University Vice Chancellor’s, Deans and lecturers converged at the Elephant Hills in Victoria Falls for the 7th African Regional Conference of Vice Chancellors, Pro Vosts and Deans of Science, Education, Engineering and Technology (COVIDSET) held from 20 to 21 November 2019. The conference ran under the theme ‘Promoting Innovation and the Industrialization of Africa through Quality STEM Education’ and was officially opened by the Minister of Education, Science and Technology of the United Republic of Tanzania and Chairperson of SADC Ministers of Education and Training, Science, Technology and Innovation, Hon. Professor Joyce Ndalichako. The keynote address was delivered by the Minister of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development, Hon. Professor dr. A. Murwira who was represented by Dr Engineer Ganda.
The conference aimed at providing a forum for university leaders, policy makers, academics, development partners, international scientific and engineering networks and the private sector to deliberate on why, what and how to revitalise higher education science, technology, engineering and mathematics, training, research and innovation. The other sweltering objective of the 7th COVIDSET was to provide a forum to engage the stakeholders in the field of higher education to deliberate on key issues on sustainable and inclusive quality higher education in the region than can deliver on the “Africa we want” Agenda 2063.
The conference provided a rich platform for robust discussions amongst delegates who were drawn from the private sector and academic sphere within different regions of Africa.
The conference commenced with an overview by the Bindura University of Science Education Vice Chancellor, Professor Eddie Mwenje. He accentuated the importance of the conference in that the outcomes were critical in the development of the African continent.
Professor Mwenje took the delegates through the major issues that were at hand. He interrogated the issues of policy strategies being done to promote Innovation and industrialisation in Africa. He also quizzed on the actions being taken to address the huge critical skills gap which was imperative for national development and regional industrialisation.
“How do we talk of development if we have skills deficit,” questioned Professor Mwenje. He went on to explain that the students universities were producing were not ready for industry. He urged his fellow Vice Chancellors to address issues of skills deficit as an urgent issue. He also urged universities to give students more of practical experience rather than theory as this was the only way the country would develop.
The ZIMCHE Chief Executive Officer, Professor Kuzvinetsa Dzvimbo added that the conference was also set to interrogate the issue of poor performance in science subjects by students.
“Our students have not been doing well in science subjects. For the whole country, the pass rate has not reached the 40% mark since 2016 and this is disastrous?” Professor Dzvimbo added that COVIDSET was convened to come up with strategies on how to strengthen the learning of science in students as well as change the teaching of science in the classroom.
The two day conference progressed with presentations by different speakers. Speakers for day one included Professor B. Erasmus (University of Pretoria, South Africa), Professor S.H. Vogel (University of Pretoria, South Africa), Dr V. Makuku (AAU, Ghana), Professor Engineer Jibril (Ahmadu Bello University, Nigeria), Professor Falowo (University of Cape Town, South Africa) and Professor O. Ogunji (Alex Ekwueme Federal University, Nigeria).
Speakers for day two included Professor N. Rudhumbu (BUSE), Professor W. Chinyamurindi (Forte Hare University, South Africa) and Dr G. Kaira (Mulungushi University, Zambia).
Vice Chancellors who attended the COVIDSET included Engineer Kanhukamwe (Harare Institute of Technology), Professor M. Dlodlo (National University of Science & Technology), Professor O.E. Maravanyika (Reformed Church University), Professor N. Mlilo (Gwanda State University), Professor R. Zinyemba (Catholic University) and Professor R.J. Zvobgo (Great Zimbabwe University).
Other delegates were deans and lecturers from the National University of Science and Technology, University of Zimbabwe, Great Zimbabwe University, Gwanda State University, Solusi University, Kwekwe Polytechnic, Morgan Zintec College and Harare Polytechnic. The conference was also graced by the Chief Executive Officer of the Zimbabwe Institute of Engineers, Dr S. Diarra, Dr E. Chitsungo from the Higherlife Foundation, delegates from the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development and representatives from First Mutual Life.