Weak industry-academia ties costing economy

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Industry and stakeholders follow proceedings at a meeting organised by Nust in Bulawayo yesterday

INDUSTRY and commerce can flourish and operate with minimum impediments if the private sector fully collaborates with the academia to increase capacity and diversify productivity.

Absence of strong linkages between industry and institutions of higher learning generated immense debate among delegates during a business stakeholder engagement organised by the National University of Science and Technology (Nust)’s Faculty of Engineering in Bulawayo yesterday.

‘Weak industry-academia ties costing economy’

Business Editor

The gathering, which sought to set the pace towards a “sustainable engineering education for Zimbabwe’s re-industrialisation agenda”, saw participants exchange views on how the country could harness opportunities from joint efforts between the private sector and knowledge centres in the country.

Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI) vice president, Mr Joseph Gunda, said industry and academia collaboration must speak to broader national strategy, the Zimbabwe National Industrial Development Policy, which views technology and innovation as key pillars towards creating an export led industrialisation.

“The manufacturing sector has highlighted that the quality of engineering graduates does not tally with industry requirements,” he said. Mr Gunda attributed this to lack of collaboration between industry and academia, continued use of ageing technology and general dearth of capital. He challenged the private sector and academia to work together in embracing the tenets of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, an ICT and artificial intelligent drive, in line with global trends.

Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce (ZNCC) Matabeleland chamber president, Mr Godwin Muhoni, said Zimbabwe needs to “wake up from its slumber” and employ all available means to produce its own goods and stop overreliance on imports. 

“The capacity to increase and diversify productivity is a continual goal, deemed achievable by all stakeholders. We believe that enhanced industrial capacity means more liveable wages, more employment, more national stability and definitely less crime,” said Mr Muhoni.

“African engineers must cease googling for the latest stuff on offer. We have to do it for ourselves. Either we come up with our own products or we improve what they’ve produced. European and Asian engineers do not succumb into the unenviable role of consumer the way we do.” He castigated the culture of seeking to import everything, from toothpicks to toothpaste, for instance, and said a majority of items on the country’s bloated import bill could be produced locally. This includes the so called critical machinery and spare parts, which Mr Muhoni said should be produced or remodelled by Zimbabwean engineers.

Nust Acting Pro-Vice Chancellor, Professor Nduduzo Phuthi, concurred saying his institution was ready to play ball in collaborating with private sector in driving economic growth. He said Government, through the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development, has already crafted the Education 5.0 policy, which seeks to increase impact of learning institutions on the economy. As such, he said Nust was ready to deal with any industry challenges that require research input. Dean of Engineering Faculty, Dr William Goriwondo, also said the private sector must be prepared to finance critical research projects and second their personnel for further training in local institutions so as to sharpen their skills. 

A representative from the Bulawayo City Council said they were ready to absorb research insight and partner learning institutions towards improved service delivery. 

The gathering was agreed on the need for the country’s engineers to take a leading role in assisting Government to transform the economy by spearheading projects that are being subcontracted to foreigners and working closely with the manufacturing sector to address the issue of ageing machinery. Delegates stressed the need for urgency in scrutinising items listed on Zimbabwe’s import expenditure tables and identify those that can be made locally. Universities were also urged to incorporate business studies into their curricula with engineers called to form their own research companies where bankable ideas can attract funding from commerce and industry. Chronicle

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