AFRICA-EU: Universities want role on political agenda

The role of universities in Africa and cooperation between universities in Africa and Europe have been politically sidelined, according to associations representing more than 1,000 universities on the two continents. They have called on leaders at the 3rd Africa-EU Summit, starting in Tripoli tomorrow, to place higher education centrally on the political agenda.

In a statement issued before the summit, the Association of African Universities and the European University Association called for a "clear position" for higher education within the 'Africa-Europe Strategic Partnership' and its eight sub-partnerships. Universities want to be "better informed about the partnership and also engaged in an appropriate manner", it said.

The EUA has more than 800 member universities in 46 European countries, and the AAU's 225 members are in 44 African countries. The two organisations have been involved in dialogue and cooperation on key issues around higher education and development in both regions.

Pascal Hoba, head of communication for the AAU, said at a pre-summit meeting held in Cape Town last week that universities were ready to play their role and it was high time that higher education became more visible to the Africa Union.

Jean-Claude Boidin, head of human development, social cohesion and employment for the ACP (Africa, Caribbean and Pacific) states, said universities were at the heart of development and needed to send a message to African and EU leaders that higher education played an active part in globalisation and needed their support.

The statement on the role of higher education in the Africa-EU Strategic Partnership will be submitted to the Tripoli summit being held on 29-30 November around the theme "Investment, Economic Growth and Job Creation".

It draws especially on a recently published White Paper on Africa-Europe Higher Education Cooperation for Development: Meeting regional and global challenges, which stresses the importance of inter-university collaboration to ensure progress and makes recommendations to governments, doors, universities and higher education organisations.

The AAU-EUA statement expresses concern that the role of universities in Africa, "and in particular the potential for Africa-Europe university partnership", has not been fully recognised or included as an important element in the political agenda of the two regions.

"Africa and Europe need to work together to address global challenges such as sustainable development, energy, climate change, security and migration," the statement says. One strategic way to do this was through efficient and sustainable higher education partnerships that generate research and teaching capacity and empower universities as economic drivers and agents of knowledge transfer with an important role in development.

The statement recommends to heads of Africa and EU governments that higher education be accorded a "clear position" within the Africa-EU Strategic Partnership and sub-partnerships, and that reflected in the partnership should be recognition that "universities link education and research through their activities, and contribute to teaching and learning as well as to the science and innovation agendas in the two regions".

To the African Union and European Union Commissions working on the partnership, the AAU and EAU recommend that higher education organisations be involved, "in a systematic and strategic way", in the development of policies and programmes.

This would ensure that the higher education sectors in both regions embraced the partnership and its activities, had reliable information on the partnership's activities and contributed to the implementation of commitments made.

"A formal mechanism for consultation and information dissemination should be developed," the statement says.

It proposes the creation of a "sustainable information exchange and dialogue platform that could provide an umbrella for enhanced cooperation among the many ongoing initiatives driven by member states, donor agencies and individual higher education institutions.

"It could also contribute to exchange and mutual learning with regards to the regional integration projects of Africa and Europe. It should include different actors in the higher education community, donors and governments."

The AAU and EUA also recommend strengthening intra- and inter-regional student and staff mobility schemes, and funding mutual learning projects on strategic higher education priorities for both continents.

Finally, the statement calls on the EU Commission and European parliament to support the role of higher education and higher education partnerships in European development policy. "This would mirror the emphasis placed on higher education in the EU 2020 Strategy and anticipate the soon to be launched EU higher education internationalisation strategy".

The EU commission and parliament, the statement says, should also revise the restriction in the Development Cooperation Instrument (DCI) that only stakeholders in developing countries can benefit from funding.

"A solution needs to be found to ensure the participation of the European university community in development activities. Higher education cooperation can only be meaningful if exchange is reciprocal."

European universities, it says, have expressed concern about providing incentives to staff to pursue development cooperation activities such as collaborative research and student and staff exchange. It was "difficult to understand and counterproductive" that while the DCI allowed for-profit companies in developing countries to be financed, it would not fund non-profit organisations in Europe such as universities.

The AAU and EUA, the statement concludes, are committed to strengthening Africa-Europe university collaboration and ensuring the success of the Africa-EU Strategic Partnership, and are "ready to take up dialogue and cooperation with other partners".