University-Industry Linkages: Measuring Ethiopia’s Performance

Higher education is fundamental to ensure development. Countries that have established research universities with strong linkages with industries have achieved fast and sustainable social and economic transformation. This is because such arrangements help to advance innovations, which can also be incubated into feasible businesses and interventions that help to improve quality of life.

For the last two decades, Ethiopia has hugely invested in education. However, university-industry linkages remain loose. This has hampered industries from improving their competitiveness because they are not getting qualified human resources, and technologies to improve productivity. The universities are also producing research less consumed by the very industries they aim to serve.

Last month, Addis Ababa University (AAU) and the Ethiopian Shipping and Logistics Services Enterprise signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to build the capacity of Babogaya Maritime and Logistics Academy by training prospective mariners and conduct research.
“We will benefit from this collaboration not only at company level but also sector-wide,” said Mesfin Tefera, acting CEO of the Enterprise during the signing ceremony. “The academy needs multi-disciplinary support such as training in engineering and supply chain management as well as training at masters’ level. We selected AAU for its rich experience.” he added.
AAU President Admasu Tsegaye (Prof) said that AAU has the responsibility of supporting industries operating in Ethiopia. “AAU is trying to extend its services to organisations and we are focusing on industry-university partnerships.”
Recently, there is a move to tie the activities of Ethiopian universities with industries. The move aims to contribute in realising the government’s ambition of reaching a middle-income status in 2025. This is through increasing the contribution of the industry sector to the national economy. Documents indicate that in order to join the group of middle-income countries, Ethiopia needs to increase the share of the industry sector to 22.3Pct of the real gross domestic product (GDP). It currently stands at 15Pct.
On top of such a challenging task, the much-anticipated partnerships between universities and industries, which are expected to boost the country’s industrialisation, still remain unsatisfactory. Information obtained from the Ministry of Industry (MoI) reveals that manufacturing companies in six sub-sectors made 88 linkages with universities in the area of research and consultancy, including leather, textile and chemicals last year. More than 2,758 companies operate in these sub-sectors.
Even though the 36 public universities and several private ones produce more graduates, 33 of the industries take students directly from high schools. More than 1,500 students also gained externship and internship opportunities in these companies.
Cooperation between higher education institutions and industries is proving to be significant worldwide to improve industrial competitiveness. Of course, the immediate objectives of universities and industries are different. Higher education institutions are engaged in creation and dissemination of knowledge and skills while industries are engaged in the production of goods and services.
Under normal circumstances, universities produce qualified human resource that can earn better upon employment. This improves the living standard of the work force and the society by-and-large. Industries with qualified human resource can produce quality goods and services, which contributes to the improvement of living standard and community welfare. Therefore, Strong partnership between universities and industries help to realise these common goals. In fact, research in universities can receive better funding and practical expertise from industries.
Studies conducted on the issue reveal that university-industry linkage can take different forms and involve various engagements. This includes creating opportunities for student attachments and co-op placements, training, knowledge transfer, research and consultancy.
In Ethiopia, the university-industry linkage agenda was formally introduced by the end of 2005 as a part of engineering capacity building programme, which was designed to make the private sector competitive by providing training for the country’s skilled workforce. So far, only few attempts have been made to realise this objective.
Awel Hussein, Director of Policy Research and Future Planning at the Ministry of Science and Technology (MoST), says that the logic behind university-industry linkage is to create a melting pot for the collaboration of stakeholders to solve the obstacles they face in common. “Since a framework for such coordination was necessary, MoST prepared Procedural Directive Manual in September 2013.”
According to Awel, 17 regional forums have so far been established across the country in which stakeholders collaborated. “However, not all of them are actively operating. In fact, some of these linkages have been stagnant for a while, “he told EBR.
University-industry linkage has three stages. The first stage is the relationship building stage where stakeholders exchange information on the potential human and material resources they possess, identify their needs as well as demonstrate the capacity they have and build trust.
In the second stage, which is the interaction stage, stakeholders test each other with small projects and contract-based applied researches while in the last stage universities and industries know each other extensively and produce concrete results.
iCog Labs, a private company dedicated to advancing the frontier of artificial intelligence research, is one of the companies working with higher learning institutions. Hiruy Tsegaye, a Project Manager of iCog’s Makers Initiative Programme, says the company signed a MoU with 19 public universities to offer training and internship opportunities.
“One of the ways of collaboration is by offering seminars to the university community and work with the academic world,” Hiruy explains. “Currently, the company is giving internship opportunity for more than 120 students.”
CNET Software Technologies is another private company that has relationship with public universities. Founded 12 years ago, CNET is engaged in business solutions design, hardware import as well as education and training.
“We are accepting 50-60 students per year for internship,” says Aderaw Sema, a Branch Manager of CNET software technology. “We believe the [linkages with] … universities are a good input for us.”
Indeed, many students that are enrolled in public higher institutions had an opportunity to work at different industries in internship basis. For instance, 351 students studying at AAU worked as interns in 35 industries including Batu Tannery, Addis Ababa Tannery and Awash Tannery last year AAU enrolled over 50,000 students in the same year. Close to 270 students from Jimma University also worked in different industries in internship basis while 267 students from Adama Science and Technology University got internship opportunities.
Berhanu Gizaw (PhD), a former faculty member of Electrical Engineering Department at Jimma University, is currently a researcher at Bahir Dar University. He admires the initiative of the government to introduce the legal framework and other necessary steps to facilitate university industry linkages. However, argues Berhanu, the way linkages are designed has problems. “Assessment and need analysis were important procedures while establishing linkages between universities and industries. But the government failed to do that,” he argues. “The need analyses include pragmatic assessment and prioritisation of problems in the industry by the universities. However, this culture hasn’t been practiced.”
According to Berhanu, generally speaking, the way the country is pursuing industrialisation and economic development is unstructured. “Although university-industry linkage can help to achieve industrialisation fast, the approaches that are being undertaken are not problem oriented, and this has made the strategy and policy unstructured.”
Zewdu Kassa, Component Manager of Engineering Education Curriculum at the Ministry of Education (MoE), partially agrees with the views of Berhanu. However, he said, the government has taken the initiative and took the lion’s share of the action. It has prepared a framework to invite stakeholders to effectively implement the policies and strategies.
“There are some promising attempts by the stakeholders like redesigning the curriculum of the universities based on the interest of the industry and creating internship and externship opportunities for students as well as scholars,” explains Zewdu. “Currently, there are ten institutes of technology under state-owned universities that are involved in the linkage platform.”
Nevertheless, Zewdu stresses, the desired goals are not yet met due to several obstacles. “The lack of trust between the industries and the higher education institutions is the major obstacle in this endeavour,” he argues.
After studying the existing linkages between higher education institutions and industries, A.S. Kannan, Assistant Professor of Finance and Accounting at Dilla University in his research entitled ‘Existence of and Benefits from Linkages between Universities and Industries in Ethiopia’, he found out that there is already an understanding between industries and universities although the collaboration is not fully realized. He concluded that there is a problem of understanding the benefits of industry-institute linkage among stakeholders.
Similarly, Hiruy shares his experience with EBR regarding the lack of awareness about the collaboration. “Although iCog Labs has signed MoU with 19 universities to give training and internship opportunities, only Addis Ababa and Mekelle universities are active,” he explains. “Sadly, some have even forgotten the fact that they have signed the MoU.”
Aderaw also shares Hiruy’s view. “We believe the link between universities and our company is a good input. But, in terms of research, consultation and externship, so much remains to be done. ”
Kannan’s research conducted using 900 people as samples, 600 from higher education institutions and the rest from industries reveal that 40Pct of respondents from universities and 33Pct of respondents from industries feel that the linkages exist quite rarely. In fact, a few of the interviewees from the universities felt the linkages to be non-existent.
The research also underlines the difference in the views of universities and industries about the benefits of the linkage. Close to 40Pct of respondents from universities feel that academic and research support is the likely benefits of universities from the linkage while 11Pct consider employment opportunity for the graduates. Respondents from industries, on the other hand, held the view that employment support and business relationship is the likely benefit of the linkage.
Research indicates that university-industry linkages can have an extended potential when higher learning institutions setup industry liaison offices, technology transfer offices and parks as well as business incubators. For instance, Chalmers University in Sweden has helped 240 companies from its research and development activities during the last 30 years from its technology park. Massachusetts Institute of Technology spins out 20 new high tech companies every year.
In this regard, some encouraging attempts have been seen in Ethiopia. Currently, there are few Information and Communication Technology (ICT) focused incubators at AAU’s Technology Business Incubation Centre, Mekelle Information Communication Technology Business Incubation Centre and Bahir Dar ICT Business Incubation Centre. However, most incubation centres focus on ICT. Even then, they have limited capacity.
Zewdu underlines, lack of trust between the industry and the higher education institutions impedes the potential of the partnership.
A private construction company owner, who spoke to EBR on the condition of anonymity, confirmed the above claim. “I don’t think universities have the capacity to solve the problems in the industry,” he argues. “They are not even producing competent and practice oriented workforce. The scholars lack the practical knowledge and are only based on theoretical knowledge.”
According to Abiy Tirfe, university-industry linkage officer at the Addis Ababa Institute of Technology, which is under AAU, government-owned industries are doing relatively well in terms of partnering with AAU in training, research and consultancy.
“The institute recently reached an agreement with Sugar Corporation [to provide] consultancy, training and research services,” he explained. “There are also other government institutions that have signed MoU with the institute like Ethiopian Road Authority, Ethiopian Rail Way Corporation and Ethiopian Airlines. Some private companies are also on the list.”
Gebeyehu Masresha, the Deputy Executive Officer of Human Resource and Organisational Consultancy at the Ethiopian Sugar Corporation, says the sugar factories that are operating under the Corporation are linked with universities: “The linkage is stretched to the seven sugar factories in the country. Currently, the Corporation is working with 13 universities.”
The linkage includes internships, externships, collaborative applied research and producing human resources specifically trained for the industry. “Currently, the Corporation together with Ministry of Education has established seven regional forums to foster technology transfer. “Of these forums, the Wenji-Metehara and Welqait forums are showing better performance while the rest are preparing to take off.”
According to the data obtained from the Corporation, the regional forums have given internship trainings for 713 university and 1,685 TVET students. The forums have also facilitated employment of 228 university and 421 TVET fresh graduates in the current academic year. In terms of demand oriented manpower production, the Corporation has signed an agreement with Bahir Dar University and Adadale TVET college, to produce skilled manpower in sugar engineering and cane agronomy.
Sighting such improvements, experts and studies indicate that the future holds promises. To strengthen this effort, industries, universities and the government should try to have a common plan and establish a working modality. In addition, the government should allocate sufficient fund and implement incentive packages for universities and industries to enable them effectively lead the linkage. Leadership of universities should also be committed to establish and revitalise the linkages. Finally yet importantly, Industries should be aware of the potential of the linkage and act accordingly. EBR

5th Year • May 2017 • No. 50

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