By Chijioke Okoronkwo
Dakar, the capital of Senegal, was recently a beehive of activities, as the intelligentsia, academics and education stakeholders converged on the city for the African Higher Education Summit between March 10 and March 12.
The three-day summit, which attracted over 500 participants from around the world, including 55 vice-chancellors, had “Revitalising Higher Education for Africa’s Future’’ as its theme.
The summit was organised by Trust Africa, a South Africa-based foundation, together with 12 other partners.
The objectives of the summit include, inter alia, “to build a constituency for transformation and investment in Africa’s higher education.
“ To create a shared vision for the future of African higher education.
“To harness and highlight exemplary efforts and initiatives in African higher education.
“To harness disparate efforts and interventions in African higher education.
“ To spur and sustain innovation in African higher education.’’
Speaking at the opening session, Ms Aicha Diallo, Chairperson of Trust Africa, underscored the need for an urgent dialogue between the higher education sector and the business sector in order to address the problem of graduate unemployment and unemployability.
She said that policies should ensure that businesses, especially foreign companies, utilised local skills, not only as general labourers but also in key decision-making positions.
“The continent should understand that education has many purposes such as preparation for the labour market, preparation for democratic citizenship, personal development, and the development of a broad, advanced knowledge base,’’ she said.
“We acknowledge the various scholarship initiatives but these, on their own, will not contribute towards a more systematic transformation of the sector.
“We need mechanisms that can deploy financial resources towards enhancing institutional governance of our universities, research institutions, promoting and investing in the study of Science, Technology and Mathematics,’’ she said.
In his remarks, Prof. Adebayo Olukoshi, Director, UN, African Institute for Development and Economic Planning, Dakar, who moderated the session, said that the summit, which was not convened by any government, was a people-driven initiative.
He said that it was no longer desirable for people outside the continent to decide on what would happen in Africa’s education sector.
He, however, conceded that a big challenge was that Africa lagged behind other regions of the world in terms of the volume and share of scientific output.
Olukoshi stressed that the new synergy by universities, fostered by the summit, would seek to reverse the trend.
“The idea of launching this alliance of universities for the promotion of research will help to create a new network forum.
“This will see universities invest a significant proportion of resources in research, including their post-graduate programmes,’’ he added.
Sharing similar sentiments, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the Chairperson of the African Union (AU), said that Africa must invest in health education, science education and engineering, as part of designed efforts to develop the critical sectors.
“We have the lowest higher education enrolment rate in the world, hovering at around six per cent, while the global rate is about 30 per cent.
“This is despite the phenomenal growth in African education enrolment, with the number soaring from 2.7 million in 1991 to 9.3 million in 2006,’’ she said.
In his contribution, Mr Kofi Annan, the former Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN), urged African countries to adopt the higher education model of Switzerland, which focused on vocational education for self-reliance.
Annan said that the current education system of Africa was meant to train academics and produce civil servants.
He said that the economic growth recorded in Africa in recent years had not translated into jobs for its teeming graduates; hence the need for urgent measures to correct the anomaly.
“As you may know, Switzerland has one the lowest unemployment rates in the world despite having a smaller proportion of university graduates than other nations.
“That is largely because the Swiss tertiary education system focuses mainly on high-level vocation schools in hotel management, engineering, IT, health, agriculture, whose graduates are immediately employable.
“If they do not find jobs, that have the skills to create their own jobs; this is a model other European countries are looking at to address their own unemployment problems; perhaps, Africa too should consider this model,’’ he said.
Annan insisted that Africa could not improve on the welfare and fortunes of its citizens without deepening the research capacity of its higher education system.
On his part, Prof. Julius Okojie, the Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC), said that the Federal Government of Nigeria was building a capacity that would sustain the expansion in education.
Okojie, who spoke as one of the panelists at the summit, said that the new universities needed time to grow.
“The new universities will grow; they take few programmes at a time; some of them do not have more than 3,000 students.
“Government is making a deliberate effort to build capacity. Through the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund), we are training more than 10,000 academic staff of universities to obtain their Master’s degree and Ph.D.
“In the past four years, government has put a lot of money in the refurbishment of laboratories and teaching hospitals; so, research is going on.
“For instance, University of Ibadan, Ibadan, produces about 250 Ph.D holders every year; the Ph.D holders are there; many of them will be absorbed into the system,” he said.
According to Okojie, every nation should have its own minimum standards for the running of universities and then look at what it can benefit at regional levels.
The NUC boss said that with the increased funding for research and scholarship, many Nigerian academics and researchers in overseas countries had started returning to the country.
At the end of the summit, the participants made a declaration, in which they agreed to identify and develop 200 universities across Africa that would constitute the hub of excellence in knowledge which would be relevant to African development.
Mr Tendai Murisa, the Executive Director, Trust Africa, said that by 2063, each African country should have a higher education hub that could create key elements of development – one of the declarations of the summit.
Murisa read out other declarations:
“Achieving through concomitant investments in academic staff, infrastructure and facilities by the state, private sector and society at large, a higher education enrolment ratio of 50 per cent, which is likely to be the world average by 2063.
“Aiming to reach gender parity/equality in tertiary enrolments within a decade, as well as in postgraduate education, science, engineering and technology fields, and among academic staff and senior administrators.
“Acceleration of systems to enhance diversification, differentiation and harmonisation at all levels by African countries.’’
One of the declarations relate to the need for Africa’s higher education system to establish a robust national quality and accrediting agencies, with powers to sanction institutions for non-compliance.
Others are: “African countries, working with national councils and institutions of education, need to improve mobilisation through developing creative taxation policies and funding schemes to finance higher education.
“The need to enhance effective cost-sharing systems, including loan schemes that do not undermine access and equity.
“Increasing levels of research and development funding to create strong research capacities.
“Increasing African nations’ gross expenditure on research and development levels to one per cent within five years, and incrementally and constituently to attain a minimum of five per cent by 2063.’’
Still on the declarations, Murisa said that there was the need to improve partnership between African higher education and Africans in the Diaspora.
He said that the summit recommended a 10/10 programme that would sponsor 1,000 scholars among Africans in the Diaspora across all disciplines every year for 10 years to African universities and colleges for collaboration in research.
“The collaboration will also extend to curriculum development and graduate students’ teaching and mentoring.’’
The Director of the summit, Dr Omano Edigheji, said that the declarations were with an Action Plan for the improvement of the higher education sector in all African countries.
All the same, perceptive analysts agree that pragmatic efforts should be made to implement the summit’s declarations, in line with the stated action plan.
“If that is done, Africa’s higher education sub-sector will definitely experience a remarkable transformation in due course,’’ some of the analysts say. (NANFeatures)
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