of the academia-industry linkage, which offers the opportunity to go out to the field to acquire practical hands-on skills. To address the cross-party collaboration from the policy perspective, Professor Sagna elaborated initiatives in the Plan of Emerging Senegal aiming at professionalizing graduates and enhancing employability.

The round table agreed on the importance of harnessing ICTs in higher technical education to strengthen skills development, a powerful vehicle for youth empowerment and national growth. Tackling unemployment and underemployment in Africa doesn’t fall solely under the responsibility of universities. Supporting the youth in Africa to develop and upgrade their skills requires a joint effort of governments, higher education institutions, labour markets, and all other key stakeholders. Strong cooperating partnerships are pivotal to unlocking Africa’s youth potential and its bright future. As noted in her keynote speech by Dr Roberta Malee Bassett, Global Lead for Tertiary Education and Senior Education Specialist at the World Bank, “A collaborative environment is incredibly important, which requires more university-industry-government collaboration to make the employment eco-system more robust for youth and young graduates.”

“Empowering the youth through skills development in higher technical education is key to turning the challenges that Africa is facing into opportunities”, as concluded by Peter Wells, Chief of the Section of Higher Education at UNESCO in his closing remarks.