At 2021 Annual Convening, Vice Chancellor at Kepler, Rwanda, Professor Baylie Damtie, speaks to the value of building ownership and engagement through regional hubs  

Hello everyone,

 It is an honor and pleasure to get the opportunity to make this introductory remark at this year’s Ashesi University- Education Collaborative meeting.  My speech focuses on career development and employability at higher education institutions.

Graduate employment is currently a serious social, economic and political concern in Sub-Saharan Africa. At the same time, the region has a low higher education enrolment rate of about 9%, which is much lower than the global average of 38%. The spread of COVID-19 adds a new dimension to the problem by transforming education and work.

We congratulate the leadership of Ashesi University for starting the Education Collaborative initiative and taking a timely and courageous step in bringing career development and employability to the forefront of our attention. We are grateful to the Education Collaborative for bringing together higher education institutions across Africa to engage among ourselves and share successful experiences and new insights to transform higher education.

Kepler decided to engage with a network of African institutions through Education Collaborative to learn from successful experiences and failures. Meetings and workshops hosted by Education Collaborative are practical and based on actual experiences from institutions operating across different African nations with similar contexts.  Understanding what makes some institutions perform better than others within the same social, political, and economic environment is key to unleashing many institutions’ potential in the region.

The meetings and workshops of the Education Collaborative have helped us not only to recognize the best performing institutions in the region but also to identify the practical actions we need to take to reach a similar level and beyond.

We gratefully acknowledge the successful experiences and new insights Kepler academic staff and senior leaders have acquired over the years at successive Education Collaborative meetings and workshops.  Collaboration and experience sharing among institutions in Africa have been overlooked for a long time. I applaud Ashesi University-Education Collaborative for its leadership in filling this long-overdue gap. 

As a collaborator of the Education Collaborative in the East Africa regional hub, we at Kepler are very excited and honored to lead career development and employability discussions at this year’s convening while also benefiting from sharing with all the participants and stakeholders over the next couple of days.

In this speech, I wish to share with you briefly about Kepler and career and employability related issues that will engage all stakeholders. Kepler was born with a vision of creating a scalable solution to fill the gap between university education and the needs of the labour market in Sub-Saharan Africa. Our education combines in-person, online and on-the-job learning with a primary focus on fulfilling jobs for young Africans. Through a partnership with Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), we have enrolled more than 1,000 students across our campuses in Kigali and the Kiziba refugee camp in Rwanda.

We are at the final stage of the institutional and program accreditation process to launch Kepler College in Rwanda to scale our impact by offering our students new pathways to employment. We also launched a Graduate Employment Program in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to boost the employability of the Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) graduates by equipping them with soft skills essential for work in the 21st century. This program is in a pilot phase; however, we see impactful changes in the training of trainers and graduates.

We have also signed a memorandum of understanding and jointly developed a program with the Rwanda Polytechnic to advance the employability potential of TVETs students in Rwanda.

In all our programs, we strive to ensure our graduates secure meaningful employment in the formal sector. And we have been successful, with more than 90% of our graduates employed within six months after graduation. Our successful employment rate drivers include active engagement with our more than 120 employer partners, Kepler’s interactive and competency-based curriculum that helps students become independent learners and influential professionals by focusing on professional competencies, communication skills, problem-solving, critical thinking and career readiness training and dynamic alumni engagement.

As a lead for career development and employability, we will encourage employers, policymakers and governments, education providers, students and alumni in the region to engage in this timely and serious issue actively.

Leading employability and career development allows Kepler to identify and engage other exemplary models on the continent which may not yet be recognized to the level they should. We will take the deliberate approach to highlight the impactful models and provide the platforms to share those models with peer institutions in Africa for scale.

Over the next few days, we are looking forward to leading deliberations among stakeholders on career and employability related topics, including the following:

  1. Employers’ engagement in curriculum development and training to ensure the relevance of the education to the labour market
  2. Career choice training, which focuses on advancing self-knowledge and creating awareness on training opportunities
  3. Personalized career coaching based on students’ performance on key competencies
  4. Job readiness training, which includes writing a professional CV and cover letter, handling job interview questions and being proficient in any workplace.
  5. Impactful internship
  6. Alumni tracking and engagement

Kepler’s high employment rate has been possible with a limited number of students graduating every year. Through the Annual Conveying and the East Africa regional hub of the Education Collaborative, we will be deliberate in facilitating discussions and sharing successful experiences among institutions in the region and exploring scalable strategies suitable for larger numbers of graduates within various contexts.

We are optimistic that higher education institutions in the region have many innovative and scalable solutions that could transform the higher education landscape on the continent.

We need stakeholders to come together, conduct open and honest conversations, identify gaps, share successful and scalable solutions, and take the necessary actions.

Thank you, Ashesi University- Education Collaborative, for your leadership; the depth and scale of engagement among stakeholders are increasing every year. I am excited for engaging in discussions in the next couple of days!