Future-oriented education and societally relevant skills for sustainable energy in Lesotho

March 28, 2017

Joni Karjalainen from the Finland Futures Research Centre, University of Turku received a FinCEAL Plus Target Travel Grant to visit Lesotho for a Stakeholder Meeting on Research and Capacity Building Cooperation between selected Southern African and European Institutions.

Atthe moment, countries in the southern African region suffer from acute and insufficient energy supply. Renewable energy technologies are a welcome opportunity, but their uptake is undermined by skills shortages.

Shortageof electricity is not atypical in southern Africa. Lesotho and Namibia have a low rate of electrification, at 21% and 47%, respectively. They depend on the South African energysystem, which relies heavily on coal power. Ironically, South Africa has encountered blackouts in its own power system since 2008. Short of supply, South Africa is also under pressure tocut its carbon (CO2) emissions.

And yet, highly skilled experts and institutions for renewableenergy are few and far between. Currently, learning for renewable energy takes place primarily in vocational schools and universities. Problematically, fresh graduates are not always ideally equipped tomeet the labour market needs.

If there was not enough in tackling such issues, the futureof work is being shaped by automatisation and robotisation. There are even scenarios of a "jobless” future.

Novel and innovativeapproaches are required to tackle future challenges

The National University of Lesotho’s(NUL) main campus is in Roma, 40 kilometres from Maseru, which is Lesotho’s capital. There, NUL already provides short courses on renewable energy across a range of topics: renewable energy and energy efficiency, bioenergy, solarphotovoltaics (PV), solar thermal, wind energy, hydropower, energy policy, economics and finance, and engineering design for rural villages.

NUL and Namibia Universityof Science and Technology (NUST),are currently developing MSc in Sustainable Energy programmes. With support from the Africa-EU Renewable Energy Cooperation Programme (RECP), a one-week long curriculum workshop was organised in theNational University of Lesotho in February.

Asan outcome of the curriculum workshop, eight southern African and three European research partners, including University of Turku, submitted an Erasmus+ research proposal for enhanced renewable energy education. The research partners also attended a local advisory board meeting and explored future collaboration opportunities.

Curriculum Developmentworkshop for MSc in Sustainable Energy at the National University of Lesotho.
Photo:Moeketsi Mpholo / NUL.

Energy must be studiedin a holistic manner

Quality scientific research and teaching ensure that learningon sustainable technologies is a meaningul experience to local students.

One topic raised during the week was the significance ofsocio-cultural factors in renewable energy related education. Here, international collaborations and exchanging lessons learned may have a supportive role.

Inthe University of Turku, Finland Futures Research Centre (FFRC) hosts research projects that address energy systems change together with social and environmentalchange. One such example is Neo-Carbon Energy (2014-2017) project,which studies a future energy system that uses high shares of solar and wind energy.

Oneof FFRC’s on-going research projects is Neo-Carbon Energy, funded by Tekes – the Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation.
Figure: Presentation / Projectresearcher Joni Karjalainen / MSc in Sustainable Energy curriculum workshop.

Scalingup locally-driven solutions

Under the right circumstances, education can improve theprobability of future generations to cope in a changing world. In thinking of future labour market needs, societal change has to be anticipated.

Economic transformation is at the heart of African UnionAgenda 2063. In turn, clean energy, innovation and decent work arestated objectives in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

At the same time, it is important to be pragmatic. Inpreparing for such changes, strenghtening local research, teaching, innovation and management capacities is a good starting point.

In preparation of thelaunch of a Master’s Programme in Sustainable Energy at the National University of Lesotho, Joni Karjalainen from the University of Turku, Finland Futures Research Centre attended the MSc in Sustainable Energy curriculum workshop on February 6-10, 2017. The research collaboration was facilitated by UniPID – FinCEAL Plus Africa and Africa-EU Renewable Energy Cooperation Programme (RECP).

Textand figures: Joni Karjalainen, University of Turku, Finland Futures Research Centre

Photos: JoniKarjalainen / FFRC, Moeketsi Mpholo / NUL.