AFRICA: Universities rethink internationalisation

The African Network for Internationalisation of Education, ANIE, held its third annual conference recently in Abuja, Nigeria. Among the trends identified were growing collaboration between African universities, which is driving far greater mobility of students and staff across the continent, and increased use of information and communication technologies.

A strong message from the conference was that universities needed to first focus on internationalisation within Africa and then through this develop a common framework for engaging with higher education systems beyond Africa.

Held from 25- 26 October 2011, the conference was jointly organised with the British Council and the Nigerian National Universities Commission and brought together more than 130 participants from 16 African countries, including 60 African vice-chancellors.

The theme of the conference was "Internationalisation of Higher Education in Africa: Where to focus funding for real impacts in Sub-Saharan Africa".

The aim was to bring together university leaders and policy-makers from Africa to discuss the next steps universities should take to reposition themselves to respond to internationalisation. The other main focus was to identify the areas of weaknesses that require support in order for African universities to benefit from internationalisation.

In his opening presentation Professor Olugbemiro Jegede, secretary-general of the Association of African Universities, underscored the realities, opportunities and threats that internationalisation poses to Africa.

Internationalisation was an urgent priority, Jegede said, and he urged African universities to strengthen collaboration between each other to develop stronger institutions that can respond to challenges facing the continent.

The main challenges identified included:

* The need to develop a new generation of African academics.
* Finding ways to respond to the brain drain.
* Developing infrastructure for research and a research culture in African universities.
* Establishing centres of excellence in selected African universities.
* Making use of new developments in information and communication technologies.
* Getting African governments and development agencies to support these efforts by African universities.

Professor Olusola Oyewole, a senior expert at the African Union on higher education, mobility and scholarships, challenged African universities to become part of the global knowledge society.

The need to develop a new generation of well-trained and innovative academics was urgent, Oyewole said, in order to respond to a chronic brain drain and to replace ageing pioneer African scholars. Staff development was also crucial, along with providing new opportunities for staff to obtain PhDs on a continent where fewer than half of academics have a doctorate.

Conference participants stressed that research and innovation were key to tackling Africa's myriad challenges. It was noted that Africa produces a negligible percentage of global knowledge, and that most universities are teaching-oriented with not much focus on research.

Universities, governments and external partners need to work together with universities to devise new ways of contributing to research and innovation in Africa.

In this Professor Edmund Bamiro, former vice-chancellor of the Nigeria's University of Ibadan, urged universities to develop strong research cultures and collaborate in various areas that could make them relevant to Africa as well as to the global knowledge society. Professor Graham Furnis of the University of London shared European experiences around this.

Developments in ICTs

Recent positive developments in ICT infrastructure and capacities in Africa were considered opportunities that could enhance collaboration between African universities and between them and other universities around the world.

The growth in ICT was already transforming lives in Africa, participants argued, and was key to integration within and between countries, to enhancing the flow and production of knowledge and to attracting staff, students, research opportunities and funding as well as enhancing collaborations and strengthening teaching and learning.

Neil Butcher of OER Africa recognised the fast development of ICTs in Africa and the enormous possibilities they offer the higher education sector. Many universities in Africa were already taking good advantage of ICTs, he said, while others were not doing much to exploit their potential.

The main message was that African universities needed to connect to global knowledge networks by strengthening their capacity and enhancing ICT infrastructure.


There was recognition of ongoing intra-Africa internationalisation. In the last few years, it was revealed, student and staff mobility within African countries has begun to take root as a consequence of growing collaboration between African universities. Previously, African universities have mainly partnered with universities in Europe and the United States.

Professor Aggrey L Abate, vice-chancellor of Juba University in South Sudan, urged African university leaders to strengthen these networks. He underscored the importance of African universities working with each other to respond to the continent's challenges. By doing this, they would also develop a common framework for engaging with other parts of the world.

Key developments in intra-Africa collaboration included discussions on the Arusha Convention, the development of the African Union-driven Pan-African University, the Mwalimu Nyerere Scholarship Programme and the development of centers of excellence in different parts of Africa that promote collaboration.

The conference also noted that in the past few years there had been positive developments in many African countries and in many other aspects of life on the continent. These could be harnessed to promote higher education and internationalisation.

David Higgs of the British Council extolled the promise of African higher education and the growing interest of the British council as a partner in the internationalisation of higher Education on the continent.

The 60 vice-chancellors who participated in the conference produced a communiqué on the joint efforts they will make to promote collaboration between their universities. Participants said they appreciated the role that ANIE was playing in promoting engagement on and discussions of internationalisation in Africa.

Participants agreed that universities should first focus on internationalisation within Africa and then through this develop a common framework for engaging with higher education sectors beyond Africa.

It was important for universities to develop institutional strategies for internationalisation so that it was not treated as an ad hoc and uncoordinated activity.

Regional bodies were urged to develop and strengthen frameworks and programmes that could promote collaboration among African universities, and partner organisations were called on to participate in the internationalisation process in a way that also respected the needs and wishes of African universities.

The next ANIE conference will be held at University of Pretoria in South Africa in September 2012.

* James Otieno Jowie is the executive director of the African Network for Internationalisation of Education, ANIE, based at Moi University in Kenya.