Dakar – Kofi Annan, the former Secretary General of the United Nations, kicked off the second day of the African Higher Education Summit in Dakar, Senegal, by evoking the memory of the late Nelson Mandela who said: “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.”
Kofi Annan addressed some 500 participants, among them the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, national ministers of higher education, other dignitaries and some 50 Vice-Chancellors from across the continent.
“I have long been a believer in the transformative power of education. Education is one of the most effective forms of peacebuilding, a source of hope for each individual, and the premise of development and progress for society,” said Annan, who serves as the Chancellor of the University of Ghana.
The summit, with the theme revitalizing higher education for Africa’s future, is the brainchild of TrustAfrica, run in conjunction with 11 organising partners.
Annan highlighted the power of partnership and commended the presence and participation of the African Union given the need for a collective effort towards transformation.
“She is trying but she needs help”, said Annan in reference to Dlamini Zuma. “Through better cooperation between African governments and universities, the continent can build regional centres of excellence that improve both the quality of research and education, and their impact throughout Africa.”
Known for his work across Africa to promote smallholder agriculture and with the Africa Progress Panel, Annan said that different sectors will not grow in isolation, demonstrating the need for different sectors to work together to achieve sustainable and equitable development.
Others echoed this conviction. “If you are going to transform higher education you cannot do it independent of health, food security and other sectors.” said Bol Makueng Yuol Deputy Minister of Education, Science and Technology, South Sudan.
Annan’s remarks were followed by a ministerial panel with representation from higher education ministers from Ethiopia, Uganda, Gambia, Mali and South Sudan.
Yuol spoke about models of higher education that build on the strong foundation of solid primary education. Therefore, there is a need to strengthen education at all levels, he said.
“What we have seen in South Sudan is, because we are a new nation everybody wants to try his or her own model. As a result we have institutions of higher learning now, which are not accredited. This has to stop. We want to build a higher education sector that is based on sound principles, one that appreciates the value attached to a person called an African that value matters a lot,” said Yuol.
He highlighted the existing exchange programmes in higher education between Ethiopia and South Sudan, feeding into the pan-African priority of regional integration, driven by the Africa Union and aimed at bringing Africa’s eight regional economic communities together.
“Africa has exported some of its brightest minds, as both professors and students. Many of the continent’s brightest young prospects feel they must leave Africa to further their studies, to publish or be mentored, and to develop personal expertise. They can benefit Africa as they benefit their host countries today,” said Annan.
In a panel to set the scene for the summit, Dr. Nico Cloete gave a presentation showing the gap in the production of research material, highlighting the comparison where in 2010, South Africa produced 1 423 doctorates compared with the 2 244 PhDs awarded by the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil. With regard to research, South Africa produces approximately 7 500 doctoral articles a year, which is equivalent to 0.4% of the total world science production.
Annan explained how the University of Ghana and University of Sussex are collaborating on joint teaching and research programs, to facilitate student and staff exchanges and jointly train and develop doctoral students. “I think this could allow us to develop world-class research-intensive universities, to generate the knowledge both governments and businesses need to succeed in Africa and globally,” said Annan.
Cloete described efforts to increase the production of research outputs, siting the cases of the University of Cape Town and Makerere Universities through incentives of up to $100million research funds. These funds, of which in the case of Makerere 80% comes from donors and therefore run the risk of distorting the research and publication culture as the motivation for producing the publications may end up being driven by funding.
Prof. Venansius Baryamureeba, representing the Uganda higher education minister, emphasized lack of employable skills, which his government was redressing by financing one out of three youth in Uganda to enter a technical education institution, creating a further need for financial assistance, to retain staff and manage the facilities. He explained giving a synopsis of trip where he discovered that the grounds and maintenance budget of a university in the USA is equivalent to the total budget of one of the local universities in Uganda.
Hon. Mountaga Tall, Minister of Higher Education and Research in Mali, said: “Investment in knowledge is the best and most profitable type of investment. However Africa is characterized by a significant informal economy, which means we need to combine academic knowledge and indigenous knowledge relevant to the African situation.”
Tall spoke of the challenge in Mali to attract teachers making the question of competitive remuneration a key consideration to quell brain drain. The government of Mali recently supplied 10 000 computers to their five local universities to enhance the technological adoption rate. Currently 80% of Malian graduates are in the humanities, forcing government to drive the uptake of STEM (Science, Technology and Mathematics) related subjects.
“Africa is full of unemployed university graduates, even as our economies have grown by more than 5% for over a decade,” said Annan. “No one is born a good citizen or a good democrat or a good leader; it takes time and education.”
He continued: “Our institutions should be melting pots of diversity and incubators of pluralism which will produce responsible citizens and instill in Africa’s youth a mindset and understanding of the world that inspires visionary and positive citizenship and leadership.”
The summit ended its second day with sessions moderated by Zimbabwe’s minister of higher and tertiary education: Dr Oppah Muchinguri, on Differentiation and Diversification; Burundi’s former minister of education and current Southern Africa Regional Office Director of UNESCO: Professor Luc Ruklingama, on Harmonisation of African Universities; Professor Teboho Moja, on Equity and Access and Dr. Tade Aina: Executive Director, Partnership for African Social Governance Research on Higher Education, Nation Building and Citizenship.