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Bridging the gap between research and policy to curb youth unemployment in The Gambia

Torben Fischer 12 August 2021

IDinsight was invited to present findings from a blended-tertiary education model piloted in Rwanda at the inaugural 2021 policy forum in The Gambia. In this blog, we summarize our key takeaways with policy implications.

Yagazie Emezi/Getty Images/Images of Empowerment

Youth unemployment and underemployment in sub-Saharan Africa remain high, despite a wave of vocational training programs and other active labor market policies introduced over the last decade. In The Gambia, for example, only about one in three Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) graduates finds employment1. The issue is often attributed to a skills mismatch between tertiary education graduates and available positions in local workforces – and The Gambia is no exception: Many of the barriers in employing youth that Gambian employers perceive relate to unsuitable qualifications and the cost of additional training2.   

How could existing research and evidence strengthen policymaking, planning, and decision making around education and youth unemployment in The Gambia? An inaugural 2021 policy forum brought together senior government officials, decision-makers, researchers, civil society, and youth living in The Gambia to discuss the role of evidence and research across sectors. Organized by the Policy Analysis Unit at the Department for Strategic Policy and Delivery at the Office of the President of The Gambia, the forum was opened by Vice President Dr. Isatou Touray who emphasized the importance of bridging the gap between research and policy. 

IDinsight presented findings from a long-term research study conducted in collaboration with the Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) and Kepler in Rwanda. From 2013 onwards, the two organizations have partnered to provide high-quality, low-cost, and labor market-relevant higher education to low-income students. The goal is to improve student labor market outcomes using a blended learning model of online coursework and in-person instruction, support services, and career preparation. IDinsight’s impact evaluation found this program to be highly effective: program graduates performed better both on the skills’ prioritized by local employers and had better labor market outcomes compared to matched comparison students. 

As The Gambian government strives to curb youth unemployment through establishing a technical training university, among other avenues, IDinsight’s research holds several lessons for policy: 

  1. Prioritize skills that are valued by local employers. SNHU and Kepler’s curriculum emphasizes skills that are valued by local employers. Through active feedback loops between program coordinators and local employers, a perceived skill-gap is more likely to be addressed. 
  2. Assess cost-effectiveness. Some studies estimate that conventional TVET courses cost between $17,000 to $60,000 per person employed3. Given the limited resources available in many contexts, including in The Gambia, it is of utmost importance to assess the outcomes that every single dollar or dalasi of investment would generate.  
  3. Provide equitable access to opportunities. As with many tertiary courses in Rwanda, the program evaluated and presented is both selective and requires students to pay a course fee.  Because of this, the program would likely be successful as a part of a multi-pronged approach to support youth in attaining employment. 
  1. 1. The Gambia Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) Roadmap 2020-2024
  2. 2. SME Competitiveness Survey (SMECS), International Trade Center, 2017
  3. 3. McKenzie, D. (2017). How Effective Are Active Labor Market Policies in Developing Countries? (Policy Research Working Paper 8011). World Bank Group.