AFRICA: Bologna responses follow ex-colonial lines

The Bologna process is impacting on higher education in Africa, in some countries directly but in others slowly and circuitously. "It is pushing the region into looking at its own quality assurance frameworks and the portability of qualifications," says Dr Nasima Badsha, advisor to the South African Education Minister and head of the Cape Higher Education Consortium. Bologna-related activity is most vigorous in Francophone North African nations, some of which are changing their degree and qualifications systems in line with European reforms.

Bologna offers lessons for African efforts to harmonise higher education systems and promote collaboration, according to World Education Services or WES, the international non-profit evaluations agency. But, as it points out in a 2007 report, The impact of the Bologna process beyond Europe*, most cooperation and collaborative reform efforts on the continent are based on shared linguistic, historical and cultural traditions that have resulted in similar education traditions.

At the continental level, the African Union, the EU-style cooperation body, has suggested that Bologna be studied as a model for higher education harmonisation.

Meanwhile France has been most active in promoting Bologna-style reforms in its former colonies and the French-speaking countries of the Maghreb – Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia – are reforming their systems in line with France to create a three-year licence (degree), two-year masters and three-year doctorate structure. Algeria and Morocco introduced the new degree system in 2003 at pilot faculties, according to WES.

Collaboration between Europe and North Africa, including Egypt and the Maghreb, will be further boosted by the Euro-Mediterranean Higher Education and Research Area, founded in 2006 with the Catania Declaration. It covers activities similar to Bologna's – compatibility between systems and qualifications, credit transfer, student mobility and quality assurance.

In West Africa, WES reports, there is consensus but little action on the need for higher education harmonisation. The Agence Universitaire de la Francophone has hosted regional discussions on degree reforms, joint degrees and centres of excellence as well as improving quality assurance, research capacity, institutional management and academic mobility.

The Association of Portuguese Speaking Universities has long been working to establish a Lusophone Higher Education Area that could pressure Lusophone countries such as Angola and Mozambique towards Bologna-style reforms. This initiative has since been endorsed by the Community of Portuguese Speaking Communities and aims to promote quality assurance, student and academic mobility, harmonisation of degree structures and greater collaboration.

In Anglophone countries – such as South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe – there has been little 'formal' activity but the structure of degrees at least is already in line with the Bologna architecture and most universities have modular and credit systems.

Significant efforts are underway in sub-Saharan Africa to move towards greater higher education collaboration between countries, including under the umbrella of the Association of African Universities. But generally the region is a long way from the kind of reforms to degrees, qualifications and quality structures demanded by Bologna.

AAU-affiliated groups such as the Southern African Regional Universities Association are inching towards harmonisation, urged on by political organisations such as the African Union and the Southern African Development Community. But there are challenges.

Cobus Lötter, director of South Africa's Matriculation Board – the body that evaluates university entry qualifications – says great differences in school systems in Africa present a major obstacle to continental student mobility and qualification accreditation, and spill over into higher education, affecting qualification recognition.

Says Nasima Badsha: "A lot of African countries do not have quality assurance bodies. And how do you talk about articulation and portability of qualifications when dealing with systems which often have just one public university. There are huge complications."

The Higher Education Quality Committee of South Africa's advisory Council on Higher Education, however, is doing a great deal of networking with other quality assurance bodies in Africa, which are working together to strengthen each other, Badsha says.

There are numerous other obstacles to Bologna-style reforms in Africa and, as WES points out: "The very fact that Bologna is working to develop the appeal of the European Higher Education Area to those from outside the area might cause institutions and policymakers in Africa to continue looking to familiar collaborative partners in Europe rather than working toward the greater challenge of developing African collaboration."

* The full World Education Services report