AFRICA: New institute to boost university governance

A new institute to strengthen the governance and management of African universities has been officially inaugurated in Yaoundé, Cameroon. The Pan-African Institute of University Governance aims to improve and modernise practices for the competent running of higher education institutions throughout Sub-Saharan Africa.

The institute, first announced at last year's Unesco World Conference on Higher Education, is a joint initiative led by the Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie, AUF, and the Association of Commonwealth Universities, ACU. As well as Unesco, other partners are the Association of African Universities, the African Union and the government of Cameroon.

Known by its French or English acronyms IPAGU or PAIUG, the institute, located at the University of Yaoundé-2 in bilingual Cameroon, will serve all universities in all the countries - English, French and Portuguese speaking - of sub-Saharan Africa.

The AUF said African universities had difficulty in achieving their mission because of substantial problems due in part to unsuitable governance: "Their management methods no longer correspond to the challenges of contemporary society."

The institute would be a unique facility on the African continent, with a vocation to modernise governance in its universities through establishment of expert assessments, training modules, seminars, workshops and, above all, specific tools for management, analysis and evaluation, said the AUF.

It would take an interest in all areas of governance - academic, administrative, financial, social, digital and scientific - and function as an observatory of higher education in Africa.

The institute's areas of activity will concern all senior people responsible for higher education and research governance in Africa: vice-chancellors, rectors, deans, general secretaries and administrators, as well as support organisations and public and state bodies.

It held its first seminar in March, when workshops tackled conceptions of university governance and shared some success stories from African countries, according to its website.

About 300 participants attended the institute's launch on 15 June, presided over by Cameroon's Minister for Higher Education, Professor Jacques Fame Ndongo. Those present included diplomatic, academic and institutional representatives and officials from international organisations.

Professor Bonaventure Mvé-Ondo, Vice-rector of the AUF with responsibility for the project, told the gathering: "This international space which will radiate over all sub-Saharan Africa will aim to develop practices and rationalise the resources and capacities of governance in the universities of the African continent to make them true actors of development.

"Eventually it will contribute to energising the African higher education community which will surpass linguistic and political barriers," he said.

Last week Professor Georges Haddad, Director of the Division of Higher Education at Unesco and a member of the institute's steering committee, told University World News the institute was one of the tangible results of Unesco's 2009 World Conference, whose major theme focused on 'Priority for Africa'.

He explained the institute was "Unesco's baby, at least for its conception".

He had met AUF and ACU colleagues first in Montreal, then in London "where the idea was born of an institute of African higher education and university governance to improve capacities in the governance in Africa's universities".

He said the institute was now launched, but "the hardest part remains to be done, to make it grow and develop".

African universities had inherited different systems and languages of instruction, depending on their colonial pasts.

"The French-speaking ones are more centralised, with more state intervention. The English-speaking ones are turned towards autonomy of management. The Portuguese have another model, more complicated," said Haddad.

"There are different forces, different traditions. Our objective is to bring all the actors together and try to make them construct their own model; at Unesco we don't want to impose governance systems," he said.

Africa did not need to adopt an American or European system, but to create its own by evaluating and adapting, he said. "It will take patience, stamina and persistence."

Haddad said there would be annual assessments of the institute's activities, and after five years a major evaluation of its progress. "Then we shall see if it is important; whether we shall continue or stop."

A budget has not yet been decided, but "it must be a stable one", said Hadded. He estimates funding of $2 million a year for five years would be satisfactory.

This is a bold step you guys have taken to tackle the problem of capacity building in institutions of higher learning. We hope the actors in university management will be allowed to play a major role in this project. Best wishes for its success.

Kikelomo Sallee