University World News (click to go to the original article)
The idea was agreed at a Carnegie Corporation of New York-sponsored convening on “Higher Education Policy, Leadership and Governance”, held in Nairobi in May. It was taken forward at a meeting between the corporation, TrustAfrica and others in Dakar late last month.
TrustAfrica is the catalyst for the African higher education summit, which will be supported by the Carnegie Corporation.
A partnership is being forged to organise the event, also including the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa, or CODESRIA – which developed the concept – the Association of African Universities, and the UN-created African Institute for Economic Development and Planning, IDEP.
“There is also the government of Senegal, which is making a big effort to revitalise the higher education sector in Senegal. So there will be at least five or six of us collaborating. The World Bank is also interested, and we are in conversation with it in Washington DC,” said Aidoo.
“The overall aim is to reach consensus and develop a programme of action. We expect that eventually there will be an African charter, declaration or protocol that will be shared and committed to by all countries in Africa, to revitalise higher education.
“Related to that will be an attempt to set the stage for development of a strong and concerted advocacy movement or alliance for higher education in Africa: people and organisations that can work together to advance higher education, and implement the charter principals and action plan that will come out.”
The summit will gather together five categories of people and organisations. There will be representatives from all sub-regions: West, East, Central, Southern and North Africa.
The first category will be higher education leaders, academics and professionals. The second will be governmental – ministers of education and finance, policy-makers and authorities related to the higher education sector. The third will be student associations, and the fourth donor partners, the African Union, the United Nations, the World Bank and other institutions.
“We will also bring in key African thought leaders, African icons, VIPs,” said Aidoo. “Not too many, but those who have taken on advocacy for African development such as special envoys, UN champions and ambassadors.”
Aidoo said that a range of issues would be covered during the discussions, in the charter and by the advocacy movement. Specific issues will include the financing of higher education, human resources, the brain drain, and the quality and relevance of higher education.
“How can higher education become more relevant in the 21st century in relation to the challenges and the opportunities that Africa faces in higher education? Attention will also be paid to the issues of access and equity, especially gender equity in higher education, and innovation.
“The idea is that these are all areas that require transformation in African higher education,” Aidoo told University World News.
Over the past 50 to 60 years, Aidoo said, higher education on the continent had not transformed as might have been expected. There had been change in many areas of African development, including “huge transformation” in the political sphere towards democratic systems of governance and in freedom of expression and media pluralism.
“But in further and higher education things have been quite stagnant. There has been a huge increase in the number of tertiary institutions, in universities for example. But in areas such as finance and access, quality and relevance, there seems to have been stagnation,” Aidoo explained.
“I think this is an opportune time, because people are a lot more aware of higher education now than before.” For instance, the African Union had become interested in the sector and was setting up an African regulatory system. “So there is a bit of movement here and there in terms of political will and interest in this area.”
An advocacy alliance
Advocacy would be key to advancing pan-African agreement on higher education reached at the summit, Aidoo stressed. “It will have a very important media component.
“The whole idea of advocacy hinges on raising awareness and building a constituency among the general population and interested parties, to keep an issue on the radar.”
While it was not yet known what the media approach would be, said Aidoo: “There would obviously need to be some platform and some entity that would coordinate all the work. But we would not set up another big bureaucratic structure sitting somewhere.
“The advocacy secretariat will be very nimble, very flexible, grafted onto what already exists. The dynamics of it I think would emerge but we can imagine it.”
Aidoo said there were many African higher education networks and organisations, such as the Ghana-based Association of African Universities, that would play a role in coordinating work in relation to universities. Other important players would be the African Union and the Economic Commission for Africa (both in Ethiopia), and pan-African NGOs such as TrustAfrica and CODESRIA in Senegal.
“The summit will be an opportunity to bring them all together and see how they can each pick up pieces of the charter for advocacy work,” said Aidoo. “We will need to create a division of labour and also a plan that will enable them to push for specific issues.
“This would enable key stakeholders to advance implementation of the recommendations that will come out of the summit.”