The important role of inter-institutional alliances was highlighted on Friday, as delegates discussed the steps to improving the quality of higher education at African universities.
Keynote speaker, African Academy of Sciences Executive Director Prof Berhanu Abegaz, set the tone for much of the discussions with the statement:
“The need for increasing quality is not a choice – it has to be done.”
Abegaz however noted that massive investments are needed to provide the research infrastructure. He also pointed to the importance of developing shared, regional facilities and raised the issue of bureaucracy that hampers travel, saying the lack of mobility for the continent’s scientists needs to be addressed.
Mobility was also raised as an issue by Joseph Musyoki, Deputy Commission Secretary of Accreditation at the Kenyan Commission for University Education, who suggested the creation of credit system that would see students transfer easily among universities to create a common higher education area for Africa, such as the system that exists in Europe.
“The mobility of our students and staff across our borders is a problem and that is because we operate… as individual nations…” he told delegates.
He added that creating regional blocs could be a good starting point, since it is currently often easier for students to transfer to institutions in the West than to ones on the same continent.
While African nations’ responsibilities to help foster a quality higher education system for the good of the continent was undisputed, CIRAD Director General Dr. Patrick Caron provided an international perspective by reminding delegates the world needs strong African communities to be involved in global initiatives.
“There is a need for a revolution in food systems… it’s not only in Africa, it’s everywhere in the world,” he said.
The topic was further explored in a ministerial round table discussion where delegates shared experiences and identified common problems. These included protests, a lack of financing from government and graduate unemployment.
Delegates however did not dwell on the negatives and brainstormed solutions.
These included asking governments allocate a percentage of their budgets for higher education, the implementation of incentives to encourage industry to employ graduates and dialogue with students, policymakers and university management to preempt conflict or unrest.
The potential benefits of strengthened collaboration was not lost on the delegates, who said they would be taking home lessons learnt at the meeting.
Prof Guiro Amadou Tidiane from Université du Sine Saloum El Hadji Ibrahima NIASS (USSEIN) said he learnt “how to create links between our different universities… and how we can create a very high commitment at low and high levels to increase efficiency of our universities.”
Malawian Minister of Education, Science and Technology Emmanuel Fabiano, said the meeting highlighted the importance of clear policy if institutions are going to achieve their targets.
He added that Malawi can also benefit from better inter-institutional relationships.
“I think when we go home one of the things that we need to strengthen is collaboration between universities… In Malawi we have many joint degree programmes between universities in Malawi and universities in Europe and we need to do more of this if we are going to improve quality…”
Ugandan Minister of Higher Education – Prof John Chrysestom Muyingo – said he is going home with the vision of throwing university doors open so that the public can see the value in the institutions – something that has been lacking.
“The public has not been owning these universities… I think when I go back we shall have to rethink the vision, the mission and even the values of these universities so that everything is prepared to bring the public – the communities – to be part of the universities,” he said.