Chris Pilgrim, the new CEO of Transnational Academic Group West Africa and Lancaster University Ghana, on the potential game-changers in higher education on the continent.
It is to a verdant academic campus in Ghana that Chris Pilgrim will be packing his bags from the dunes of Dubai. As the new CEO of Transnational Academic Group (TAG) West Africa and Lancaster University Ghana, Pilgrim will provide students across emerging markets access to post-secondary and executive education.
TAG currently owns and operates Lancaster University’s campus in Ghana, Curtin University’s Dubai campus, and South Africa-based ABN Training in partnership with the Australian Institute of Management in Western Australia.
Pilgrim, who has helped develop TAG’s expansion in Africa and has over 25 years of experience in the higher education sector, spoke to FORBES AFRICA about skills-building, STEM and job creation:
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1. Are more universities looking to set up here?
A. With over half a million African students studying abroad annually, the continent has the highest outbound student ratio (number of outbound tertiary students/total number of tertiary students) in the world. Along with this annual migration of students comes capital flight, increased brain drain, and a hesitancy to build further world-class higher education capacity on the continent.
TAG partners with globally top-ranked universities to provide the highest quality of higher education in emerging market nations, thereby reversing, albeit modestly, the flow of students.
Our campus in Ghana, in partnership with Lancaster University (ranked sixth in the UK), provides world-class higher education capacity for West Africans, and it has seen students from other countries, including outside of Africa, take up enrolment.
TAG’s Lancaster University Ghana is the only comprehensive UK university campus in mainland Africa, and while TAG is undertaking steps to open similar branch campuses in other African countries, other investors and top-ranked universities have not moved to open campuses in the region.
2. How can Africa build skills, capacity and create more jobs?
A. While there has been a modest growth of employment in the formal job sector in some countries, many of Africa’s youth are more likely today to take up work in the informal sectors and in family enterprises.
Africa, as a region, has the largest youth population in the world, and with over 11 million young people expected to enter the job market each year, its economies are stretched to productively absorb Africa’s greatest asset – this youth population.
While the continent’s education capacities and output are integral to leveraging this youth population into a potential demographic dividend, investments, both private and public, into relevant higher education capacities, particularly STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) capacity, are limited.
In the long-term, addressing the underlying causes of unemployment and skills-gap lies in increasing enrolment in secondary and tertiary education, with a focus on STEM, thus enabling graduates to participate in the new economies and globalization emerging with the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). Innovation, technology, and entrepreneurship are fundamental to creating the jobs of the future.
3. What is the increasing role of STEM programs?
A. While the vital importance of STEM education to infrastructure development, healthcare, energy security, agriculture, and the environment are well cited over the past decade, the role of STEM and digital skills in preparing for 4IR are potential game-changers.
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African nations need to develop “future-ready curricula that encourage critical thinking, creativity and emotional intelligence as well as accelerate acquisition of digital and STEM skills to match the way people will work and collaborate in 4IR” (Source: WEF 2017 The Future of Jobs and Skills in Africa).
Lancaster University Ghana has been delivering relevant computer science curriculum since its inception, and is set to launch programs in engineering this year, followed by additional programs in STEM disciplines.
4. How are you creating future leaders?
A. TAG Ghana works closely with Lancaster University to assure that our students receive an education that is relevant both locally, and in the global context. We work closely with industry and the community to understand their needs so our graduates are employment-ready.
– Interviewed by Methil Renuka