The Fixable University-Industry Chasm

March 2 , 2019 . By Haben Mehari

Education in Ethiopia leaves a lot to be desired. The government may be on the right track to meeting universal access to education but the quality side is by no means something to brag about.

Higher learning institutions are too theoretically inclined and teach subjects that have little relevance to the work students face once they join the labour force. Subsequently, on-the-job training sessions before employees are hired have become a trend used by employers to increase productivity.

This is why the new 15-year education roadmap, currently under consultation, prepared by the Ministry of Education, is coming at a critical time in the nation’s economic development. It suggests a move away from theory and recognises that emphasis should be put on skill development and entrepreneurship.

One of the roadmap’s interesting proposals is strengthening university-industry linkages by allowing higher learning institutions to appoint industry leaders as part-time professors that can periodically provide lectures for students. This would come with its challenges though.

How realistic is it that such CEOs will have time to provide lectures in universities? Will their skills of being successful industry leaders translate into being good lecturers? Will they be able to understand the theoretical concepts on a given lecture material and design talking-points that fit the mold?

Implementation may be challenging, thus the Ministry needs to consider other means by which to get industries onboard.

Industry leaders have practical experiences that, if properly documented as a case study or scenario-planning activity, can provide key insights on how decisions are made. It would provide students with an insight into the decision-making process faced by these business leaders. Dealing with complex business solutions will also bring students face to face with real-world problems.

This can be achieved by getting industry leaders to put in the time to engage with university lecturers in designing cases that look at a particular company dilemma or problem. Those industry leaders can be present when their particular cases are being discussed in class and can interact with the students.

For students, the value lies in getting the chance to interact with industry leaders, their struggles, challenges and be acquainted with their decision-making processes.

The average time dedicated to the use of the case method at most top business schools hovers around 30pc. Harvard Business School makes this approach its main means of teaching, focusing as much as four-fifths of class time on the evaluation of business cases, with students required to study and evaluate 500 cases over the full two-year period of their MBA.

In contrast to lectures, cases require students to prepare in advance, studying the range of information provided and putting themselves in the position of the business or industry leader - usually a senior corporate executive. In class, individual participants present and discuss their views of the issues and then are asked to devise a solution - a means by which the company in question might move forward.

There are no right and wrong answers but the professor or industry leader might cite either an industry standard or chosen way of addressing the problem, which can be used as a baseline that students can correlate with their answers.

The benefits of this system are that it forces students to master the material, trains them in making decisions and on how to defend it, allows them to share their own work experience and ensures they retain the lessons learned, which will significantly improve the quality of the graduates leaving the university.

In recent years, most leading business schools use interactive lectures to present the fundamentals and cases to see if students understand enough to apply lessons to real-world management problems. Students that go through this experience have increased debating, persuading and analysing skills and are as well able to voice decisions that follow clear lines of thought quickly and tactfully.

Employers complain about the lack of talent in the country, graduates grumble about the lack of jobs and academics moan about the gap between academia and the industry. These can be narrowed down by the implementation of such a case method that will give students hands-on experience in applying the fundamentals they learned in the lecture course.

This can create a positive feedback loop, with industry leaders looking for the best and brightest from the pool of students at higher learning institutions. Such close collaboration between academia and industry will reinforce both and transform the country into a powerhouse that puts its massive human capital resources to productive use.

PUBLISHED ON Mar 02,2019 [ VOL 19 , NO 983]

Haben Mehari is an entrepreneur and a postgraduate student at Addis Abeba University. He can be reached at

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