Helping Africa realise its potential

Southern Africa's major trade corridors traverse west to east. Picture: Donal MacLeod
Southern Africa's major trade corridors traverse west to east. Picture: Donal MacLeod
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The best help is with education, says Fiona Stewart-Knight

Consider for a moment an Africa with high-rise cities, smart phones and mobile banking, civil engineering triumphs and record-breaking freight rail.

It is not a familiar image, but bringing engineering to life in an African context demonstrates the power of human ingenuity and an ability to transcend the challenges of terrain. It demonstrates productivity, trade and a supply-chain view of Africa that we rarely contemplate.

The landscape is breath-taking in its size and complexity. Southern Africa’s major trade corridors traverse west to east, linking Southern and Central Africa’s interior with Mozambique’s Indian Ocean seaboard. The most important of these is the Maputo-Gauteng railway.

And there’s no shortage of investment. Mozambique’s Maputo Port Development Company will invest $1.8 billion (just under £1.1bn) in the next two decades. The South African Government is investing R300bn (£17.6bn) over the next six years in freight rail infrastructure, with Glasgow Caledonian University playing a strategic role in the corresponding investment in people through its partnership with Transnet Freight Rail and the University of Johannesburg

Fast growing economies

Mozambique is one of the fastest growing economies in the world and South Africa is the source of 85 per cent of exports passing through Maputo on to the Indian Sub-Continent and Asia. Africa is working. It’s not all disaster and aid. It is about hope, energy, youth and ambition, but most of all, human potential. Put differently, there needs to be a deeper realisation that Africa’s greatest asset is its people.

By 2020, Africa will have 1.1 billion people of working age, a workforce greater than China’s, but unless that potential is harnessed through tailored, collaborative education focused on building a continent of productive people able to exploit innovation and technology, that demographic advantage will be lost and the infrastructure investment will fail to fulfil its potential.

While Africa’s youthful population is a significant advantage, under-investment in education, capacity building and skills development will compromise economic growth, productivity and the chance of greater equality. From Barclays to Rolls Royce, Bombardier to Eskom, the challenge facing all market sectors in Sub-Saharan Africa is not the lack of people but the lack of skilled, educated and qualified people.

Enlightened employers

In South Africa, the legacy of apartheid has scarred not only students but also those providing education – in particular further education colleges, many of which have lost expertise. But South Africa especially has thousands who are catching up. With an eye to career progression, they are committed to self-improvement and realise a university or professional qualification is possible.

Enlightened employers such as Transnet, with more than 24,000 staff, have a keen awareness of skills shortages and have been forced to think creatively about attracting new talent, while also building people from within. What makes Transnet so impressive is the scale, the investment and the commitment across strategic and operational activities to tackle the very particular challenges associated with human capital; to ensure that the freight rail arteries of South Africa’s economic heart deliver economic growth.

Transnet is eager to work with Glasgow Caledonian University on tailored programmes; built on partnership, flexibility, negotiation of curriculum and critical tools such as Recognition of Prior Learning, which is vital for the thousands of people.

GCU’s partnership extends beyond Transnet into our local educational partner the University of Johannesburg and the Institution of Railway Operators in the UK; a quadripartite agreement, creating further opportunity to do business in South Africa.

We’re firmly behind the UK government’s drive to double trade between the UK and South Africa and we were pleased to be able to showcase GCU’s contribution at the UK-South Africa Bilateral Trade Talks in Johannesburg in September.

It was the latest chapter in GCU’s long association with South Africa which dates back to 1990 when the university awarded an honorary degree to Nelson Mandela whose recent death has once again turned focus on South Africa’s attempts to build a modern economy and multi-racial democracy. And GCU is proud to be able to play a part in helping South Africa realise that vision.

• Fiona Stewart-Knight is Director of Business Academies, Glasgow Caledonian University.


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