Re-evaluating African higher education

Re-evaluating African higher education

What constitutes African higher education? Does it involve a European-like system? What challenges and opportunities is it facing?  How should European higher education institutions (HEIs) interact with African HEIs? In December, a special event is taking place in Brussels to discuss these very questions. The seminar, ‘For mutual gain: Euro-African cooperation in higher education’ will focus specifically on cooperation between European and African HEIs.

Support for African higher education is critical

Africa still faces development challenges on many fronts. Providing support to improve higher education is a critical component and cannot be ignored. Higher education is indispensable for economic long-term development of Africa. Higher education provides social benefits, both to the individual and the public, produces qualified human capital, generates knowledge, promotes international cooperation and improves competitiveness in the global knowledge based economy. This has been stated by the World Bank since more than two decades, and continues to be emphasised.

The final communiqué of the last UNESCO World Conference on Higher Education (WCHE) that took place in Paris stated “At no time in history has it been more important to invest in higher education as a major force in building an inclusive and diverse knowledge society and to advance research, innovation and creativity”. The communiqué stressed that “higher education must pursue the goals of equity, relevance and quality simultaneously”.

In recognition of the troubled state of higher education in Africa, the conference held a special session on the region’s higher education. Participants underlined “the urgency for the adoption of new dynamics in African higher education that work towards a comprehensive transformation to sharply enhance its relevance and responsiveness to the political, social and economic realities of African countries”.

Europe’s role in African higher education

So what’s in it for Europe? Are we talking about a moral obligation to assist Africa? The European Union has shown much attention and invested a lot of resources in higher education cooperation between Europe and Africa, not only on the basis of moral/development principles, but also for valid geostrategic reasons. The EU has interests in reaching out to the world. The word ‘interest’ is not to be connoted negatively however; in order for the Old Continent to not become obsolete, it has to reinvent itself, and this is not done in splendid isolation.

However, let’s not forget that it’s not only the EU we’re talking about when speaking of ‘Europe’. Cooperation in higher education is to be approached from various sides and on multiple levels. National and subnational schemes for cooperation and exchange exist, as well as bilateral arrangements between individual institutions. Both top-down and bottom-up initiatives have their own merits.

We should also emphasise that we’re not talking about ‘aid’ either, but about sharing knowledge. When speaking of linking up with African higher education institutions, we’re not talking about a one-way street. It’s about investing both in the future of the African partner, as well as in the future of the institution in the global North, and, albeit indirectly, in global development. That’s where our shared interests and objectives lie. We can – and must – learn from each other. By nature, the triple mandate of higher education (education, research, service to society/innovation) serves today’s and tomorrow’s global challenges that affect us all. We may have to ‘think globally and act locally’ but on the basis of commonly shared interests and objectives. We’re not talking about competition, we’re talking about cooperation for mutual benefit.

A fresh, unbiased look at African higher education

The seminar on 13 December in Brussels provides a chance to take a fresh look at higher education on the African continent. Co-organised by the Academic Cooperation Association (ACA), the European University Association (EUA), the European Association for International Education (EAIE) and the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), the programme has three main thematic orientations:

  • Recent overall trends and developments in African higher education
  • Internationalisation in African higher education
  • Cooperation in higher education between Africa and Europe

The aim of the seminar is not just to inform, but to inspire on the basis of objective information and analysis, perceived trends, acquired good practices, tips and tricks, and envisaged opportunities and possibilities. Presenters from the World Bank, the European Commission and from universities across Europe as well as African academics will provide updates on the current situation in Africa and guidance. Will you join us for this timely event? Visit the ACA website to find out more and to register.