AFRICA: New higher education directions for Carnegie

The Carnegie Corporation of New York has announced that it will commit US$30 million over the next three years to a new higher education in Africa strategy that will prioritise strengthening the next generation of academics and university leaders. The foundation has spent more than US$100 million supporting higher education in Africa in the past decade.

Carnegie President, Vartan Gregorian, said in a statement that grants will focus on South Africa, Ghana and Uganda, while complementary discipline-based regional networks will offer competitive training fellowships to academics and researchers throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

The new phase of grant-making will fall into three key areas - investing in Africa's next generation of academics, supporting information and communication technologies for research and education, and enhancing libraries and access to information.

Carnegie was a founder of the seven-member Partnership for Higher Education in Africa, an initiative created to strengthen higher education institutions so they are able to contribute to poverty reduction, economic growth and social development on the continent.

The Partnership's total investments over 10 years were more than $350 million, including $100 million contributed by Carnegie to support reform in universities in Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda. The foundation is also completing a nearly $20 million scholarship and fellowship commitment to support women's advancement at universities.

"With the fastest-growing rates of university enrollment in the world and research demonstrating higher education's positive impact on economic growth, poverty reduction, national health and governance, Africa's universities are making an increasingly critical contribution in helping to shape the discussion about the continent's future," said Gregorian in the statement.

However, there was a "troubling disconnect" between the expanding cohort of students and the number of people dedicating themselves to academia, exacerbated by lack of cutting-edge laboratories and other facilities to allow more world-class research.

As a result, the growing demand for professors, academic leaders and improved research facilities was not being met, Gregorian said: "Further compounding the problem is the often inadequate preparation of those who do enter academia and the rising tide of retirements among Africa's aging cohort of initial post-independence academics."

Tade Aina, Carnegie's higher education programme director in Africa, said that the new grant-making strategy was a deepening and realignment of support for African universities based on priority areas identified by university leaders and stakeholders on the continent.

"It builds on the institutional strengths and reach of a handful of universities working alongside disciplinary networks and using competitive fellowships to produce more postgraduates in disciplines and areas identified by the universities."

In its support for the recruitment, development and retention of the next generation of African academics, Carnegie will address 'push' factors that lead to many academics or potential scholars leaving their country, continent or academia.

Priorities will be to provide attractive opportunities for postgraduate training and research, with integrated retention programmes to help increase the supply of qualified academics and university leaders, the statement said.

Grants will also work to create new and strengthen existing discipline-based regional research and training networks, create fellowship opportunities for training and retaining academics and researchers, strengthen leadership and management of senior academics and promote policy initiatives to sustain gains in higher education reforms.

In ICTs for research and education, Carnegie said meeting Africa's critical shortage of qualified faculty and academic leaders and supporting people who have committed to careers in higher education, would require expanding the reach and enhancing the effectiveness of ICTs as a teaching tool in support of subject-based regional research and training networks.

Grant priorities will be "to increase and expand the connectivity of universities and disciplinary networks and deepen the use of ICTs in teaching research and management."

In the third area of libraries and access to information, Carnegie said libraries were generally given a low priority by governments and international funders "and most have severely deteriorated infrastructure, stock and services". The Corporation will build on recent work to create more model university libraries to deepen academic research.