East African governments should work with universities to build knowledge on climate change with a view to building the capacity and resilience of local communities, who largely depend on rain-fed agriculture, to mitigate the consequences of climate change.
This was among the resolutions emerging from last month’s Conference on Higher Education, Policy and Research that took place in Djibouti. The conference, organised by the UNESCO Regional Office for Eastern Africa in partnership with the Government of Djibouti, included representatives from Comoros, Djibouti, Eritrea, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Rwanda, Seychelles, Somalia, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda.
In addition to a focus on climate change, the conference was aimed at promoting peace and security programmes and research in the region’s universities.
Other objectives included the strengthening of reform agendas to promote science research for socio-economic and environmental development; the acceleration of information and communication technology integration in higher education; and the promotion of regional integration through sub-regional and regional harmonisation and quality assurance frameworks.
Such frameworks included the East African Qualifications Framework for Higher Education and the Addis Ababa Convention on the Recognition of Studies, Certificates, Diplomas, Degrees and Other Academic Qualifications in Higher Education in African States.
Doing more on climate change
“It was clear from the deliberations at the conference that more needs to be done to address climate change, especially as the issue cuts across different subjects and also different aspects of life,” said Mika Odido, UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission coordinator for Africa.
In an interview with University World News, Odido said while both the Institute for Climate Change and Adaptation at Kenya’s University of Nairobi, and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development’s Climate Prediction and Applications Centre had done commendable work in this area, conference participants had agreed that the capacity available for training and research in the region was not sufficient.
“Funding was identified as a challenge, with participants highlighting the need for countries in the region to invest more in research rather than relying on foreign funding,” said Odido, adding that the concern was that such funding bodies would control the research agenda and their priorities may not necessarily be in tandem with that of local communities.
Odido also said that inadequate long-time series data that could aid in trend analysis for climate change was also an area of concern. As a result, one of the activities agreed on was to map existing capabilities in the region, including training and research facilities.
Centre of excellence
Another key recommendation was the creation of a centre of excellence to enable member states to enhance partnerships and collaboration to adapt to and mitigate the impact of climate change through innovative teaching and research.
A first step would be to map existing capabilities in region – what exists with respect to teaching (curricula), research, networks, exchanges, resources and funding opportunities – under the coordination of Djibouti, in partnership with member states and participating organisations.
Both public and private universities in the region are expected to provide leadership in terms of research, and come up with adaptation strategies or solutions to help mitigate the impact of climate change.
Delegates argued that such innovations will help the continent gear towards the realisation of the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris climate agreement.
Because universities and higher education institutions are instrumental in advancing the climate change agenda, as well as education and research on conflict resolution, peace-making and cooperation for socio-economic development, they were challenged to position themselves to better produce social science research relevant to addressing the challenges of peace and security.
The conference discussed the precarious state of social science research in Africa, a situation highlighted in the 2010 World Social Science Report, which focused on the theme 'Knowledge Divides', jointly published by UNESCO and the International Social Science Council.
Delegates agreed to develop interdisciplinary courses which bring together social sciences and natural sciences with a view to 'institutionalising' and mainstreaming issues of peace, security and gender across the universities system, as well as establish mechanisms for dialogue aimed at the development of national and regional policies on peace and security.
Among the reforms discussed was a mechanism for joint collaboration led by universities to address emerging issues, including climate change, and peace and security in the region; a collaborative effort to mobilise universities, including UNESCO chairs and centres for the empowerment of young people, and to link learning with the job market through partnerships with the private sector, research and development, eco-tourism and creative industries for income generation.
To achieve the goal of inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning by 2030, it was emphasised that the use of technology and ICTs in higher education was critical for the benefit of education systems, knowledge dissemination, information access, quality and effective learning, and more effective service provision.
The member states discussed and agreed on a new strategy towards the ratification and implementation of the Addis Ababa Convention leading to greater higher education harmonisation in the region, with hosts Djibouti being tasked with inviting all countries in the region to ratify the convention by the end of October.
It was resolved that a sub-committee would be established to work on the implementation of the convention with support from the UNESCO regional office.
Once ratified, the 2014 Addis Ababa Convention will provide a concrete framework of action for African countries, according to Taya Louise Owens, a senior UNESCO research officer.
“This will help countries adopt guidelines for quality assurance and degree recognition, create guidance on best practices, and make recommendations on implementation,” Owens told University World News.
Owens said the convention, which provides a pathway for degrees to be recognised in different countries, is a mechanism for African countries to build higher education sector capacity, coordinate best practices with each other through peer-learning, and make sure that students and workers have access to all opportunities available to them.
She said the convention will help to improve the quality of higher education, make study abroad easier, improve faculty mobility and research collaboration, and provide more avenues for employment after graduation.
The realisation of the United Nations 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development requires increased research and development. Of concern to the delegates at the conference was the progress of African universities in meeting research and development needs.
Owens said Africa’s contribution to scientific knowledge production, estimated at just 1.1%, was still negligible compared to the rest of the world.
“Africa only produces 79 scientists per one million people, whereas countries such as Brazil and the United States produce 656 and 4,500 respectively,” says Owens. As a consequence, Africa does not reap the financial and social benefits that accrue to those countries producing patents aimed at improving lives.
The conference did not neglect the interests of youth as critical players in higher education. Young people from universities and research institutions were given a platform to discuss pertinent issues and government delegates encouraged them to harness science and technology knowledge and ICT skills for social innovation.
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