Higher Education and Skills Development in Africa: An Analytical Paper on the Role of Higher Learning Institutions on Sustainable Development

  • Peter M. F. Mbithi University of Nairobi
  • Judith S. Mbau University of Nairobi
  • Nzioka J. Muthama University of Nairobi
  • Hellen Inyega University of Nairobi
  • Jeremiah M. Kalai University of Nairobi
Keywords: Higher education, Skills Development, Sustainable development


Many Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in Africa face challenges that require the intervention of national governments, development partners and other stakeholders. HEIs also require new investment paradigms to maximize students’ acquisition of work-ready skills, knowledge and attitudes to enable students to contribute effectively to the workforce. The objective of this study was to identify reforms and investments needed to strengthen Higher Education (HE) in Africa and to inform the design and implementation of future investments and policy for sustainable development. A systematic review approach, involving a synthesis of literature on this theme in Africa in recent years, by African governments, education networks, academia and international bodies, was employed. The study used data from UNESCO and World Bank databases which were blended with the synthesis of the literature. The obtained literature was analysed and synthesized on the basis of its relevance and value to the HEIs study discourse. Textual and thematic analysis tookcentre stage with a view to establishing current reforms in HEIs and the concomitant investments that national governments and other key stakeholders need to make to have robust HEIs. The study used the Human Capital Theory that postulates that the most efficient path to the national development of any society lies in the improvement of its population, which is considered as the human capital. Despite criticisms of the human capital theory at the individual level on the extent to which education is directly related to improvements in occupation or income, human capital theorists generally assume that after all the known inputs into economic growth have been explained, much of the unexplained residual variance represents the contribution of the improvement of human capital, of which education is seen as most important (Merwe, 2010). The results of the study show that HEIs have done very little to promote Intra-Africa Academic Mobility and nurture HEI-industry partnerships to address demand and supply aspects of the labour force. The massification of higher education, resulting in a democratization of education, and the advent of the knowledge economy and globalization, among other factors, are being experienced without commensurate planning and with no corresponding accompanying increase in resources to enable the HEIs cope with the increased student population.  HEIs in Africa are sub-optimally capacitated to combat Africa’s pressing challenges such as unemployment, climate change and COVID-19 pandemic. The study points out that HEIs need to evolve in tandem with continental and global market needs to achieve Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) number 4 on quality education. Further, it recommends that HEIs should encourage Intra-Africa Academic Mobility and foster HEI-industry partnerships to address demand-and-supply aspects of the labour force. In this respect, HEIs in Africa should be developing curricula aimed at building capacity of leaders and professionals to respond to the need to decarbonize and dematerialize development in Africa and leverage on the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Consequently, HEIs must prepare students to be entrepreneurial and resilient; able to continue to learn and reinvent themselves and their careers throughout their lives. Indeed, HEIs should view themselves as creative hubs where partners come together and harness each other’s synergy to innovate and solve societal problems.


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How to Cite
Mbithi, P., Mbau, J., Muthama, N., Inyega, H., & Kalai, J. (2021). Higher Education and Skills Development in Africa: An Analytical Paper on the Role of Higher Learning Institutions on Sustainable Development. Journal of Sustainability, Environment and Peace, 4(2), 58-73. https://doi.org/10.53537/jsep.2021.08.001