Interview: Saliou Touré

What can be done to improve higher education enrolment rates in Côte d’Ivoire?

SALIOU TOURE: Enrolment in higher education is undeniably linked to the development of primary – and secondary – level education, which provides students with the educational basis on which to succeed in university. Like all countries going through a period of turmoil, the years leading up to 2011 had a negative impact on our education system. It is true that access to overall education has been lacklustre, particularly among lower-income households, who rely heavily on neighbourhood schools and institutions in close proximity. However, recent years have seen a push by the local authorities, with the help of international groups, to increase educational capacity at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels, in both urban and rural areas. Nevertheless, we now have to tackle issues regarding equality to ensure that proper education is provided across the board.

How can female participation be increased, particularly in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields?

TOURE: Global efforts continue to work towards a world free of discrimination, in which young women and girls can achieve their goals through education. The fourth UN Sustainable Development goal aims to provide equitable education access. One of our main goals is to substantially expand the number of scholarships available in the least-developed, and therefore African, countries by 2020. UN data shows that expanding access to education for women and girls contributed to a 50% increase in economic growth in 16 countries over the past five decades. Approximately half of that increase is because women were entering higher levels of education.

If we take IUGB as an example, our current female-to-male gender ratio is 33:67. So, much like other universities, we need to aggressively seek new female recruits, especially within STEM fields. Institutions actively visit Ivorian high schools and feeder schools, or organise events – such as the Girls in Science and Technology science camp– to get prospective students and their parents interested in higher education. While increasing female participation in STEM is an issue of importance at the global level, it needs to be emphasised in African communities as traditional roles remain pervasive in the culture.

The main solution will come through the empowerment of women, and increased communication and support in providing them with the ability to pursue higher education. In this regard, recent years have seen the creation of several organisations dedicated to these matters and dedicated to developing women’s roles, both socially and professionally. The role of educational institutions is to support women in their studies, throughout all levels.

In what ways are recent graduates prepared to compete in the job market in Côte d’Ivoire?

TOURE: As the country looks to increase value creation through industrialisation and the development of strategic industries – such as ICT – the main challenge we face today is to ensure that our education system provides students with the tools and skills necessary to enter and compete in the job market. This, however, cannot be achieved independently.

Opening communication channels between industrial operators is necessary to develop greater coordination between academia and industry. Many multinational companies, such as Unilever, General Electric, ExxonMobil, Cargill, Coca-Cola and Olam along with local organisations such as the Conseil Café Cacao, and the Confédération Générale des Entreprises de Côte d’Ivoire, have already taken a leading role in creating partnerships with educational institutions for the development of the Ivorian youth through scholastic programmes and scholarships.