[Thought Piece] The RUFORUM Triennial Conference: Perspectives for the Present and Future Convenings

Professor Adipala Ekwamu,
Executive Secretary, RUFORUM

Prologue: Africa and the global economy both face head winds of post covid-19 pandemic recovery, that has been tapered by increasing resurgence the disease and prevalence of new variants of the pathogen SARS-Cov-2: Alpha (B.1.1.7 and descendent lineages), Beta (B.1.351 and descendent lineages), Gamma (P.1 and descendent lineages), Epsilon (B.1.427 and B.1.429), Eta (B.1.525), Iota (B.1.526), Kappa (B.1.617.1),1.617.3, Mu (B.1.621, B.1.621.1) and Zeta (P.2)1.

Currently the delta strain first reported in India is increasingly the most-wide spread and considered Variant of Concern (VOC) due to its high transmissibility, more severe disease (e.g., increased hospitalizations or deaths), significant reduction in neutralization by antibodies generated during previous infection or vaccination, reduced effectiveness of treatments or vaccines, or diagnostic detection failures among others. This present threat by COVID-19 (SARS-Cov-2) currently poses the single most driver of negative economic growth globally. Africa economy is reported to have shrunk by 2.1 percent in 2020, leading to the continent’s first recession in half a century. The African Development Bank estimates that nearly 39 million Africans could fall into extreme poverty in 20212. Whereas 2021 has seen a resurgence of the economies globally and in Africa, growth is varied with the continent, with East Africa’s economic growth expected to recover to an average of 4.1% in 2021, up from 0.4% in 2020, projected to hit 4.9% according to the African Development Bank.

The education sector has not been spared either with most teaching and learning institutions closed for many months since arrival of the SARS-COV 2 on the shores of Africa. Whereas the impacts of the pandemic on many economies that are now either partially, or now fully open, the implications for teaching and learning is a mix bag of opportunities and challenges. Among others, the pandemic has exposed the digital divide among countries and within countries as the single most significant barrier to access to equal opportunity to modern teaching and learning3. The study by E-learning further notes among others, three critical issues that will affect education systems in Africa: (a) National curriculums need to be adapted for more effective distance learning and inclusion; (b) the economic lockdown has unlocked new opportunities for education systems- the way forward for African University; and (c) Online teaching and learning will lead to more widespread use of technology in education, but will be compounded by the digital gap especially the among the most marginalised and may lead to increased inequality.

The Seventh African Higher Education Week and RUFORUM Triennial Conference 2021, provides an opportunity to reflect on these issues as they will inform the restructure of our education programmes to be “fit for purpose.” Throughout human economic evolution, the quality of human resources has played major roles, generating innovations, building management systems and standards to support economic growth4. In 2021, the United Nations (UN) held several convenings that culminating in a UN FOOD SYSTEMS SUMMIT in September. The SUMMIT aimed to among others, “launch new actions, solutions, and strategies to achieve healthier, more sustainable, and equitable food systems.” This thrust by the UN emerges from the realization of concerted efforts to address challenges facing global systems of producing, processing and distributing food made more pronounced with new shock such as COVID-19 and other biophysical and economic shocks. As part of the UN FOOD SYSTEMS process, RUFORUM championed the role of Africa’s higher education sector especially the University in generating policy and science solutions to that will underpin sustainable agri-food systems for the continent. The mobilized African University recognized their pivotal role in the continents’ economic transformation especially in human resource development as well as science, innovation and technology generation for the present and future posterity. During this RUFORUM Triennial meeting, these two pillars of our development, i.e. (i) inclusive teaching and learning and (ii) sustainable agri-food systems, especially with the ever-present threat of COVID-19, given plasticity associated with its fast evolution and threat to international trade and movement will be discussed. Participants in-person and online will review and consider critical areas for building robust responses systems to these contemporary development challenges, this generation must address. Read more here

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