AFRICA: Call for help in rebuilding universities

South Africa's Science and Technology Minister, Naledi Pandor, has urged developed nations to invest in rebuilding African universities. Speaking at an Africa University Day Symposium held in Johannesburg, she said four in 10 African scientists were estimated to living in OECD countries and this had crippled research development in Africa.

Africa University Day was on 12 November, and the symposium held at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) drew representatives from government, donor agencies and business as well as from higher education.

Pandor said strengthening higher education through active collaboration was an important strategy for enhancing human development and attaining regional integration in Africa, reported Nthambeleni Gabara of the government agency Bua News.

"Developed nations must invest in rebuilding African universities, and provide funding for scientists to pursue postgraduate and postdoctoral work in Africa," she said. The Network of African Science Academies calculated that 40% of African scientists are in the diaspora.

"In today's globalised and interconnected world, we encourage brain circulation through cultural and material incentives. We need to support Africa to become an attractive location to pursue high quality research."

More positively, Pandor said, there had been a sharp increase in the number of students in higher education on the continent.

"Enrolments in sub-Saharan African universities tripled between 1991 and 2005, expanding at an annual rate of 8.7%, which is one of the highest regional growth rates in the world. We also see a renewal in the growing number of African students looking for higher education elsewhere in Africa and abroad."

Not all universities could be research-intensive, Pandor added - but if such institutions were to be built, the continent should look towards new and innovative partnerships to support them.

Professor Loyiso Nongxa, Vice-chancellor of Wits, told the symposium that higher education was now widely acknowledged as key to developing and uplifting Africa.

Building capacity in education was of critical importance, given the growing challenges of globalisation, threats associated with climate change and the global economic crisis, which were destined to impact more negatively on development in Africa than anywhere else.

"Africa will continue to rely heavily on the goodwill and cooperation of top higher education institutions from beyond its borders for many years to come," Nongxa said.

"This is compounded by present economic realities which will have serious adverse impacts on the availability of resources for research and to build the required human capacity for research in the foreseeable future," said Nongxa.

He said vigorous intra-Africa initiatives to provide high quality, robust and sustainable capacity must be explored, including thematic intellectual networks and residency programmes aimed at drawing on and deepening the continent's intellectual resources.

The Africa University Day event also launched the International Innovation for Development Symposium, which will be hosted early next year by Wits and will highlight innovation as critical to developing countries that seek to balance economic growth with the redistribution of wealth and effective provision of key public goods such as education, housing and health.