Joint Advisory Groups (JAGs) strengthen the relationship between universities and their external stakeholders. They enable universities, employers, and the wider community to come together to inform and contribute to each other’s practices.
Joint Advisory Groups, known as JAGs, were the main mechanism created by the TESCEA project for universities to engage with their external stakeholders. They were developed in response to the experiences of universities, who reported that relationships with employers often did not last and that they depended on individual lecturers and their relationships with particular organisations. Further, both universities and employers saw a need to improve student placements to ensure their usefulness for both the students and the hosting employer.
JAGs were designed to reformulate the relationship between universities and their external stakeholders by allowing universities, employers, and the wider community to come together to inform and contribute to each other’s practices. For example, and key to TESCEA, JAGs helped by identifying skills, competencies and attitudes expected by industry which graduates are missing and feeding these into the course redesign process.
“It was addressing the need to get feedback and feedforward from the job market regarding our curricular, both content and training methods... Specifically, it was meant to bring out the soft skills required by the job market (Critical Thinking and Problem-solving skills/attitudes).”
Professor Flora Fabian, University of Dodoma
JAGs create a forum in which all stakeholders can benefit and learn; community stakeholders inform curriculum development, and universities are able to develop and enrich student experiences. During TESCEA, the role of the JAGs evolved and expanded beyond what was originally envisaged. They have provided input into the course redesign process, facilitating student and lecturer placements, and delivering guest lectures on campus. However, the JAGs have also provided input into the development of university policies and facilitated strategic connections between the universities, senior government, and policy officials.
“[JAGs] have become more conversant with the [university’s] institutional structure and how it operates. This has helped them to provide the critical support required in the transformation of lecturers and students. UDOM JAGs do engage and commit themselves in support of teaching and learning by providing mentorship to students, supporting students’ placements, university policy reviews and development, and advocating for the TESCEA approach.”
Dr Edwin Ngowi, formerly University of Dodoma
The JAG approach
Each university's JAG has over 25 external members from government, municipal/district leadership, commerce and industry, non-governmental organisations and associations, and community representatives. New JAG members are often identified or recommended by existing members, in response to the needs of the group. These groups meet in a range of ways, depending on the university, and can change over time as the relationship evolves. Read this mini case to find out more about the composition of the JAGs and how meetings are run.
Throughout TESCEA, the universities have benefitted from the support of Ashoka East Africa. As a project support partner, Ashoka played an active role in the establishment of the JAGs, delivering ‘changemaker organisation mentality’ training and also recommending fellows from the Ashoka network to join the groups. Once established, representatives from Ashoka have regularly participated and supported JAG meetings. Read this blog post by Vincent Otieno Odhiambo, Regional Director of Ashoka East Africa in Kenya, describing their involvement.
Ashoka Fellow Joseph Nkandu of NuCafe speaking at Uganda Martyrs University
Key contributions of JAGs
Literature review and identifying skills gaps JAGs contributed to the collation and review of literature in their countries and worldwide related to graduate skills and employment. This literature was analysed to develop a skills matrix, which informs the approach to course redesign. Read this paper to find out more about the TESCEA skills matrix and process: Graduate skills for employability in East Africa: Evolution of a skills matrix for course redesign.
Establishing agreements with universities JAGs co-developed memorandums of understanding (MoUs) with the universities. These agreements ensure that JAG member organisations save a dedicated number of internship slots for the university’s students, allowing them to benefit from experiential engagement with industry.
Work experience JAG members facilitated authentic, work-based experiences for students, which complimented their theoretical studies. Some universities engaged JAG members as visiting lecturers (pracademics), while others arranged training and placements for students.
Mentoring JAG members mentored students. In particular, this mentoring concerned how students can build their profile and ability to share what they know and present themselves to potential employers and investors.
During the implementation of the JAG approach within the TESCEA project we encountered the following challenges:
Parameters of the JAG As the groups evolved, some universities found that it could be challenging to know when to engage the JAG, and how to define what they wanted them to do, as the potential scope is broad. It is necessary to address this challenge by spending time collaboratively identifying the group’s priorities, and where their interests align. It is also important to recognise that this is an iterative process, and the priorities will develop and change over time. For example, as described later, Gulu’s JAG evolved into an advisory committee.
Slow process of buy-in Some universities have put significant effort into advocating for this approach to senior management and sourcing institutional funding. Especially at large institutions, the adoption of new approaches can “take time and constant push and lobbying” (UDOM).
Keeping up with industry developments As mentioned above, it can be difficult to make improvements to the curriculum at the speed at which industry changes and develops. “The purpose of JAG is to get inputs from industry to come up with improved curriculum, but the industry is dynamic such that by the time you come up with a new curriculum it is no longer relevant.” (Mzumbe team). However, it is important to note here that keeping up with industry changes will always be a challenge but would be harder without JAG involvement.
Subject and industry specificity At times, the advice provided by JAG members may be specific only to a particular industry or field. As such, it is a challenge for universities to identify what advice is generalisable and what is not. To address this challenge, some universities plan to create departmental (rather than institutional) JAGs. This will enable members to come from associated fields and be best placed to inform curriculum developments in those fields.
Evolving and changing membership JAG members are consistently very busy and, at times, it can be challenging to secure their participation in meetings. In addition, a challenge can arise when a member sends a delegate in their place, as the delegate may not know the approach well, and may have different competencies. Incentivisation of membership (explored below) and careful scheduling of meetings can promote regular participation. However, it is necessary to accommodate some changes in membership. This can be made easier by clear documentation of meetings and events and induction resources, so new members are brought up to speed quickly.
Incentivisation Appropriate compensation of time and travel can be an effective way to incentivise long-term participation. However, finding an institutional budget for this can be challenging. Advocacy with senior management is crucial when working to secure institutional funding and support.
All the universities within the project are exploring ways to sustain the JAG approach beyond the project’s lifespan. At UDOM and Mzumbe, there are plans to institutionalise the approach, however, it will be brought down to a departmental level. At Gulu University, the Directorate for Community Engagement will assume responsibility for continuing engagement with external stakeholders. While there will not be a budget for large-scale JAG meetings after the project, the hope is that JAG members will continue to engage with the university at the faculty level and that they will remain “champions” of the TESCEA approach.
Written by Harriet Mutonyi and Josephine Dryden
With expert contributions from: Dr David Monk (Lecturer at Gulu University), Dr Felichesmi Lyakurwa (Senior Lecturer at Mzumbe University), Perpetua Kalimasi (Department of Education Foundations and Teaching Management Coordinator), Mursali Milanzi (lecturer, Mzumbe University), Dr Flora Fabian (Professor at University of Dodoma), Rehema Kilonzo (Senior Lecturer, University of Dodoma).