To fill capacity gaps, universities need to work in synergy

14.07.19 11:33 PM

A recent study by the Africa Capacity Building Foundation has revealed that the continent has only about 55,000 engineers against an estimated 4.3 million required, Secretary General of the Association of African Universities (AAU) Professor Etienne Ehouan Ehilé has said.

Speaking at the opening of the 20th AAU Conference of Rectors, Vice-Chancellors and Presidents of African Universities (COREVIP) in Cairo on 8 July, he said there was therefore the need to produce over 300,000 every year until 2023.

Ehilé said similar capacity gaps had been found in other areas, 10 years after the implementation of the Africa Union’s Agenda 2063. “We have about 21,000 geologists against an estimated 174,000 needed and about 82,000 agricultural scientists out of an estimated 152,000 required,” he said.

Agenda 2063, which comprises five 10-year plans launched in 2015, is a strategic framework for the socio-economic transformation of the continent over 50 years. It builds on, and seeks to accelerate, the implementation of past and existing continental initiatives for growth and sustainable development.

South-South collaboration

In light of the capacity gaps, he said there was a need for African institutions of higher learning to become innovative and work in synergy to establish stronger networks among themselves in the spirit of South-South collaboration.

Ehilé commended Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt, which he said is a high-ranking institution that has opened its doors to Africa and the world, enrolling more than 40,000 international students, describing it as “a remarkable achievement in this era of internationalisation”.

Ehilé said the AAU is committed to ensuring that higher education institutions on the continent deliver “education that is capable of producing the high quality human capital and research needed for accelerated socio-economic development of our society”.

“This commitment is what guided us in organising this COREVIP, whose key rationale is to promote intellectual engagement by interrogating the contributions of African higher education to the achievement of the Continental Education Strategy for Africa (CESA 16-25),” Ehilé said.

Ehilé said CESA 16-25 remains one of the three main pillars of the African Union’s Agenda 2063, which outlines Africa’s colossal development issues and the need to fully tap into the youthful population in order to reap the demographic dividends for sustainable development.

Sustainable development

“The obvious message from CESA 16-25 is the need for the higher education sector in Africa to understand, own and fully commit itself to the continent’s drive for sustainable development solutions.” 

He said there was no better forum than this year’s COREVIP to engage the continent’s higher education institutions through scientific presentations, information sharing, collaboration, co-operation and open discussion on key issues that can help solve our developmental challenges.

Ehilé said CESA is Africa’s own indigenous road map towards harnessing higher education to move Africa towards sustainable development. “It is therefore vital that the top echelon of academic managers in our higher education institutions, as major stakeholders, are not only abreast with the strategy, but also contribute meaningfully to deliberate and come to a common understanding before soliciting the buy-in of the workforce they lead in their various institutions,” he said.

Ehilé said the AAU is in the process of developing its own five-year strategic plan, the objectives of which will reflect key issues and targets of CESA, Agenda 2063, the Sustainable Development Goals and all the other relevant agenda items that provide a pathway along which the AAU seeks to head over the next five years. 

European Union support

Head of cooperation in the EU delegation to Egypt, Ibrahim Laafia, said in a speech that the EU strongly supports international cooperation among higher education institutions. Since 2015 it has used its flagship programme, Erasmus, to support education for youth, sports and culture and has funded over 110 partnerships between European and African universities in 25 African countries.

“These have contributed to making curricula more appropriate to the needs of the African societies and economies, to improving teaching and learning and to developing the innovation capacities of African universities. And Africa’s different education and training systems have come closer together,” he said, adding that “adaptations that universities may need to put in place to enable international mobility and to capitalise on outcomes can, in turn, impact on institutional processes, and even pave the way to systemic reforms”.

Laafia said the Erasmus programme has funded over 16,000 international scholarships for African students and staff, and currently the EU funds Horizon 2020, the largest research programme in the world, which has a budget of €80 billion (US$90 billion) involving 149 countries.

Regional initiative

Laafia said the EU has set in place a targeted regional initiative that will have a specific thematic focus on research and innovation to support the EU-Africa Research and Innovation Partnership on food and nutrition security and sustainable agriculture (FNSSA) with a budget of €90 million (US$100 million).

He said the importance of comprehensive education strategies such as CESA, which are geared to respond to socio-economic needs and upgrade the quality and relevance of education systems, are widely recognised.

It was the EU’s desire to promote inclusive growth and sustainable development in Africa by investing in youth for both Africa and Europe.

The European Consensus on Development, which advocates access to quality education for all as a prerequisite for youth and employability and long-lasting development, demands that research is at the centre of development in higher education, including tertiary technical and vocational education, Laafia added.

While there was need for a strong focus on the harmonisation of education systems as a driver for integration, in line with the goals of the African Union, there must also be an emphasis on quality assurance, cross-country comparability and mutual recognition of qualifications, which make skills “portable” and thus enable intra-regional and international exchanges, he said.

“This approach is inspired by the know-how built in Europe over two decades through the Bologna Process that has gradually led countries with different political, cultural and academic traditions to reform their higher education structures according to common values, and to create a European Higher Education Area that facilitates student and staff mobility and boosts employability,” he stated.

This article originally appeared on University World News.