Advisory boards with higher education and industry experts can strengthen the collaboration needed to grow Africa’s space sector through jointly deciding on curriculum content and funding of space research.
This emerged at the seventh Africa Space Generation Workshop held in Harare, Zimbabwe, recently. Tafadzwa Banga, the event manager, told University World News the event attracted about 90 delegates from Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Rwanda, South Africa, Ghana, India, Zimbabwe and Nigeria, providing them with a valuable platform to engage with industry experts.
University World News has previously reported that space activities are believed to be a magic bullet to Africa’s development challenges relating to food security, water security and environmental management as they are all intrinsically linked to space technology.
Only a handful of countries, South Africa included, offer higher education space studies in a broader context, raising the need to boost space education, which is necessary to create opportunities for students and skills for African countries.
Banga said deliberations at the workshop had a global impact, as they ensured that the voices of young individuals were taken into account by decision-makers.
“The capacity-building working group and the panel discussion on ‘Strengthening University-Industry Collaboration for Space Skill Development in Africa’ emphasised the reciprocal relationship between industry and academia, underscoring the vital role each plays in advancing the sector.
“Notably, the workshop highlighted various capacity-building programmes, including the United Nations’ Birds project [based] at Kyushu Institute of Technology [Japan], which has successfully facilitated the launch of cube satellites for emerging space nations. The aim is to integrate this wealth of information into practical use for the African community’s benefit,” he said.
The Birds project aims to provide students from developing countries with hands-on training in satellite design, manufacture and testing for them to ultimately lead successful space programmes in their respective countries.
Ethiopian national Zelalem Bogale, who attended the workshop in Harare, told University World News that he has been actively involved in initiatives that aim to strengthen ties between academia, governments and the private space community across Africa.
Bogale said he began his career in the aerospace sector working as an engineer at the Ethiopian Space Science and Technology Institute, specialising in areas such as rocket nozzle design, mechanical analysis, and designing mobile launching pads for rockets.
He said this experience allowed him to directly apply his expertise to advance Ethiopia’s ambitions in space exploration and, more recently, he transitioned to a stimulating position as an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, or Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (UAV/RPAS) engineer.
Bogale was awarded the 2023 African Space Leader Award by the Space Generation Advisory Council (SGAC), a global network of students and young professionals interested in the space industry. The award was in recognition of his ongoing contribution and commitment to advancing the space sector in Africa. As the award’s recipient, he was fully sponsored to attend the workshop in Harare.
Based on his attendance, he made recommendations on how higher education can better adapt curricula to meet industry needs.
“One strategy discussed, which I believe has strong potential, is the formation of advisory boards comprising academic and industry experts. These boards could provide ongoing guidance and feedback to ensure curriculums are equipping students with both the theoretical foundations and practical skills required by employers.
“With frequent input from professionals in the field, universities can better understand and respond to the evolving demands of the space sector,” he said.
“The panel emphasised the importance of real-world learning experiences like internships, assistantships and industry projects to give universities deeper insights into employers’ current and anticipated needs.
“In my view, integrating more experiential elements into programmes is highly effective for understanding skills requirements. Academia could also benefit from embedding industry mentors directly in curriculum design and delivery.”
Bogale said that, as technologies rapidly advance, the discussion reinforced that both new graduates and mid-career professionals require accessible options to continuously upgrade their expertise.
He said in his analysis that multi-stakeholder partnerships that offer executive education, professional certifications and credentialed reskilling programmes could be invaluable towards supporting the adaptation of higher education and lifelong career development.
Bogale said that, based on the insights gained from the panel discussion, there are ways to address diversity in the space sector through industry-academia collaboration.
“Supporting conferences, publications and symposia highlighting contributions of black Africans, women and other minorities to space achievements helps reshape outdated narratives and evolves perspectives on who can succeed in these fields. Showcasing diverse role models inspires the next generation.
“Through awareness, access and community, industry-university alliances are well-positioned to nurture an equitable space for all talented individuals to thrive. Diversity will strengthen these partnerships and Africa’s evolving space sector,” he said.
Partnering with the government
Zimbabwe’s Chinhoyi State University fourth-year geoinformatics and environmental conservation studies student Muongeni Tamara Manda, who also attended the workshop, said universities should review and align curriculums with industry needs by analysing industry demands and integrating relevant subjects, practical experiences and industry-oriented projects into the curriculum.
“The African space industry is characterised by a low number of Africans as the continent lacks sufficient skills, resulting in key roles being sourced from outside the continent.
“This is mostly due to curricula [that are not aligned to the sector’s needs], limited access to ICT infrastructure and insufficient funds.
“Increased investments in space education by governments, NGOs and the private sector would help to bridge the skills gap in the space industry.
“The focus on space engineering and the development of integrated mobile applications and Internet of Things-based infrastructure would require close collaboration between third-party software developers that address the end user’s needs,” she said.
“In most African countries, a huge proportion of funds invested in the space industry are coming from external donors and, sometimes, they do not fit in national agendas.
“The lack of clear business models has led to inefficient use and copyright issues. To overcome these challenges, governments should build strong partnerships with the private sector, academia and NGOs,” said Manda.
Building a network
Ruth Jebet, a computer science student from Kenya’s Moi University, who recently graduated and attended the workshop, was, like Ethiopia’s Bogale, a recipient of the Africa Space Leader Award in recognition of her involvement in advancing Kenya’s space initiatives.
She said the need to facilitate collaborative research projects between universities and space industry players was one of her takeaways from the workshop.
Jebet said there must be funding initiatives that support research projects with both academic and industry contributions.
She said the workshop served as a platform to showcase diverse contributions, connect with fellow space enthusiasts, and gain insights from regional achievers.
“My active involvement within the Space Generation Advisory Council has harnessed my computer science background and space-related endeavours to promote dialogue, collaboration and advocacy among young space enthusiasts.
“Through memberships in global organisations, I have connected with professionals worldwide, enriching my knowledge and representing the aspirations of young African space leaders,” she said.
Source: University World News