Centre for International Education Research (CIER)

VET Africa 4.0: Reducing Inequality and Enhancing Sustainability through Skills Development

Project information

Start date

December 2018


Professor Simon McGrath
Dr Volker Wedekind 
Dr Jo-Anna Russon

End date

February 2021





The orthodox model of how to support VET system reform does not work in theory or practice. Moreover, the broader vision of Agenda 2030 and the SDGs make it irrelevant for the future.

We will examine the evidence regarding whether new approaches to African VET offer a better way forward for theory, policy and practice.

We will investigate the extent to which such new VET approaches address not just economic development but also intersectional disadvantage and environmental sustainability concerns.


We will draw on realist evaluation approaches, which are concerned to identify what different stakeholders think works (and doesn't work), when, where and why, and for whom.

We will examine four case studies:

  1. Uganda - attempts to build local skills and employment into a major oil and gas project (Hoima)
  2. Uganda - youth-entrepreneurship and community development in a post-conflict setting (Gulu)
  3. South Africa - a major infrastructure development initiative as part of larger economic corridor from the port to the industrial heartland (Durban)
  4. South Africa - rural, community-driven green skills (E Cape)

Research questions

We will answer four research questions:

  1. Is there evidence that different emergent approaches to skills for development in Africa are viable, both at the project level and, potentially, at larger scale?
  2. What do different stakeholders think works (and doesn't work) in such initiatives, when, where and why, and for whom?
  3. To  what extent do the different interventions offer a fruitful approach for promoting decent work and sustainable livelihoods for all, with a particular emphasis on meeting the needs of those facing multiple forms of disadvantage? What enables and/or constrains this?
  4. Are skills interventions such as these capable of overcoming the old productivist approach so as to address the rising challenges of environmental sustainability?


We draw on three main theoretical traditions:

  1. A political economy of development approach that combines learning from evolutionary, institutional and complexity economics with the existing political economy of skills tradition
  2. A new wave of human development and capabilities  research that combines the capabilities approach 
  3. Accounts of skills development for sustainable development that emphasise the need for pro-poor and community-owned approaches to green skills










Centre for International Education Research

School of Education
University of Nottingham
Jubilee Campus
Nottingham, NG8 1BB

+44 (0)115 951 4543