African Technology Universities and the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The world stands on the brink of technological revolution that will fundamentally change, if it hasn’t already, the way we live, work and relate to one another.

Like the revolutions that preceded it, the Fourth Industrial Revolution has enormous potential to the continent of Africa. A lot has been written and said about those potentials.

However, in order to fully seize the potentials as well properly address the challenges presented by the advent of this technological revolution, African countries needs to overhaul the structure and curriculum of  existing technology institutions to address the problem of preparing students in theoretical and general aspects of technology that has resulted in low levels of embracing entrepreneurship; but also not fully aware of with specific needs and opportunities of the local industry/economy. This largely due to lack of strong link between curriculum development with the state of the market that is expected to drive the curriculum requirements.

This in part, explains why, despite efforts to promote and diffuse Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), most developing countries have not seen impressive results.

There are many specific impediments contributing to this challenge; among them is lack of favorable ICT policies, connectivity infrastructure and institutions that carry out this mission. The establishment of higher learning institutions for science and technology in innovation that are specific to Information and Communication Technology is main driver for faster diffusion of this particular technology into the economy of a country and therefore eliminating several other impediments in the process.

Science, technology and innovation policies in developing countries, as in all developing countries, should be geared towards technological catch-up with technologically advanced countries through technological learning and innovation. Therefore, “within the context of capacity building, there is a need for dedicated IT universities and training institutions to deploy ICT technologies that build on other critical infrastructure. The same applies to the model in which universities are to collaborate with the industry.

Technical universities already exist in many developing countries but these institutions provide a general knowledge in science and technology whereby, by the time a student graduate, the knowledge they have accumulated is not optimal for use or is overtaken by latest trends in technology in respective industries. This creates a knowledge and practical skills gap necessary to capture the moment and move with pace of innovation.

In order to accelerate the diffusion of ICT, therefore, requires different kind of universities that are autonomous and with specific core mission driven by country’s strong policy commitment in technology. Technical universities in ICT will enable the delivery of training and knowledge that is in locked-step with developments fourth industrial revolution and relevance. Design and engineering are foundation upon which R&D capabilities can grow within a firm.

Most innovation occurs through learning from imported technologies that are assimilated, or applied in new ways, absorbed and adapted to create new technological knowledge. Therefore, greater effort needs to be made to improve design and engineering skills that lie at the heart of production systems and are of more immediate relevance to industrialization in developing world and specifically Sub-Saharan Africa.

One approach would be to establish autonomous, private non-profit technical universities by Ministries of Information and Communication Technology as a way to implement country strategies as well as  increase penetration, application and entrepreneurship in technological innovation.

These education institutions will be different in terms of the focused mandate, structure and curriculum compared to traditional institutions that have been in existence. The effectiveness of these institutions is not only because they will be made to be autonomous, private non-profit but also is born out of intentional national ICT policies that aim to advance technological innovation, stimulate entrepreneurship and creativity.

In order to accelerates innovation, entrepreneurship, impart skills and therefore aid penetration of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in ways that is beneficial to the society; the curriculum of these technology universities needs to be carefully designed in collaboration with local private corporations and increase the ability to identify, assess and take advantage of locally available entrepreneurial activities in IT and related technologies. African countries can make use of this approach in order to create a strong connection between the curriculum and appropriateness to the local industries in financial technology, climate technology, transportation and agriculture.

This does not mean that developing countries should avoid investing in basic research and development (R&D), but rather, R & D should be guided by the need to adapt existing knowledge to local markets. The technical universities should collaborate with the industry and other major participants to develop its curriculum in a manner that the application of knowledge by graduates is immediate. This will stimulate entrepreneurship and innovation that is beneficial to the economy.