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Post-Primary Education and Research


Improve the skills of young Africans through demand-driven technical and vocational skills development and better linkages between university education, research and business


Africa has experienced impressive improvements in primary school enrolment over the last ten years. Nevertheless, a substantial education deficit remains. Secondary and tertiary education enrolment rates in Africa are significantly lower than in any other region, with higher gender inequality than for basic education.

Understandably, the first priority has been to increase primary enrolment rates, which today stand at around 70 percent, with some gender inequality remaining. This increase has been achieved due to substantial increases in national budgets in Africa and support by development partners, including not least through the Education for All - Fast Track Initiative, an effective international partnership that fast-tracks and scales up investment in basic education. But much more must still be done to support primary education. The Education for All – Fast Track Initiative must be fully financed and extended to all eligible countries. Moreover, Africa still has much to achieve when it comes to school completion, quality standards and secondary enrolment. There is a need to make secondary education more relevant for the skills needs of the private sector where school leavers will seek employment. And there is a need to improve technical and vocational education to equip the labour force with the skills needed to drive productive economies. In most African countries, formal technical and vocational education is neglected: Less than 5 percent of secondary school students attend technical and vocational schools.

Graph: Enrolment ratio, Sub-Saharan Africa

The number of females enrolled in primary, secondary and tertiary education in Sub-Saharan Africa is lower than that of males.

Source: Education for All Global Monitoring Report, UNESCO (2008)

Technical and vocational skills development systems in Africa suffer from weak links with the job market as well as shortages of qualified staff and ill-adapted programmes. Very few countries emphasise skills development in rural communities and acknowledge the role of the informal economy, which is the largest employer and source of the majority of vocational learning in Africa. Most of the training provided in Sub-Saharan Africa is actually delivered through private providers in the informal sector.

Apprenticeship systems are predominant in many African countries

In Senegal, some 400,000 young people are in apprenticeships annually, compared to some 7,000 graduates from the formal vocational training centres; and up to 80 percent of skills development in Ghana is through the apprenticeship system.

Source: Africa Economic Outlook 2008.

For their part, African universities are not sufficiently geared to meet the needs of industry. Graduates often cannot find employment, while many small businesses lack staff with the education and skills needed to drive innovation. Essentially, the relationship between the demands of the private sector and what universities teach is too weak. However, studies show that when university graduates do business, they create more jobs than those without a university education. Nowhere are these deficiencies more critical than in agriculture, Africa’s dominant industry.

Graph: Technical and vocational education and training as a percentage of total secondary enrolment

Technical and vocational education constitutes a very low percentage of total secondary enrolment in Sub-Saharan Africa compared to other regions.

Source: OECD, African Economic Outlook (2008)

The potential of African universities to promote positive change in society needs to be enhanced. Universities have a particular responsibility for generating and diffusing knowledge into the economy and creating opportunities for innovation. They do that most effectively when they have strong links with research and business. However, achieving such links will require adjustments in the way that African universities function. They need to be engaged with private enterprise at all levels, including smallholders and firms in local and distant markets. By linking across agricultural value chains – locally, nationally and regionally – universities would be better able to educate entrepreneurs who can tap the enormous under-exploited potential of African agriculture for growth, job creation and poverty reduction. In doing so, they would also encourage youth and women to take up careers in agriculture and related industries.

The formidable ingenuity of Africans must be directed towards increasing agricultural production, which is only possible by closing the gap that currently exists between the yields farmers are getting and what the crops and livestock are capable of producing. This must be achieved in the face of an ageing and increasingly feminised farming sector, as youth and men migrate to the cities for better employment opportunities, and because of the challenges arising from climate change.

The Africa Commission calls for the following policy actions on education:

  • R20: Focus on and invest in post-primary education, better considering the requirements of the private sector, so Africa can become globally competitive.

  • R21: Enhance investment in secondary education, specifically within technical and vocational training and skills development for young women and men. The Africa Commission recommends the expansion of the Education for All - Fast Track Initiative to include post-primary education, including technical and vocational skills development as part of a comprehensive approach to education for all.

  • R22: African countries and regional organisations, supported by development partners, should invest in the creation of better linkages between university education, research and the private sector in agricultural development and value chains. Such an investment should be based on national and regional strategies and funded through African organisations, with particular emphasis on promoting innovation and gender equality.


The centrality of education to the development of Africa is beyond question. Education is a key part of strategies to improve individuals’ well-being and societies’ economic and social development; above all education must be capable of nurturing autonomous individuals that can contribute to the positive transformation of our communities

Mohamed Ibn Chambas, Member of the Africa Commission

The Initiative: Promoting Post-Primary Education and Research


In order to address the challenges related to the educational deficit, the Africa Commission will launch an initiative along two tracks. Track One will promote innovative ways to expand and promote technical and vocational skills development (TVSD) focusing on out-of-school youth; and Track Two will foster better links between higher education, research and businesses in sustainable agriculture.

Track One: Technical and vocational skills development will present innovative ways to expand vocational and technical training and education. This component will ensure the promotion of gender equality, e. g. by focusing on training that benefits women in particular and reduces the barriers to their access and involvement. The following interventions will be promoted:

  • Quality improvements in traditional apprenticeships: Based on workplace learning, the intervention will strengthen apprenticeships by introducing more struc tured institutional learning that results in a specific qualification. It will build on traditional apprenticeship systems as implemented in many African countries, both in the formal and informal economy. The initiative will also include the training of master craftspersons, involvement of business associations and labour market organisations, especially those representing the informal economy, and introduction of standardised contracts, certification etc.

  • Community-based TVSD programmes in rural areas:This intervention will include a combination of training in business skills or livelihood skills and literacy training. Special target groups will be groups of young farmers, including at least 50 percent women, who can potentially play a role in value chain projects where specific training needs have been identified. Training of stakeholders participating higher up in the value chains, for example at the processing level or sales level, will also be involved.

Track Two: Linking university education, research and business in sustainable agriculture will promote innovation and produce graduates with entrepreneurial and business skills and research-based knowledge that is relevant to the development of African agriculture and agro-businesses. A facility will be established in partnership with the African Union Commission through its agreement with the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA). The facility will help implement FARAs mandate to support networking amongst its stakeholders. The aim is to strengthen capacity by sharing resources, exchanging experiences and facilitating change. Universities will be invited to submit grant applications in partnership with private sector firms and agricultural research institutions. It will include the following interventions:

  • Development and implementation of collaborative programmes between universities, research institutions and the private sector which foster innovation. This might include: Supporting collaboration in research with existing businesses; facilitating business start-ups by graduates through ”innovation camps” associated with universities; and enabling universities to link-up to businesses in local communities, countries and regions. These would be two-way linkages with universities, research and business providing feedback to each other, e. g. with business participating in curriculum reviews, which monitor how graduates perform and set the research agenda.

  • Development and implementation of improved and better contextualised BSc and MSc teaching and learning that takes advantage of various approaches and tools. These include e-learning, experiential and problem-based learning, practical training with internships, agro-business studies and training in teamwork and other systems skills that are needed for effective interdisciplinary and multi-institutional innovation systems. This will include improved engagement with universities on agricultural development, including the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), to generate new thinking and opportunities for investment in improved facilities for teaching and research.

  • Facilitating exchange of experiences and sharing of resources and knowledge between universities, research institutions and private enterprise to raise awareness and realise the potential of such collaboration to drive positive change. This may include strengthening of tertiary  education networks. The activity will be designed to enable universities to contribute more effectively to agricultural development and in particular the CAADP under AU/NEPAD.


This page forms part of the publication 'Realising the Potential of Africa’s Youth' as chapter 13 of 25
Version 1.0. 09-06-2009
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