Conference sneak preview

University degrees or vocational qualifications: Which side are you on?


This year the eLearning Africa plenary debate will tackle an important issue for the whole of Africa, as countries look for ways to alleviate youth unemployment and address critical skills shortages. On Friday evening, May 22, four education experts will debate the motion that: ‘This House believes that Africa needs vocational training more than academic education’.

“This is going to be a tough one to debate,” admits Prof Damtew Teferra, a professor of higher education at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, and founding director of the International Network for Higher Education in Africa.

Speaking against the motion along with the President and CEO of the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) Global Secretariat, South Africa, Thierry Zomahoun, Prof Teferra led a team of experts at the recent African Higher Education Summit in Dakar and lobbied for higher education to take a more prominent role in development agendas.

“African higher education is not only important now,” he says, “but more so as it affords the continent a competitive edge to its already high and sustained economic growth. Thus, all concerned need to celebrate, articulate and widely popularise this discovery on the role of African higher education.”

Taking the opposite stance is Gabriel Konayuma from the Ministry of Education, Science, Vocational Training and Early Education in Zambia, who will speak for the motion. He says many African countries have been developing their higher education systems but not facing up to the issue of employment.

“There are a lot of graduates on the streets that can’t do anything because there are no jobs for them. We found that in my country those who have taken part in skills and vocational training were able to get jobs,” he says.

Konayuma has worked as a Curriculum Developer at the Technical Education, Vocational and Entrepreneurship Training Authority and, in his current role, his key responsibilities are entrepreneurship development promotion and promotion of open distance learning. He says that vocational training and entrepreneur development equip people with the skills to work for themselves.

“It shouldn’t be enough that they learn how to build a table, for instance, they need to know about the demand for the product they are making, understand the economy and market their product accordingly.”

Joining Konayuma in favour of the motion will be Donald Clark from Plan B Learning, UK. Clark is an education entrepreneur who is no stranger to debate; he is well known for  his forthright opinions both on-stage and online. Clark has contributed to the debate about similar issues  in the United Kingdom. In an article on the topic of vocational training and youth unemployment posted on his Plan B Learning blog, he says: “The majority of young people in the UK do not go to university, yet a hugely disproportionate amount of energy, money and reflection go into higher education. The rest is a mess, which has led to generations of young people being left confused, misled and even abandoned.”

The parliamentary-style debate will be chaired by Dr Mor Seck, the Director of the Senegal Distance Learning Centre, the Association of African Distance Learning Centres (AADLC), and Dr Harold Elletson, Editor of the eLearning Africa Report.

Do you think African countries should be investing scarce resources in vocational training? Or do you believe that in today´s rapidly changing, highly competitive global environment the flexibility and adaptability that education encourages is exactly what Africans need, rather than the rigidity of vocational training?  Have your say in the comments section below and in our Facebook group. Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter @eLAConference too.



  1. Dawit Alemu

    I like very much the debate concerned on education of African’s youth. And I strongly agreed with doing and talking in hand not in mouth. Because of having the opportunity doing in vocational and higher education institution enabling me to make a far more judge for vocational as it produce youths on creating of jobs, assessing market and even they know that how to server the market/customer. Beyond that they also hiring higher educators, so shall we spend a lot for hands for working or tongue for talking?

  2. Dr Mutumba Herbert

    I am a university graduate. I am in for a careful mix of vocational educational and university degrees. All universities’ combined enrollment in my country does not acomodate even 30% of college leavers.
    We need university degrees in highly technical and specialised fields like medicine, law, etc but more of vocational studies to skill the majority who cannot access university education.

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