Written By: Professor Zororo Muranda

The interface between academia and industry has assumed a new meaning and urgency in recent times in Zimbabwe. Now, more than any other time in our development trajectory, has there been need for enhanced interface and collaboration in human capital and industrial development. Interconnectedness and mutual dependence will be central to defining new and more robust pathways. As the growth of the economy gains momentum under the National Development Strategy (NDS1) from 2021 -2025, there will be need for an appropriately skilled human capital that fits into the new industries as envisaged by the plan. Appropriateness in this instance is about fitness for purpose and fitness of purpose.     

The interface between academia and industry assumes different modes in different education jurisdictions and systems and industrial setups in the course of development of nations. Although traditionally academia and industry have tended to exist side by side, as the new economy and new development management models evolve, convergence of outcomes by the two domains becomes inevitable and a parameter in evaluating future success. Planned convergence will be the defining success factor. The future of human capital development with specific attention on the development of skills and competences necessary for the new industry will hinge on the attainable level of collaboration and interdependence of these two. The Interaction has to be therefore modelled on the basis of recognising the multi-layered nature in the synergistic relationships. The interaction is multi-layered because development of skills and competencies at various levels of our education system has to factor in knowledge expectations of industry hence the need of enhanced collaboration.  

Academia has always defined its role in terms of knowledge generation. Conversely, knowledge generation by industry, especially in developed economies has clearly demonstrated there is more to be gained in collaboration and interdependence than continuing on the traditional parallel path. Such knowledge has now become the basis of a lot of modern theory from which academia has coupled and extended for the benefit of mankind. Generation of knowledge by academia and industry is increasingly iterative, thus strengthening the argument of enhanced collaboration. Sometimes there has been failure to recognise each other’s roles and dialogue has failed due to inflexibility and protection of an empty nest. The gap between academia and industry has always been pinned on the weakness in application by academia. On the other hand we have an industry that is stuck to old technologies. They ignore that science, engineering and the management of industrial complexes have evolved and are now at a stage where they are looking forward to embrace artificial intelligence in new industries. However such weakness is not insurmountable. It should be addressed through genuine consultative processes that seek converging outcomes focusing on the development of skills relevant to the new industry. At this stage of our development trajectory both academia and industry should be focusing on a student with sharp cognitive skills and innovative intuition for wealth creation; a student with an appetite for innovation and making money. There are countries worldwide that have now gone beyond enhanced interface. They sent their best brains to study how to reverse engineer products and services in industries that have grown way beyond what came through reverse engineering. Their industry collaborated with academia knowing well the new industry will be for the good of the country. Such is what has defined their development; development that generates jobs and futuristic entrepreneurs. As a country, these are practices we should benchmark.

In Zimbabwe, recognition of the need for academia–industry interaction has mainly been through workplace placement programmes particularly through the technical college and university system. This form of interaction is an attempt to close a yawning skills gap of several decades. It is now part of the curriculum of universities, although a belated realisation. It is an attempt by academia to supply relevant manpower to industry. Zimbabwe’s industry has always been of the view that graduates should hit the ground running when offered employment. In the past such a perspective has not been well received by academia who argues that knowledge acquired by college students should give them important principles that can be further developed by the employer. The academic system should not necessarily develop a graduate whose knowledge is meant for a specific employer. The duty of fitting and developing knowledge for a specific operation should squarely lie with the employer. Although the argument, on the surface, may sound logical it lacks the realisation that the disjuncture between the two areas slows down innovation and industrial development. The employer can only develop the appropriate level of skills if fully knowledgeable of how the graduate came to be. There lies the importance of interlocked collaboration; interface and collaboration that starts from developing and nurturing the basic idea that can be grown into a new industry. It is not about student placement and gaining from cheap labour; very far from it. What academia and industry interface seeks is collaborative development of innovations that generate new products and services i.e. new wealth and new industries.

 As a country, enhanced interface and interdependence is what is now needed. Although the country’s higher education system has now adopted the Education 5.0 philosophy, which in addition to focusing on teaching, research, and community service is now pushing for innovation and industrialisation as core domains, industry senses a threat particularly about the last domain on industrialisation. There has been grumblings from industry why academia is trying to enter and occupy their territory. There lies the elephant in the room. This should actually be an opportune moment for industry and academia to sit and firstly, define the future of our human capital and industrial development and secondly map the necessary framework centred on honesty interaction, collaboration, and interdependence. Countries that have enjoyed sustained industrial development have adapted their interaction to the fact that neither side has the monopoly to the nation’s industrial development question. There is enough space for both.

Shared knowledge on research, innovations and industrial development models is what underlies how developed economies came to be. This is not to say the country has to copy and paste human capital development and industrial development models of the past, far from it. If anything Zimbabwe needs novel industrial models and totally new industries that do not replicate industries of the past. Replication appears doomed. However, the current industry, with all its challenges remains an important source of knowledge of what to do and what not to do.

 Going forward, collaboration between academia and industry can take a leaf from the advisory note of those active in the two domains. It is clear neither has monopoly of knowledge and capital to go it alone into year 2030 and beyond. Genuine dialogue specific to interaction and collaboration through platforms such as conferences, workshops, seminars and symposia will quicken processes. Within the academic domain future pursuits not incorporating industry desires of the moment will  not only slow down closing the skills gap but also the pace of establishing new industry in line with desires of NDS1. Achieving middle income by year 2030 can only be through enhanced interface, collaboration and interdependence in both human capital and new industry.  

Over time, Marketers Association of Zimbabwe has noted that a myriad of practical marketing trends emerge in industry due to the changing technological landscape. Further, each year, academic institutions conduct researches which never get to be seen by industry.

The Marketers Association of Zimbabwe then engaged with the University of Zimbabwe and the two institutions have signed a memorandum of Agreement to facilitate and host the Summer School whose aim is to bridge the gap between academia and industry.

This collaboration seeks to close this gap and provide an interface where industry outlines the practical marketing applications in industry, whilst the academia share relevant research findings.

This interface dovetails with the University of Zimbabwe’s transformative journey where one of its five strategic objectives is to develop strategic partnerships to leverage knowledge-sharing, resource mobilization and investments for advancement of innovative research, outreach, teaching and business development.

Among the objectives of the Summer School are;

  1. To provide a platform for the academic world to share research insights and findings/ outputs from their wealth of research, which will assist industry in decision making;
  2. To provide a platform for industry to share practical insights, challenges, and opportunities, as well as new trends which will open opportunities for further research;
  3. To provide a networking platform for both industry and the academic sector so as to encourage a consistent flow of ideas between the two sectors, in particular in the business and marketing spheres.
  4. To identify research gaps that can create many research questions for masters and doctoral students at the University of Zimbabwe.

The proposed dates for the Summer School are 9th and 10th September 2021 at the University of Zimbabwe Post Graduate Centre.

The Summer school seminar will be held over a 2 day period and will be open to marketing lecturers from all relevant universities and colleges in Zimbabwe; marketing personnel in the relevant Universities and colleges from the Administration Side; marketing Students from relevant universities and colleges in Zimbabwe and Industry practitioners, captains of industry and business executives.

Professor Zororo Muranda is the president of the Marketers Association of Zimbabwe. He is a seasoned, goal driven and highly experienced academic with over 25 years teaching at both undergraduate and post-graduate level. He is also an accomplished researcher and author of a book, book chapters, and published articles in local and international journals, monograph, and reviewed and non-reviewed conference proceedings.