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A round-up of recent news from the UK, Africa and around the world

A round-up of recent news from the UK, Africa and around the world
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One in Five UK Working Mums Denied Flexible Working and Forced to Leave Jobs, says Survey

Nearly one in five (18 per cent) UK working mothers has been forced to leave their jobs because a flexible working request has been turned down, according to a new survey. More than a quarter (26 per cent) of women in work had flexible working requests rejected and 12 per cent felt their employer did not consider their request, found the Workingmums Annual Survey 2016. More than two-thirds (68 per cent) of women who were on maternity leave and had a flexible-working request refused believed it was not justified. Nearly four-fifths (79 per cent) did not appeal the decision. Two-fifths (41 per cent) of women on maternity leave said a refusal to accommodate flexible working would mean they wouldn’t return to their job after the leave period ended. Since 2014, all UK employees who have worked with an organisation for more than six months are legally entitled to request flexible working. But Workingmums said women needed to be better educated about their right to request flexible working options. The survey of more than 2,000 women also found that 22 per cent of those who were on maternity leave had had their flexible working requests refused before returning to work. Reasons given by employers included: ‘It would have a detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demands’ (21 per cent); ‘It will be impossible to reorganise work among existing staff’ (23 per cent); and ‘There were already planned structural changes’ (17 per cent). Almost three-fifths (59 per cent) of women said they felt they had to work harder to overcome unconscious bias against working mums and flexible workers. More than half (53 per cent) said more flexible working would help with their career development, and 50 per cent wanted to see more flexible job opportunities advertised. Offering flexible hours for full-time jobs was rated as the highest factor in a ‘family friendly company’ (80 per cent), compared to extended maternity pay periods, networking and support groups, parenting courses and childcare help.

New York Law Firms Fail on Diversity

A report from the New York City Bar shows some of the city’s largest law firms have a severe lack in diversity in their employees. In addition to women and minorities being underrepresented at many of the most profitable firms, low hiring and promotion rates for women and minorities — as well as higher turnover rates when compared to that of white men — have a disproportionate impact on representation. Minorities overall, as of January 2016, make up just 25.9 percent of the firms’ associates. When it comes to leadership roles, the numbers are dismal. Minorities, as of December 2015, represent 8.4 percent of partners and 7.0 percent of practice heads, and have 7.1 percent representation on management committees. Fifty-nine percent of the firms have no minorities on their management committees, and more than one in three firms have no minority practice group heads. Despite education rates equal to those of men, women attorneys remain underrepresented, according to the report. Women attorneys make up 35 percent of all attorneys reported in the signatory firms, despite representing almost half of graduating law school classes for nearly two decades and 47 percent of summer associates in 2015. As of December 2015, women represent 20.3 percent of members of management committees at the firms. One in four of the firms have no women on their management committees. Only 19.7 percent of partners are women, and 18.7 percent of practice heads. Poor hiring and promotion practices are also impacting the pipeline. For women, as of January 2016, the percentage of female new partner hires at the firms was 29.7 percent, and lateral new partner hires were 21.6 percent women. Women and minorities also continue leaving the firms at higher rates than white men, the report states, and attrition remains a persistent challenge. At the associate level — the future pipeline of talent to firm leadership — attrition rates for white men and women associates are almost at parity (20.8 percent and 20.4 percent) while attrition rates for minority men and women are higher (22.0 percent and 22.5 percent.) While signatory firms are more diverse at every level than they were when the City Bar first began tracking diversity benchmarking data, the 2015 data indicates that overall representation of minority attorneys has stalled in recent years. Seventy-five firms participated in the survey this year, up from 55 last year.

New Ranking on UK Employers’ Record on Social Mobility Launched

UK organisations are to be ranked for the first time based on their ability to access talent from all socioeconomic environments. The Social Mobility Employer Index – a joint initiative from the Social Mobility Foundation and the Social Mobility Commission – aims to showcase organisations improving social mobility in the UK by recruiting the best talent for job vacancies, regardless of their social background. The index is primarily aimed at companies in ‘elite’ sectors that have a poor track record of encouraging social mobility, including law, accountancy, media, banking and science. Research has consistently shown that people with more affluent backgrounds – including those who attended private schools and elite universities – take a disproportionate number of the ‘best’ jobs available. Around half of diplomats, 47 per cent of newspaper columnists and 38 per cent of members of the House of Lords attended either Oxford or Cambridge University, compared with less than 1 per cent of the British population as a whole, according to government figures.Companies that wish to be listed on the new index will need to answer questions about their recruitment, selection and career progression practices. They will be ranked by a panel of experts, and receive recommendations of areas for improvement. Those that fail to make the grade will not be ‘named and shamed’, said the Social Mobility Commission.

More than 40% of Young Women Expect Sex Discrimination at work

More than two-fifths of young women expect to face sex discrimination at work, new research has found. When questioned about their career expectations, 41 per cent of women aged between 13 and 22 said they felt their gender would negatively impact on their prospects, compared to just 4 per cent of young men, according to the YouGov poll, which was commissioned by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS). One-fifth (20 per cent) of surveyed young men not only rejected the worry that they might face discrimination, but said their gender would be a positive influence on their careers, helping them earn more than their female peers. If a company is not gender diverse, one in five young women said they definitely would not work there, or would barely consider doing so. The survey also found that the building industry was perceived as the worst for gender discrimination. The research supports the idea that the responsibility of closing the gender gap lies with managers and executives, with 73 per cent of respondents saying the attitudes and behaviour of CEOs and senior leaders were important in encouraging equal numbers of men and women at work. Meanwhile, a survey from Xactly suggested those at the top continued to hold outdated attitudes towards gender in the workplace, with almost half (49 per cent) of 250 UK executives saying the gender pay gap was the result of a ‘natural prejudice against women’. A further 62 per cent said they felt the gap in pay was mainly caused by women taking time out of their careers to have children, and their struggle to catch up when returning to work.

Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust Welcomes Applications

The Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust welcomes applications from organisations whose work is legally charitable as defined by UK law. The Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust (JRCT) is interested in funding work which is about removing problems through radical solutions, and not simply about making problems easier to live with has a clear sense of objectives, and of how to achieve them is innovative and imaginative and where the grant has a good chance of making a difference. Applications can be made at any time under the following priority areas: Peace and Security to support a transition towards the use of 'soft', rather than 'hard' power as a first line of response to conflict within society and around the world, the de-legitimisation of violence as a tool for responding to conflict, securing interests or projecting power; Power and Accountability to support people to create a world in which power is more equally shared, and in which powerful institutions are responsive and accountable to wider society and aligned with the long-term public interest; Rights and Justice to promote racial justice and equality of opportunity as a basis for a harmonious multi-racial, multi-ethnic society in the UK; Sustainable Future to develop and promote sustainable, low-carbon alternatives to the current consumerist and growth-based paradigm; and Northern Ireland to fund work which will contribute as a strategic level to the ongoing transformation of the Northern Ireland conflict. Organisations should be undertaking work at a national level. This means work that seeks to make positive change across the UK as a whole, or across one or more of its member countries - England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.Further information and an online application form can be found on the JRCTwebsite

Discrimination against UK Working Mothers Costs Businesses £280m Annually

British companies are losing nearly £280m a year as a result of women being forced out of their jobs because of pregnancy and maternity discrimination, according to a new study from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC). The losses are mainly down to recruitment and training costs, and lost productivity. And the figure could be even higher, suggests the study, if the value of reputational risk, loss of talented employees, employment tribunals and longer-term productivity impacts are considered. In a recent EHRC survey, 77 per cent of mothers reported having a negative, or possibly discriminatory, experience at work, and around 54,000 a year are forced out of their jobs after becoming pregnant. The latest EHRC research estimates this treatment costs women up to £113m a year. Women who do keep their jobs lose up to £34m in total over the following year because of pregnancy discrimination, according to the new report, which takes into account the value of failed promotions, reduced salaries, demotions and receiving a lower than expected pay rise or bonus.

80% of UK Businesses Unprepared for Brexit Impact on Staff

Fewer than one in five UK employers have begun to prepare for post-Brexit restrictions on hiring European workers. A poll of just over 1,000 HR professionals found that just 15 per cent of organisations had started to prepare for the impact of restrictions on EU labour – despite 42 per cent of employers expecting such restrictions to damage their UK operations. The CIPD/Adecco Group Labour Market Outlook also found that, of the 15 per cent that had started preparatory work, 43 per cent were focusing on strategic workforce planning, while 39 per cent were reviewing their resourcing strategies. Only 22 per cent were planning to boost investment in apprenticeships, with a similar number looking to build closer links with schools and colleges. While prime minister Theresa May’s bid to start formal negotiations over the UK’s exit from the EU has hit legal complications, the impact of the vote to leave is already being felt in boardrooms. Nearly two-thirds (62 per cent) of respondents to the Labour Market Outlook said their organisation employed migrant workers, and nearly a quarter (23 per cent) of these employers said they had seen evidence that EU migrants were considering leaving the UK in the next 12 months as a result of the referendum result. More than half (54 per cent) of those with stated intentions to recruit EU migrants over the next 12 months believed their task would be harder than before the vote. Only 6 per cent of employers surveyed said they favoured a ‘hard Brexit’ based on World Trade Organisation rules. Many employers favoured a European Economic Area-type arrangement including free movement of labour (26 per cent), a situation similar to existing trading arrangements (10 per cent) or bilateral free trade agreements (10 per cent). The report also found that the net employment balance – based on the difference between the proportion of employers expanding their workforces and those reducing their workforces – had fallen to +22 compared to +27 in the previous quarter. Real wages also look set to fall, with employers anticipating median basic pay settlements of just 1.1 per cent in the next 12 months.

UK Aid Direct Invites Applications for 2017

The Department for International Development’s UK Aid Direct Fund is currently accepting applications from UK and international civil society organisations working to reduce poverty overseas. The aim of the five-year £150 million UK Aid Direct programme is to fund small and medium-sized national and international civil society organisations to reduce poverty and work towards achieving the Global Goals. It is specifically aimed at reaching the most marginalised and vulnerable populations, supporting the DFID agenda to ‘leave no one behind’. Formerly known as the Global Poverty Action Fund (GPAF), the fund was relaunched in 2014 as UK Aid Direct and will continue until 2020. Two grants are available through this Fund: Community Partnership grants of up to £250,000 - open to small UK-based non-profit organisations with an income of less than £1 million for the past three years. No match funding is required. Impact grants of between £250,001 and £4 million - open to small or medium-sized non-profit organisations with an income of less than £10 million for the past three years that are based in the UK or in a country that DFID considers to be high or moderate fragility. Applicants must be able to provide 25% of the funds per project. The funding is for projects taking place in the lowest 50 countries in the UN Human Development Index (HDI) and countries the DFID considers to be of high or moderate fragility. The focus for the 2016/17 funding round is to support civil society towards achieving the Global Goals, focusing on the most vulnerable and marginalised populations, in particular girls and women, to ‘leave no one behind’. During this round, applicants should consider how projects will directly tackle poverty and respond to one or more of the four DFID strategic objectives. Online applications will be accepted until 31 January 2017. The Fund is managed by MannionDaniels on behalf of DFID. Further information can be found on the UK Aid Direct website

Robert Louis Stevenson Fellowship 2017 Accepting Applications from Professional Writers

This fellowship first began in 1994 and was the idea of Franki Fewkes, a Scottish RLS enthusiast who was then living in France. It is supported by Creative Scotland. The location of this fellowship, Grez-sur-Loing at the edge of the French Forest of Fontainebleu, was selected because of its ties to Robert Louis Stevenson. Stevenson first visited here during 1875 and would be a place of great significance to his life and work. The purpose of this fellowship is to gift writers with the space and time to pursue their writing, away from the disturbances of everyday life. It is anticipated that the peaceful, attractive setting of Grez-sur-loing will inspire writers to begin new writing projects or to complete existing projects that may have otherwise been left unfinished. This scheme is intended for practicing Scottish Writers who would find taking time away from their usual environment to be beneficial for developing their professional work. Writers who have a significant track record as a professional writer outside of Scotland, but are now living and working in Scotland, may also apply at the discretion of Scottish Book Trust. Residences will be provided for one month each in a self-catering studio apartment. This will take place at the Hotel Chevillon International Arts at Grez-sur-Loing. Travel and accommodation will be paid for and fellows will be awarded £300 for the purpose of covering living expenses. The deadline for applications will be 1 February 2017. For further information, interested parties should visit the Scottish Book Trust
website

‘Career break penalty’ Costs UK Women £4,000 Each

UK women returning to the workforce after a career break are losing out on £1.1bn a year, according to a new report – the equivalent to £4,000 each. Around 427,000 UK female professionals are currently estimated to be on a career break. Two-thirds of these women (around 278,000) could be working below their potential as they take lower-skilled or lower-paid roles, or work fewer hours than they prefer, when they return to work, found the report by PwC, the 30% Club and Women Returners.

The report said recruiters’ bias against ‘CV gaps’, and the lack of flexible and part-time roles available in high-skilled jobs, are to blame. Three in five women (approximately 249,000) are likely to enter lower-skilled roles when they return to work, with the downgrade causing a reduction in hourly earnings by between 12 and 32 per cent. A further 29,000 women who are returning to part-time work would prefer to work longer hours but can’t because of a lack of flexible roles. The report, Women returners – The £1 biliion career break penalty for professional women, said addressing ‘occupational downgrades’ could boost this demographic’s annual earnings by £637m, while increasing part-time hours could contribute an additional 14,000 full-time employees to the UK workforce annually, and boost earnings by £423m. Meanwhile, a separate report from the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) and Middlesex University found that costly childcare is a barrier to full-time employment for many employees. More than a quarter (28 per cent) of firms surveyed said they have seen a reduction of working hours by staff because of the cost of childcare, while nearly 1 in 10 (9 per cent) have seen employees leave their organisation, according to the survey of more than 1,600 UK business leaders. A third of companies (33 per cent) said they regard the availability of childcare as a key issue in recruiting and retaining staff. Currently, every three and four-year-old in Britain is entitled to up to 15 hours of free early education and childcare per week. From 2017, this entitlement will be doubled to 30 hours a week.

Church Urban Fund Offers £250,000 to Support England’s Diverse Communities

The Department for Communities and Local Government is making £250,000 available through the Common Good Fund which is administered by the Church Urban Fund to boost diverse communities across England. The Common Good Fund is a new Church Urban Fund that is an extension of the Near Neighbours programme and is providing grants of between £250 and £5,000 as seed funding for locally-led projects. The Common Good Fund has four key objectives: Creating a common agenda – to see local people reach a shared vision of how to work together to improve their areas; Promoting a sense of personal responsibility – the recognition that everyone has something to contribute and should feel ownership over local initiatives; Increasing levels of participation and social cohesion – the belief that the local community is strongest when everyone is involved in social action; Promoting an alternative to hate, tolerance, and prejudice – the feeling that meaningful relationships can develop where there is shared understanding, as well as trust and respect for each other. The funding is available across England, except for the areas where Near Neighbours Small Grants are available and the initial focus will be on areas where there has been significant migration from European countries and settlement of asylum seekers and refugees; and areas where there are clear indications that there are tensions. This includes Barking and Dagenham, Batley, Boston, Cambridge, Corby, Harlow, Liverpool, Merton, Middlesbrough, Oxford, Peterborough, Slough, South Holland, and Wisbech. Grassroots organisations including charities, religious organisations and other not-for-profit organisations whose focus is on local work can apply. Applications will be accepted until 1 February 2017. Full details can be found on the Church Urban Fund website

Business in the Community Opens 2017 Responsible Business Awards

The Business in the Community Responsible Business Awards are open to all private sector organisations that have a commercial presence in the UK. The Awards recognise businesses that have shown innovation, creativity and sustained commitment to corporate responsibility. The 2017 Award Categories are as follows:

  • Business in the Community’s Responsible Business of the Year
  • The Fujitsu Award for Responsible Business in the Digital Age
  • The Barclays Award for Building Resilient Business
  • The Unilever Global Development Award, supported by Business Fights Poverty
  • The Experian Award for Building Stronger Communities
  • The Unipart Award for Outstanding Employment
  • The BITC Award for Environmental Leadership, supported by Defra
  • The UBS Award for Education
  • The Aviva Award for Championing an Ageing Workforce
  • The UPS International Disaster Relief and Resilience Award, supported by the Department for International Development
  • Reaccreditations
Winners receive a public acknowledgement of a company's programme of work that indicates that the entrant demonstrated significant evidence of positive impact on the business and the wider society. Entries to the 2017 round of Awards are now invited until 10 February 2017. Further details can be accessed at the programme website

British seniors among ‘most tech-savvy in the world’ as online retailing in UK passes £130bn

A new report from global retail property experts, Colliers International, shows that while online shopping is growing rapidly, the way that people around the world shop and pay for their goods remains very diverse. The largest European e-commerce market is found in the UK with online sales currently running at around at £130bn ($160bn) annually. British seniors are among the most tech-savvy consumers in the world with 78 per cent of internet users over 65 now shopping online. Italians are among the least tech-savvy shoppers in Western Europe. Only 68 per cent have access to the internet and just 26 per cent are shopping online. The report also looks at how shoppers pay for the purchases around the world. Cash remains the predominant method of paying for shopping, particularly in China, Russia, Spain, Germany, Poland and Italy. French shoppers use more cheques than any other European nation while consumers in the Netherlands and Sweden are heading slowly towards cashless society.  The share of cross-border transactions in online retail is increasing rapidly, as shoppers gradually feel more confident about shopping on foreign websites; retailers are accepting different payment methods to boost their turnover growth and are willing to deliver items to almost every part of the globe. The UK, US, China and Germany are the biggest online export markets globally. By 2020, 45 per cent of online shoppers will buy from other countries. The value of cross-border sales is expected to increase from US$230 billion in 2014 to US$1 trillion by 2020

4 African Countries Feature in Top 15 for Global Gender Parity, says Report

Covering 144 countries, the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2016 shows how far women around the world still need to come to match their male counterparts in terms of health, education, economic activity and political empowerment. However, four African countries have the proud distinction of being in the global top 15 in terms of their level of gender parity. They are Rwanda in fifth place overall, Burundi (12th), Namibia (14th) and South Africa (15th). Leading the index ranking are Iceland, Finland and Norway.  In terms of the 2016 results, the researchers noted that: “Out of the 142 countries covered by the index both this year and last year, 68 countries have increased their overall gender gap score compared to last year, while 74 have seen it decrease.” The report noted that, based on current trends, “the overall global gender gap can be closed in 83 years across the 107 countries covered since the inception of the report—just within the statistical lifetime of baby girls born today.” Although challenges remain, specifically in the economic sphere and in health.  

Uber Booming in Nigeria, says West Africa Chief

Ride-hailing company Uber has offered over a million trips in Nigeria two years after it started there and is eyeing expansion to a French-speaking West African country next, according to its West African chief. The United States tech firm operates in over 400 cities worldwide and in Africa is present in countries including South Africa and Kenya. It began operations in Nigeria’s business capital Lagos two years ago and in Abuja, the capital city, in March. The company recorded its millionth trip in Lagos in July, said Uber’s general manager for West Africa, Ebi Atawodi, and after launching operations in Ghana’s capital Accra in June, Uber is now eyeing expansion into a French-speaking West African country. Uber wants to attract more economic activity around its platform than just offering rides, including attracting car insurers, car washers and car mechanics, as well as offering credit ratings to individuals who would not get a bank loan otherwise. While in the West, the Uber partners (drivers) tend to drive their own vehicle, in sub-Saharan Africa, they are employed by someone who owns one or more cars and then they employ the drivers.

African Trade Insurance Agency (ATI) officially open for business in Ethiopia and Zimbabwe to Ease Investors’ Concerns

The African Trade Insurance Agency (ATI) and African Development Bank have announced that it is ready to begin covering transactions in Ethiopia and Zimbabwe. After a year-long process that was supported with funds from the African Development Bank, both countries are now members. The announcement will give investors crucial comfort to start or continue doing business in these countries. ATI was established in 2001 by African governments and a range of other shareholders to ease the concerns of investors by providing a range of investment and political risk insurance products. In the case of Ethiopia, one of Africa’s fastest growing economies, ATI will help the country maintain its status as one of Africa’s biggest success stories. The $66 billion economy has been expanding as much as 10.3 percent annually over recent years, according to the International Monetary Fund, with a dip to 6.5 percent last year due to drought. Ethiopia has also been successful in attracting large manufacturers such as Unilever NV, Diageo Plc and Hennes & Mauritz (H&M) and has taken the lead in export of agricultural products. For Zimbabwe, membership in ATI would give a boost to the country’s quest to attract foreign direct investments. The African Development Bank has financed Ethiopia and Zimbabwe’s membership into ATI. The affiliation with ATI will attract prospective investors with additional guarantees to participate in the priority areas of powering & lighting, feeding, industrializing and integrating both countries. It will also help improve the livelihood of millions of Ethiopians and Zimbabweans. In both countries, ATI has a current project pipeline estimated at over one billion USD, which is expected to double in the short-term based on existing demand for its products. Prospective projects include a 400 MW solar energy plant in Ethiopia that would contribute to the country’s carbon neutral growth plan to improve the living conditions of its citizens. And in Zimbabwe, ATI is considering a line of credit targeting commercial banks that will allow them to increase their lending volumes. ATI provides political, investment and trade credit risk insurance and surety bonds to clients doing business in its member countries. The products are created to help countries attract more investments and to promote domestic trade by providing insurance that mitigates against sovereign risks and specifically, currency inconvertibility and exchange transfer, expropriation, trade embargoes, non-honouring of contracts and payment default risks among others.

Merck Launches Regional Hub in Côte d’Ivoire

Merck, a leading science and technology company, has announced the opening of its affiliate office in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, which will serve as the regional hub for the company’s operations in French-speaking Central and West African countries and the first in Francophone Sub-Saharan Africa. Merck also donated two minilabs with the aim of supporting Côte d’Ivoire in its fight against counterfeit medicines. The minilabs, which help to detect counterfeits, are manufactured by the Global Pharma Health Fund (GPHF), a charitable initiative financed by Merck. Merck’s fight against counterfeit medicines is part of the company’s health-related corporate responsibility initiatives. Many people in low- to middle-income countries lack access to high-quality health solutions and Merck is leveraging its expertise and collaborating with strong partners to develop innovative solutions for such patients.

Academic Brain Drain Threatens University Education in Sudan

Harsh economic conditions during 2016 led to a significant brain drain among university staff in Sudan – including professors and lecturers – that is directly threatening higher education development, according to a new government report. The report, released by Sudan’s Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research and outlined by alnilin website on 25 October, revealed that 2,158 university staff had left the country so far this year. They included 108 professors, 315 associate professors, 873 assistant professors, 548 lectures and 314 teaching assistants. The ministry report follows on the 2016 UNESCO Science Report: Towards 2030, which stated that conflict and brain drain were undermining development. It pointed out that between 2002 and 2014, Sudan lost more than 3,000 junior and senior researchers to migration. The warning in the ministry’s report was also echoed in other official figures, which indicate that more than 600 university professors and PhD holders left Sudan in 2011, 1,002 professors left universities in 2012, around 50,000 skilled workers migrated in 2014 – and some 300 professors left Khartoum University alone. Conditions for university lecturers deteriorated significantly in recent years as a result of low salaries, which according to official figures are around SDG3,100 (US$480) a month for a professor. Economic problems were exacerbated by 1997 United States sanctions and the 2011 independence of South Sudan, which took with it about 75% of Sudan’s oil output. The US sanctions led to restrictions and isolation that has seriously hobbled research and knowledge production, and encouraged the brain drain of highly educated individuals. A recent report indicated that more than a quarter of Khartoum University professors have emigrated in search of a better livelihood, which has led to the closure of some departments and cancellation of a number of courses, and has affected research and postgraduate studies as many students are unable to find a supervisor. Also, political and financial challenges to Sudan's universities – there are 31 public and 11 private universities – have resulted in weak performance in regional education and research indicators.

Ecobank Targets 100 Million Customers with Masterpass Payment

The Ecobank Group has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Mastercard to roll-out Masterpass QR, a mobile payment solution, across 33 African countries. This new agreement will give Ecobank the scale and capacity to achieve its 100 million customer ambition in a profitable and sustainable way by 2020. The MoU signals the largest Masterpass deal of its kind for Mastercard globally, with the QR solution specifically being selected due to Masterpass QR’s ease of use and convenience for merchants and consumers in the selected markets. Already used by Ecobank customers in Nigeria, the remaining 32 countries in across Pan-African will soon receive the benefits of the partnership. Masterpass QR is the first mobile-driven, Person-to-Merchant (P2M) payment solution. The solution is an enhancement to the Masterpass global digital payment service that will enable millions of micro, small and medium enterprises across Africa to begin accepting fast and secure digital payments. This service addresses the challenges of expensive infrastructural issues associated with point of sale devices and eliminates the need for cash. Users of Ecobank’s mobile banking platform across the 33 countries will be able to safely pay for online and in-store purchases by scanning a Quick Response (QR) code displayed at checkout on their smartphones, or by entering a merchant identifier into their feature phones. Micro, small and medium enterprises across Africa contribute significantly to economic growth, creating around 80 percent of the region’s employment and fueling demand for goods and services. The introduction of digital payment solutions such as Masterpass QR, will help these businesses become more efficient. With Nigerians soon to enjoy the benefits of the solution first in Africa, the additional 32 markets that will receive Masterpass QR as part of the groups drive to connect with 100 million new customers by 2020 across: Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo (Brazzaville), Congo (Democratic Republic), Co?te d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea Conakry, Guinea Bissau, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, Tanzania, The Gambia, Togo, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Sub-Saharan Africa Tops Doing Business Ranking

Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) executed the most number of business reforms in the year up to June 2016, according to the latest World Bank Doing Business a report. Top 10 SSA countries include Lesotho, Zambia, Kenya, Botswana and Seychelles.

Partnership to Transform Agriculture into Vibrant University Curriculum

A ground-breaking partnership between the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture or RUFORUM and The MasterCard Foundation is aiming to strengthen efforts to revamp the agriculture curriculum across Africa. It is seeking to transform agriculture into a vibrant sector linked to African universities that can produce high-performing graduates and high-quality research. The eight-year programme backed with US$27.1 million from The MasterCard Foundation was launched during the Fifth African Higher Education Week and the RUFORUM Biennial Conference held from 17-21 October at the Century City Conference Centre, Cape Town, South Africa. Connecting university education to the needs of the agriculture communities to meaningfully contribute to Africa’s growth and development is never more relevant than now. The curriculum will be tailored to meet these needs, utilising knowledge that exists on how communities, universities and industry can best interact and work together to strengthen agriculture. RUFORUM has a network that supports some universities and it will reach many more universities and also attract other institutions. The practical component will be stronger in the programme as students will have the opportunity to work with farmers in the community. A total of 210 students, 110 undergraduates and 110 postgraduates, who are from economically disadvantaged backgrounds will be trained. 70% of recruits will come from countries where early adopter universities of the new model are based and 30% are expected to come from countries that are in difficult circumstances. Gulu University in Uganda and Egerton University in Kenya have been named the early adopters of the programme. The initial focus of the programme is not about internationalisation of higher education but making sure African universities have greater focus on meaningful contribution to development, but internationalisation will occur through the knowledge transfer process as the programmes developed by Gulu and Egerton universities scale up. To enrich the programme, partnerships will be forged with various global institutions that are running advanced programmes similar to those under discussion, such as Earth University in Costa Rica, Entrepreneurship for Impact Foundation based in Italy and Harvard University.

Nigerian Government Approves Eight New Private Universities

The Federal Executive Council in Abuja has approved eight new private universities in the country, reports News Agency of Nigeria. Addressing State House correspondents on the outcome of the meeting, Minister of State for Education Professor Anthony Anwuka said the approval followed a memo submitted by the Federal Ministry of Education. He disclosed that the new universities were being licensed for a three-year provisional approval and would be mentored by some existing universities across the country.

Use of Mobile Money Soars in Rwanda

MTN Rwanda has recorded over 1 million active Mobile Money users. The customers make over 7 million transactions per month, with a monthly transaction value of Rwf 70 billion (US$86 million) on the platform. The milestone is attributed to the introduction of innovative products that have improved the value perceptions with customers. Such include the newly-launched MTN Tap &Pay service, the Mobile Money Month, as well as increased mobile phone penetration in the country contributing to the growth of active customers. MTN Mobile Money enables users to perform local and international money transfers, make utility and other service payments, purchase airtime and access a range of other mobile financial products. The World Bank singles out mobile money services as the major factor behind the increase in account holders in sub-Saharan Africa, hence deepening financial inclusion.

Ghana’s Universities Failing to Produce High Productivity Skills, says Study

Universities in Ghana have failed to grow the skills required for high productivity jobs in the private sector and have continued in the traditional mode of producing graduates tailored for public service, according to a World Bank study on employment opportunities in the country. According to the new study, Expanding Job Opportunities in Ghana, most tertiary-educated graduates are in the public sector and fewer than 10% are in the private sector. In addition, although the labour market is characterised by high levels of labour participation and low levels of unemployment, most jobs require low-level cognitive skills. According to the report, the problem in Ghana is not a lack of jobs per se, but the absence of skilled persons to develop or to take up high quality jobs. Ghana is in urgent need of high productivity jobs, not just to reduce graduate unemployment but to diversify its economy. Unfortunately, while access to university and other forms of tertiary education has increased in Ghana, the quality of education remains a major problem, according to the study. The report points out that quality of university education in Ghana as elsewhere in Sub-Saharan Africa is under threat as rapid expansion has led to a strain on infrastructure and a drop in academic standards. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s Institute for Statistics, too few graduates in Sub-Saharan Africa are gaining skills that would enable them to find work in the high productivity private sector. According to Maddalena Honorati, an economist at the World Bank’s Social Protection Sector and a co-researcher in the study, most graduates from Ghanaian universities are not equipped with high-level innovation and entrepreneurial skills. Subsequently, graduate unemployment rates are predominantly high in Ghana, a country whose labour force participation for 15- to 64-year-olds stands at 80%. Most of the jobs that have been created in Ghana in the past decade have been in the agricultural sector and in low-earning, low-productivity trade services. In this regard, compared to Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa, graduate unemployment in Ghana is relatively high. Among the 25-29 age group, it stands at 41.6%, while in Nigeria it is 23%, in Kenya 15.7% and South Africa 5.6%. According to the report, out-of-work graduates in Ghana consider themselves ‘inactive’ rather than unemployed. A large number join a one-year mandatory employment programme for all tertiary graduates under the age of 40 and thereafter queue and wait for public service job openings instead of joining the private sector or becoming self-employed. The World Bank researchers observed that possibly because of lack of high-level skills, most graduates in Ghana seem to have no appetite for the private sector or entrepreneurship. As in many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, university education in Ghana is widely considered to be too theoretical and has, to large extent, under-emphasised innovation and entrepreneurship. In Ghana, like in so many other low- or lower-middle-income countries, high-productivity private companies face severe difficulties in recruiting workers with an appropriate mix of applicable skills and knowledge and the World Bank study said there is urgent need to redesign the national service scheme to enable it to provide high-level technical skills through formal and informal internship structures, entrepreneurial training, assistance to form cooperatives or trade associations and support in finance, tools and equipment. According to a study, The Impact of Tertiary Education on Development: A rigorous review, commissioned by the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development in 2014, technical skills in information technology, team-working and problem-solving could increase employability of university graduates in Sub-Saharan Africa. On the impact of tertiary education on development, the review singled out high quality education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics as well as effective communication in English as having positive impact on macro-economic growth, graduate employment creation, individual incomes, broader capabilities and strengthening of institutions. There is a chronic shortage of qualified faculty with the capacity to mount high-quality technical programmes in the universities and in the national service scheme that could translate graduate readiness into reality. Still, Ghana has limited capacity to meet the demand for higher education despite recent expansion in terms of enrolment rates. But as the World Bank has pointed out, if Ghana wants to reduce its stock of graduate unemployment, universities and other tertiary institutions must be empowered to develop demand-driven programmes that will produce graduates with skills suitable for the private sector.

New Agency to Monitor Quality of University Education in Mauretania

The northwest African nation of Mauritania is to set up a national quality assurance authority to strengthen the competitiveness of its universities and develop a higher education system of international quality. Mauritania, which is the size of France, is in the Maghreb region of western North Africa and has an estimated population of 4.1 million people. Its public higher education institutions have just 19,862 students and consist of one university – after the University of Nouakchott and the University of Science, Technology and Medicine Nouakchott were merged into one institution called the Modern University of Nouakchott – as well as one school and three institutes. There are four private universities, including one Lebanese-owned and the other Mauritanian, and one academy. Several national and international reports have highlighted the problem of weak quality in Mauritanian higher education, and the country’s low performance on research indicators. A 2015 national higher education statistical report also indicated problems of weak management and governance and an ageing student population. The country’s universities do not rate in international or regional rankings at the Arab or African levels and in the World Economic Forum's 2016-17 Global Competitiveness Report, published in September, out of 138 countries, Mauritania was ranked 81 for university-industry collaboration in research. But far worse, it was ranked 128 for tertiary education enrolment rate, 132 for quality of maths and science education, 137 for quality of the education system and quality of research institutions, and 138 for the availability of scientists and engineers, the capacity for innovation, and higher education and training. To deal with poor quality in higher education, the new agency will focus on fostering sustainable quality enhancement in line with world-class standards. It will set standards and guidelines to measure the performance of higher education and training institutions, conduct quality reviews of universities aimed at ensuring accountability and continuous improvement, instigate national capacity building activities to support quality enhancement, and encourage partnerships and communication with stakeholders. The agency is in line with the three-year plan for higher education that will end next year.

Challenges for Universities in Africa

While the number of students in Africa continues to rise, universities often fail to equip them with skills needed for employment – and they have two to three times less chance of finding work than those who left school after primary level. This situation formed part of the backdrop for a conference that debated problems faced by higher education in Africa – and suggested some innovative solutions. The French newspaper Le Monde Afrique published a series of reports in the run-up to the third Débats du Monde Afrique in Senegal. Le Monde Afrique includes reports on the internationally recognised 2iE engineering school in Burkina Faso, and on imaginative solutions aimed at overcoming Africa’s lack of high-level skills in engineering, mathematical sciences and other areas. Among the facts about African higher education given in Le Monde Afrique are that:

  • Between 13% and 20% of students registered for European universities’ distance education courses are African.
  • One in 16 African students follows studies outside their home country – the biggest student mobility rate in the world.
  • 20,000 articles by authors from Sub-Saharan countries were published in scientific and technical journals in 2013, compared with 4,000 in 2003.
  • African higher education graduates are between two and three times more likely to be unemployed than young people who left education after primary school.
  • Four African universities are in the best-rated 500 in the world – one in Egypt and three in South Africa.
  • The rate of access to higher education in Africa is 18%, compared with 76% in Western countries.
According to the International Labour Organisation, the continent’s higher education graduates are between two and three times more at risk of unemployment than young people who finished their schooling after primary level. They say universities and grandes écoles have been overtaken by increased numbers of students in Africa – which “multiplied by 20 from 1970 to 2007, against five in the world” – and often by the obsolescence of their courses. African employers find students do not have the skills they need, while the best or luckiest students go abroad to study, forming an elite that too seldom returns to the continent. The stakes are huge, with 300 million young Africans due to enter the job market between now and 2050.

Strong Economies Still Shine in Africa, says IMF

Conflict and low commodity prices in several countries across Africa have slowed growth significantly in 2016, according to revised GDP forecasts from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Despite the challenging climate, there are some strong performances in Africa. Côte d'Ivoire (7.98 percent), Tanzania (7.17 percent) and Senegal (6.64 percent) lead the region in terms of GDP growth. Both Côte d'Ivoire and Tanzania will rank as two of the top five fastest growing economies globally. Africa as a whole is predicted to grow by 2.1 percent in real terms in 2016, below the global average of 3 percent. In 2017, growth will accelerate to 3.36 percent, still slightly trailing the world average of 3.44 percent. South Africa, the region’s largest economy, is forecast to grow by 0.12 percent in 2016. Nigeria, the runner up, is forecast to contract by -1.7 percent. These numbers will have a significant effect on overall African growth due to their relative size. Only conflict-ridden South Sudan (-13.12 percent), oil dependent Equatorial Guinea (-9.87 percent) and Libya (-3.32 percent), which has been destabilised by warring factions and Isis-affiliated militants, are expected to contract at a faster rate than Nigeria. Despite another year of sluggish growth, South Africa has regained its position as Africa's largest economy due to the recession in Nigeria. It has grown below the world average since 2008, with high levels of unemployment – an estimated one in four people are unable to find work – along with policy instability and political risks have hindered growth. Nigeria’s economy is expected to contract by -1.75 percent in 2016, a major downward revision from the +2.32 percent figure projected in April’s edition of the World Economic Outlook. This is due to failed fiscal and foreign currency policies, unrest within the country, the drop in global oil prices, as well as a failure to diversify its oil-reliant economy. In July, inflation rose to 17.1 percent – an 11 year high – mainly due to the float and consequent devaluation of the naira in June. Fuel shortages have also caused consumer prices to rise. Poor economic conditions in South Sudan, the world’s most oil dependent nation, have been exacerbated by a fall in oil revenues. GDP is forecast to shrink by -13.12 percent (down from the -7.83 percent projected in April 2016), making it the lowest ranked economy globally for growth. Renewed fighting between government and rebel forces have caused the South Sudanese pound to tumble. Inflation has been volatile in recent year – from deflation in 2013 (-0.03 percent) to a rapid increase between 2014 and 2015 (1.65 percent to 52.81 percent). Recently, it more than doubled from 309.6 percent in July to 682.1 percent in October. Economic recession is also forecast for Libya for the fourth year in a row, with GDP contracting by -3.32 percent. Ongoing conflict has continued to negatively affect output as well as oil production. The north African country’s fortunes are forecast to improve significantly in 2017 rising to 13.73 percent growth. However this depends entirely on cementing an agreement for a new government of national accord. However, Côte d'Ivoire is forecast to be the fastest growing economy in Africa and third highest globally, with annual growth of 7.98 percent. Since 2012, GDP growth has averaged more than 7 percent per annum, helped by low oil prices, healthy private consumption, well managed urbanisation and a booming agricultural industry. Tanzania, meanwhile, has been aided by increased investment in infrastructure and services as well as strong private consumption, reflecting the stable growth within the country for more than a decade. An increase in GDP has also been projected in Senegal, whose economy is forecast to grow by 6.64 percent in 2016. According to the African Development Bank, this is due to its diverse economy with developments in the agricultural sector and recovery in various industries including cement, energy, telecommunications and financial services.

Mobile Money Poses ‘a plausible’ Risk for Kenya

Kenyans transacted some 8.5 billion U.S. dollars on mobile money in the third quarter, up from 7.3 billion dollars in a similar period last year as usage hit a new high, data from the Central Bank. The surge in use, however, comes as the Treasury cautioned that the entrenched use of mobile money in the country posed fiscal risks to the economy if the service collapses. Between January and September, Kenyan citizens moved 22 billion dollars, an indication that usage of the service will surpass last year’s transactions that stood at 26 billion dollars. The number of subscribers stood at 33.4 million in September, up from 32.3 million in July and 29 million in January, the apex bank data showed. Mobile money agents stood at 173,731 at the end of the quarter, surging from 146,710 in January and highlighting how critical the sector is in creating jobs. Kenya has several mobile money service providers. M-Pesa, operated by Safaricom, is the dominant player, transacting over 92 percent of all the cash moved on mobile money. The huge volumes of cash moved on the platforms have made the Treasury to flag down mobile money as a risk to the economy. According to the Treasury, information technology accounted for about 0.9 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) in 2015 driven by financial innovation in mobile money transfer services. Various financial products have been leveraged on the payment channel, increasing the inter-linkages between the technology and the banking sector. If this system was to be compromised, the impact would be substantial considering the linkages and the corporate tax revenue for government, says the Treasury in its newly-released budget policy statement, putting pressure on the government to compensate losses in deposits to maintain market confidence. “Technological innovation via the mobile money transfer services and its pivotal role in the economy should therefore be given due consideration as a plausible fiscal risk,” the Treasury said.

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