Guest Column

Universities can help make AU's Agenda 2063 a reality

2019-05-27 16:36
Stellenbosch University's law faculty. Photo: Leanne Stander

Stellenbosch University's law faculty. Photo: Leanne Stander

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If innovation is going to be key in the realisation of Agenda 2063, universities and governments will have to prioritise quality education and research, writes Sarah Howie.

Given Africa's many opportunities as well as socio-economic and political challenges, it should come as no surprise that the first of the seven aspirations of the African Union (AU)'s Agenda 2063 is to build a "prosperous Africa based on inclusive growth and sustainable development". 

No doubt, innovation will be a major driving force in the pursuit of this goal. As hubs of innovation, higher education institutions can make a valuable contribution by equipping the continent's growing youth population, including the next generation of scholars, with the necessary skills required to make Agenda 2063 a reality. But for this to happen, Africa's universities will have to overcome their own unique challenges.

Over the last few decades, African Higher Education has been characterised by increasingly rapid expansion unparalleled compared to any other region in the world. Universities in Africa have increased steadily from just about 100 in 1970 to approximately 2000 in 2018. Enrolment also grew from fewer than 250 000 students in 1970 to an estimated 14 million in 2018. According to the African Development Bank, this represents 6.4% of global tertiary education enrolments.

Despite this positive development, many universities continue to be burdened with, among others, inadequate infrastructure, limited resources and weak development agendas, which impact on their capacity to create job opportunities, especially for Africa's growing youth population that is projected to reach over 840 million by 2050. These young people will need 21st century jobs that are technology driven as Dr Akinwumi Adesina, president of the African Development Bank, has pointed out. Observers criticise universities for neglecting the needs of the private sectors (formal and informal) of the economy and for not being vehicles of job creation. Potential employers seem to be dissatisfied with the knowledge, skills and quality of graduates.

The 2017 Kgalema Motlanthe report on the Assessment of Legislation and the Acceleration of Fundamental Change highlights the disjuncture between higher education and the workplace and also calls for improvement in the quality of public education. Furthermore, the slow expansion of quality postgraduate education has impacted negatively on research and development, and innovation on the continent. A 2016 World Bank report points out that the share of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) research in Sub-Saharan Africa has marginally declined by 0.2% annually since 2002. According to UNESCO's 2015 Science Report, there are 91 researchers per million inhabitants in Sub-Saharan Africa compared to the world average of 1083.

So, what can higher education institutions in Africa do to address some of these challenges and help achieve the goals set out in the AU's Agenda 2063?

If innovation is going to be key in the realisation of Agenda 2063, universities and governments will have to prioritise quality education and research. In a recent article ("Raising the visibility of African research and innovation") for University World News, Professor Tawana Kupe, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Pretoria, remarked that "in order for us to achieve a measure of economic independence, self-sufficiency and sustainability, African countries and corporations working in Africa need to invest more in the research and development capacity of our young continent".

Universities should also invest in postgraduate training by establishing dedicated centres focusing on generic competencies and skills training for students and staff within their institutions. In Africa training takes place more on an ad hoc basis and is restricted to within disciplines and for specialised fields. Generic training such as the transferable skills and competences identified would appear relatively rare. Prioritising education and research are crucial if we want to the process of achieving inclusive growth and sustainable development in Africa.

At Stellenbosch University (SU) where I work, we've established the Africa Centre for Scholarship (ACS) where one of its programmes, the African Doctoral Academy, has been helping to develop the continent's next generation of scholars that will be equipped with the necessary skills to support governments and other key role-players in solving some of Africa's pressing challenges. The African Doctoral Academy is celebrating 10 years of its existence this year.  Our Joint Schools in Africa initiative provides the opportunity for established scholars to collaborate on designing joint curricula and co-presenting to doctoral students, as well as emerging and experienced scholars across Africa. To date we have had more than 500 students attending Joint Schools in five African countries. We are planning 12 more schools over the next three years.

The work that ACS is doing in conjunction with SU's International office and the Centre for Collaboration in Africa is in line with Agenda 2063 that calls for the "harmonization of continental admissions, curricula, standards, programmes and qualifications and raising the standards of higher education to enhance the mobility of African youth and talent across the continent." Already nine SADC countries are preparing to try out a SADC qualifications framework across the region to facilitate mutual recognition of qualifications within SADC's 16 member states.

This is critical given that the number of young people in sub-Saharan Africa will double to 400 million by 2050 (by 2100, half the world's youth will live in Africa), and is seen as Africa's opportunity to level the playing field. The key to a prosperous African continent is sustained investments in higher education, science, technology, research and innovation and the expansion of postgraduate education. The ACS is responding to this call by contributing to the development and empowerment of new and emerging scholars in Africa in order to enhance the growth and sustainable development of the continent and its people.

- Prof Sarah J. Howie is director of the Africa Centre for Scholarship at Stellenbosch University.  

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24. 

Read more on:    african union (au)  |  university


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