Establishing network-based learning ecosystems


Text Varpu Somersalo Photo C4DLab, University of Nairobi

In problem-based learning (PBL), students set their theoretical knowledge into a practical context in real-life business challenges. The five partner universities of PBL-BioAfrica have been interviewed about their existing networks with the government, the private sector and societal partners, in order to identify the support needed in establishing a functional PBL-based learning ecosystem.


A group of UoN students brainstorming.

For the Partner HEIs (Higher Education Institutions) of PBL-BioAfrica to integrate PBL into agro-entrepreneurship education, having a network-based collaborative ecosystem with industry and societal partners is crucial. The existing networks between education and working life have been investigated in focus group discussions with each institution.


The focus groups consisted of 5–7 participants representing university management, teaching staff and partnership managers​. There was a good gender balance among the participants. The virtual interviews were conducted by Ms Teija Lehtonen from Häme University of Applied Sciences, Finland, and Mr Herbert Wamalwa from the Institute for Development Studies, University of Nairobi, Kenya.


“The most prominent form of collaboration between companies and universities are students’ industrial attachments, as many of the bioeconomy programmes include a mandatory internship”, Wamalwa says. “Often companies also provide different trainee programmes for graduates.”


Research collaboration is also common. This leads to more relevant research, and through companies, research findings are better disseminated to the community.


“Balancing the needs of the companies and the core business of the university is not always simple”, Lehtonen reminds. “Lack of proper coordination and clear roles in collaboration can also cause challenges.”


Focus group discussion in gear.

In some cases, the industry is also involved in curriculum development, and strengthening this type of collaboration would be a significant improvement.


“Receiving feedback from the industry helps universities to identify gaps between education and the needs in real working life. The field challenges in PBL methodology benefit the company, the university, and the students”, Wamalwa states. "Exposing students to real-life problems in companies is also very helpful for employment after graduation.”


In PBL-BioAfrica, integrating PBL methods into curricula is considered holistically. Close collaboration between education and working life, teachers’ competences in PBL methods and competence-based curricula cannot exist without one another.