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African Higher Education Summit held in Dakar, Senegal

The African Higher Education Summit has called for radical expansion of higher education to achieve an enrolment ratio of 50% within 50 years. A draft declaration and action plan also urges greater investment in higher education and research, improved graduate employability and enhanced diversification, differentiation and harmonisation at all levels by countries.

The summit further called, among many other things, for support for emerging research universities, 200 ‘hub of excellence’ universities, all academics to have PhDs by 2063, and gross expenditure in research of 1% within five years and 5% by 2063.

An African Higher Education Research Fund should be created with an initial US$5 billion to support collaborative research, there should be interventions to raise graduate employability and a ‘10/10’ programme to sponsor 10,000 African diaspora academics in 10 years to African universities for collaboration.

The Draft Declaration and Action Plan of the 1st African Higher Education Summit on Revitalising Higher Education for Africa’s Future confirmed commitment to creating a continental multi-stakeholders’ platform to identify strategies for transforming the sector.

The summit was attended by more than 500 participants including African presidents, prime ministers and ministers of education, science and technology, commerce and finance as well as the chair of the African Union Commission and numerous ambassadors.

There were 50 vice-chancellors and senior administrators of universities, higher education scholars, academic and non-academic union representatives, student associations, some business leaders and numerous donors – foundations, and bilateral and multilateral agencies.

The summit stressed that the declaration emerged from years of country policy dialogues, commissioned papers and interactions and consultations leading up to the summit.

Backdrop

The declaration notes that African higher education has grown rapidly since independence due to rising population and demand, economic expansion and the need for skilled labour, and the establishment of a private higher education sector.

“Despite this growth, the sector faces serious challenges manifested in poor quality, inadequate infrastructures, outdated pedagogies, low levels of funding, scholarly productivity and global competitiveness,” the declaration says.

Today there are nearly 2,000 higher education institutions and growing diversification and differentiation in a sector that has public and private, not-for-profit and for-profit institutions, and comprehensive and specialised institutions.

“The number of private institutions overtook public institutions in the 1990s, although the latter still claim a larger share of enrolments.”

It was critical, the summit unanimously agreed, to develop a “high quality, massive, vibrant, diverse, differentiated, innovative, autonomous and socially responsible higher education sector that will be a driving force to achieving the vision outlined in Agenda 2063 by the African Union”.

Second, it was imperative to produce the human capital needed for inclusive and sustainable development, democratic citizenship, and repositioning Africa as a major global actor.

1. Higher education expansion

The declaration calls for a commitment by stakeholders to expand higher education.

Africa should aim for an enrolment ratio of 50%, which was likely to be the world average by 2063. Currently, the world enrolment ratio is 32%. For Sub-Saharan Africa it is about 8% and for Arab states it is 26%, including those outside the continent.

There should be gender parity in tertiary enrolments within a decade, and among academic and senior administrative staff.

“Globally gender parity of tertiary enrolments was reached in 2005 and females now slightly outnumber males. For Sub-Saharan Africa the female enrolment ratio in 2012 was 37.7%, down from 39.1% in 1999, and for the Arab states it was 50.3% in 2012, up from 39.1% in 1999,” the declaration says.

Other goals are to achieve 100% academics with terminal degrees by 2063, with at least 54% of them women, and to accommodate older learners and provide “robust life-learning”.

The declaration calls for action to develop 200 universities that constitute hubs of excellence in terms of knowledge, citizenship and relevance to key African development needs by 2063. “Every African country shall create one hub of excellence to every three million population.”

2. Diversity, differentiation and harmonisation

The second call to action is promoting diversification, differentiation and harmonisation of higher education systems “to enable consolidation and assure the quality of educational provision against locally, regionally and internationally agreed benchmarks of excellence”.

National level
If not already done, governments need to:

  • Adopt a legal framework and higher education act to govern system structure, governance, study programmes, degree types and hierarchy as well as diversification and differentiation.
  • Develop criteria for categorising institutions including research universities, comprehensive universities, university colleges and the vocational institutions such as polytechnics and community colleges.
  • Establish robust national quality and accrediting agencies, including national higher education councils or commissions with powers to sanction institutions for non-compliance, to reinforce the capacity of differentiated institutions, develop clear criteria for moving from one type to another, and limit ‘mission creep’ and ‘academic drift’.

Governments should also facilitate student and academic mobility by minimising visa requirements or making visa issuing “much easier”.

At the institutional level, governing councils should ensure that institutions keep to their assigned missions, develop a solid academic core and niches that are relevant to national requirements and student needs, and embrace pedagogies that emphasise participation, creativity, invention, innovative citizenship and new technologies for teaching and learning.

The African Union and sub-regional groupings should support differentiation and diversification of higher education and help develop a continental system for enhancing student mobility and institutional comparison. In particular, they should provide guidelines for a harmonised classification of tertiary education institutions.

“In recent years, there have been continent-wide efforts to support higher education in the areas of graduate training and quality assurance,” the declaration says. For instance, the AU has led the creation of the Pan African University with centres of excellence in Africa’s regions that will contribute to strengthening and expanding research universities.

The declaration calls for a continental agency to refine and systematise academic data definitions, collection, monitoring and measurement, to allow for institutional, regional and international comparisons including rankings comparing similar institutions and taking into account the continent’s circumstances, to stimulate competition for institutional excellence.

3. Increase Investment

It is imperative to increase investment in higher education to facilitate development, promote stability, enhance access and equity, recruit and retain excellent academics, and pursue cutting-edge research and high quality teaching.

Action at the national level
The declaration calls for sustained efforts among all stakeholders to situate higher education at the centre of the development agenda, provide adequate funding, develop creative taxation policies and funding schemes to finance higher education, establish cost-sharing systems including loan schemes, and ensure operational autonomy for universities.

Action at the institutional level
Institutions need to diversify modes of delivery by deploying distance and online education; establish trust funds, endowments and-or foundations to expand resources through fundraising; create incentive systems for academics; establish business arms; outsource non-academic support services; and improve resource management.

Actions at the regional and international levels
Regional development communities, private institutions and businesses must be mobilised to invest in higher education. The declaration calls for an African Higher Education Research Fund with initial capitalisation of US$5 billion to support collaborative research within Africa.

Donor support should continue to be cultivated – but with greater harmonisation of support – and multinationals and businesses should be motivated to take corporate responsibility seriously and be persuaded of the benefits of universities producing high-level expertise.

Pursuit of excellence
Key actions are required by all stakeholders to assure quality, relevance and excellence.

Institutions, says the declaration, should develop “robust, transparent and fair systems of assessment to measure student learning outcomes, and performance of academic staff, administrators, and other staff for continuous improvement”.

They should establish partnerships to share good practices, improve quality by employing and supporting academic staff with PhDs, increase funding for research, provide adequate and modern research facilities and reward research excellence.

Public service should be improved by rewarding engaged scholarship, and institutions should promote transdisciplinarity so as to produce “liberally educated, scientifically literate and professionally prepared students”.

The declaration calls for collaboration between national and international quality assurance agencies, effective use of ICT in quality assurance and accreditation, and drawing on the African diaspora to help set minimum standards in curriculum development and research.

National and regional qualifications frameworks should be developed to facilitate credit accumulation and recognition of qualifications across institutions and borders.

Continentally, the call is for strengthening the AfriQAN quality initiative, ratification of the Arusha Convention, a Continental Qualifications Framework, a unified qualifications network such as the licence-master-doctorate system of Francophone countries, and an African Credit Accumulation and Transfer System.

Capacity building in research, science and technology
Governments and regions should develop policies that designate research universities to drive higher education to meet national development objectives.

They should be seen as national and continental assets with full autonomy, says the declaration. “It is Africa’s research universities that will produce the knowledge and manpower that will give relevance to its other institutions.”

In 2009 Africa’s share of world expenditure on research and development was a mere 0.9% and research spending constituted a paltry 0.4% of continental gross domestic product, while Africa’s shares of researchers, publications and patents were 2.1%, 2.0% and 0.1%.

Currently, the declaration says, Africa has 0.7% PhD enrolments. A strategy should be developed to expand this proportion to average levels for emerging economies within 15 years and become “a global pole of scientific productivity by 2063”.

It was imperative to promote research and STI – science, technology and innovation – partnerships and collaborations.

The summit called for an African Scientific Research and Innovation Council to play a multiplicity of roles including reviewing, coordinating and enhancing collaboration among STI research and training initiatives.

The African Academies of Sciences, Association of African Universities, African Network of Science and Technology Institutes and similar bodies should be strengthened, to better serve as scientific think-tanks and academic governing bodies.

4. Increase funding for research and STI

Research and development funding in many African countries is very low and “needs to be substantially increased” so that the continent is not continually lagging behind the rest of the world, the declaration says.

African countries should increase gross enrolment in research and development to 1% within five years, and attain a minimum of 5% by 2063.

The declaration calls for an African Business-Higher Education Council comprising business and philanthropic foundations and higher education leaders, to build collaboration on African STI research capacities and find solutions to higher education and workforce challenges.

There should also be a national or continental STI Partnership Board, to support governments and institutions in science diplomacy to channel international development inflows towards strengthening Africa’s STI research and education efforts.

Africa continues to enjoy sizable development aid that provides “externally developed end-solutions to address challenges that derive or persist for the most part from lack of advanced STI competencies and infrastructures – like AIDS, energy, Ebola, etc”.

However, the declaration says, this undermines Africa’s efforts to develop competencies to address issues. An African board should review international initiatives and funding, and “work with African governments and institutions to align incoming funds to support Africa’s efforts to assume STI competencies and ownership of solving its own problems”.

5. Pursue national development

Business, higher education and graduate employability
Despite the rapid expansion of enrolments, the declaration says, “there are serious concerns about the ability of Africa’s universities to produce the kinds of graduates who can drive the continent forward”.

Employers often raise concerns that many graduates do not have the knowledge and skills required in the workplace, and this manifests in the rising phenomenon of graduate joblessness.

“Key interventions include curriculum reforms and partnerships with industry, provision for internships, apprenticeships to introduce students to the world of work and enable broader learning experience for students.

“Other mechanisms included science centres, innovation hubs, research centres, start-up incubators and research departments in the private sector.” Further, teaching quality must be improved through inquiry-driven pedagogical approaches and independent learning, early introduction of students to research, the use of technology, and balancing enrolment growth with existing institutional capacities.

Nation building and democratic citizenship
Africa seeks to “deepen the culture of good governance, democratic values, gender equality, respect for human rights, justice and the rule of law,” the declaration says.

Higher education institutions should promote and strengthen these values, and governments and regional bodies should turn to universities to drive social transformation through policy development and engagement, tackle issues of social mobility through access, build an entrepreneurial society and contribute towards a knowledge economy.

6. Mobilise the diaspora

The sixth area of action is mobilisation of the diaspora through a ‘10/10’ programme that sponsors 1,000 scholars in the African diaspora across all disciplines every year, for 10 years, to African universities and colleges for collaboration in research, curriculum development, and graduate student teaching and mentoring. See the University World News article.

Last words

Oppah Muchinguri, Zimbabwe’s new Minister of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development, said the far-reaching summit recommendations would add impetus to the efforts governments were making “in our small way” to higher education.

“What is clear is that Africa has the political will to carry this summit process forward. I want to assure you that together with my colleagues we will ensure that the core recommendations will be taken up by our governments.

“Africa cannot remain poor forever. What we have done is chart the way into the future.”

Closing the summit, its Director Dr Omano Edigheji said that if the opportunities and challenges facing African higher education were to be successfully tackled, the event had to be pitched at the highest political level. It had to be led and driven by Africans. And it had to be “not just a talk shop, but a clarion call for action”.

* The African Higher Education Summit was livestreamed courtesy of The World Bank. To watch plenary sessions in the English stream until mid-May 2015, click here.

* The African Higher Education Summit was hosted by the government of Senegal and organised by TrustAfrica. Other partners included the African Union Commission, Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa, UN African Institute for Economic Development and Planning, Association of African Universities, African Development Bank, South Africa’s National Research Foundation, Association for the Development of Education in Africa, Carnegie Corporation of New York, MasterCard Foundation and the World Bank.

Source: University World News, www.universityworldnews.com