By Barungi Ayesigye on May 14, 2020

The Role of Higher Learning Institutions in meeting social challenges. Why the quality of education matters

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As the global public health shock of COVID 19 continues to impact negatively on countries worldwide, governments, institutions and businesses globally have had to back track their efforts, plans and priorities with financial budgets having to be realigned to accommodate the social and economic effects that COVID 19 has placed on the populations.

However, as the world continues to look for both short and long term solutions to stop its spread and allow public life go back to normalcy, at the center of its stop, is the permanent solution to find a vaccine to cure or even to boost human immunity against the virus. This process has seen concerted effort being championed by universities and pharmaceutical drug companies’ globally.

The inclusion of the university expertise in this quest for a solution continues to affirm the relevance of why it is important to invest in education. The role and impact of education through generation of knowledge to meet societal challenges and demands has seen institutions of learning in the field of medicine scale up proactive efforts in finding solutions to stop or control the COVID 19 pandemic.

Some universities such as Oxford University are teaming up with AstraZeneca, the Cambridge-based pharmaceutical group to manufacture and distribute a coronavirus vaccine if clinical trials currently underway show it is effective, a team at the University of Texas at Austin also is working on new coronavirus research, researchers at the Washington University in St. Louis, Colorado State University and Baylor College of Medicine also are working on vaccine development, Scientists at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine believe that they’ve found a potential vaccine for the new coronavirus too but expected to be rolled out much later. These and many others have been at the centre of data collection, research and supporting efforts in ensuring that a permanent solution is found. 

     This should be the time for countries in sub-Saharan Africa to evaluate and reflect on why education should be given priority. The content and quality of education being passed on should be one that drives learners to value research and find solutions for the much needed challenges we face on the continent. Access to higher education should be made more affordable to allow inclusiveness and participation of the many yet to be tapped youth. With an estimate of over 70% of Uganda’s population being below the age of 30 years, only 4% of these are able to access and enroll for higher education. This alone is a little below the sub Saharan average rate of 6% and the world average of 26%. A larger number of the youth still can’t make it to higher learning institutions with slightly over 3% having dropped out of secondary school. More can be tapped from the youthful population if affordability and the quality of education are prioritized by the government.

Educational attainment is one of the salient indicators of the quality of a country’s human capital and level of socio-economic development. This should give impetus to government to increase its support to this sector. Efforts in this will subsequently support the Sustainable Development

Goal Target 4.4: “By 2030, substantially increase the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills, including technical and vocational skills, for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship”. It was noted that overall only 11% of the population aged 22-25years had completed tertiary education and of these 19% were from urban regions and 7% were from the rural regions. The gaps therein should be addressed to make the accessibility and affordability to higher education easy. The National Development Plan II,  emphasizes the need to improve the quality of education services if the country has to attain the Vision 2040 and key to this will be education financing.  

 

With an increased learned population, this will not only be an asset to the nation but also a resource in solving societal and public challenges in our country. High educational attainment is also associated with better health, increased civic engagement, decreased violence and crime, and other factors linked to sustainable development. The positive gains made should be kept and new ways of engagement and incorporation of standards, quality and innovation should be advocated for.  

As Nelson Mandela rightfully put it, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” We can all be players on the same team and give the best to our learning institutions to have the best for our society.

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