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Interview: Dr. Paul Birevu Muyinda, Makerere University, Uganda

Dr. Paul Birevu Muyinda

 

We hear a lot about skills gaps between university graduates and the labour market. What would you say are the main contributing factors that lead to this disparity?

Universities were traditionally created for knowledge generation and dissemination. This means university graduates were meant to be knowledge workers. This phenomenon has lingered on to date, even when the world order is demanding that universities shift away from producing only knowledge workers to producing workers with a blend of knowledge and skills. The world is also demanding that we produce graduates with soft skills, that is, graduates with 21st century skills. This new requirement has implications for faculty members, too. The faculty has to equip themselves with new knowledge and skills. The universities have to change their teaching and learning methods. The labour market has to embrace partnerships with universities, so that they are part and parcel of the teaching and learning processes at universities. Industry however cannot accommodate all the students in universities. Hence, universities have to devise teaching and learning methods that bring practical experience into the classroom. Authentic teaching and learning methods become the answer.

  • From your vantage point, which academic fields, businesses or industries suffer the most because of this, especially in Uganda?

I would think that all academic fields where there are limited internships are experiencing skills mismatches. Fields like medicine and law with year-long internships, and legal practice courses, respectively, are producing graduates who are well endowed with needed skills. Education too subjects its students to rigorous school practice of about 4 months, thus giving the students the necessary teaching skills. Engineering and technology students are also given numerous internships that equip the learners with the required professional skills. However, fields that have shorter internship periods of, say, only one to two months, are indeed having the problem of producing graduates with limited skills. These are fields with great student numbers who cannot accommodate longer internship periods, for example in economics, finance, business, social sciences, arts, etc. 

  • What is an ePortfolio and how is it different from a CV or a graduate certificate?

An ePortfolio is built from learners daily reflections resulting from real life experiences. On the other hand, a CV is an orchestrated composition of one’s academic qualifications and perceived abilities. An ePortfolio resides in the electronic domain while a CV or a certificate may be in the electronic domain or not.

  • How, in your opinion, does having an ePortfolio ecosystem benefit a student and graduate? 

An ePortfolio benefits a student, because they are able to make their experiences and expertise transparent for potential employers to see at any time and in any place. The ePortfolio developed by MyDocumenta visualises the student’s professional and transferable skills.

  • Who stands to benefit from receiving access to an ePortfolio i.e. how will this be useful to employers?

With an ePortfolio, employers do not select their prospective employees on a trial basis. They are able to select employees with 100% precision, because they are able to see the exact skills they need. In so doing, they are able to save costs related to high staff turn-over which is common when employees with pseudo qualifications are recruited. 

  • How has this idea been received by those who stand to benefit from it?

When the idea of an ePortfolio is explained, the audience usually says, “Yes! This is what we have been waiting for.” Their worry, however, is in how it will be implemented for them to be able to freely access and enjoy the benefits.

  • Can you point to an instance where this idea has flourished before? What can we learn from those instances?

This idea is novel in Uganda. It has not been tried anywhere in Uganda. However, a few individuals have LinkedIn Accounts where they update their CVs.

  • What do you think are the most crucial coming steps that need to be negotiated for a successful implementation of EPICA’s strategy, such as overcoming technological requirements, increasing the visibility of the initiative, improving funding etc.?

In my view I think integration of EPICA’s ecosystem into present learning management systems of universities becomes a crucial step. The sensitisation and training of learners to adopt such an ePortfolio ecosystem is another key factor. Furthermore, sensitisation and mobilisation of potential employers towards this opportunity is important, because when employers start using this ecosystem to identify potential employees, then adoptions by students will follow almost automatically.