China and Australia to further support African universities

Two countries recently pledged further support for African universities and students. The China-Africa strategic partnership has strengthened its focus on higher education, and the Australia-Africa Universities Network seeks to build collaboration with African institutions.

The China-Africa strategic partnership, including higher education activity, was announced at the fifth Ministerial Conference of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, FOCAC, held in Beijing from 19-20 July.

Addressing the FOCAC opening ceremony, Chinese President Hu Jintao proposed new measures in higher education, among other priority areas, to boost China-Africa ties in the next three years.

“China will implement the African Talents Programme to train 30,000 personnel in various sectors, offer 18,000 government scholarships and build cultural and vocational training facilities,” the president said.

“China will continue to implement the China-Africa Joint Research and Exchange Plan to sponsor 100 programmes for research, exchange and cooperation by academic institutions and scholars of the two sides,” he added.

“China and Africa should increase cultural and people-to-people exchanges and encourage exchanges and interactions between the two sides in education, culture, science and technology, health, sports and tourism.”

Hu Jintao said China had trained close to 40,000 Africans in various sectors and provided more than 20,000 government scholarships to people in African countries.

“China and Africa have set up 29 Confucius Institutes in 22 African countries. Twenty pairs of leading Chinese and African universities have entered into cooperation under the 20+20 Cooperation Plan for Chinese and African Institutions of Higher Education,” he added.

The president’s words were echoed in the Beijing declaration, which committed China to deepening cooperation with Africa in capacity building, human resource development, hi-tech industries and other areas, as well as to strengthening people-to-people and cultural exchanges and cooperation and forging closer ties between Chinese and African academic institutions.

According to the adopted Beijing Action Plan of FOCAC (2013-15), China will provide US$2 million annually under the framework of the UNESCO trust fund to support education development programmes in Africa, in particular in higher education.

China will also launch a ‘science and technology for a better life’ campaign to enhance cooperation and exchange with Africa in science and technology areas that concern people’s well-being. And a China-Africa Think Tanks 10+10 Partnership Plan will select 10 Chinese and 10 African think-tanks to establish long-term paired cooperation.

An evaluation of the education programmes will be presented at the next ministerial conference of FOCAC, to be held in South Africa in 2015.

Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Amollo Odinga was quoted as saying: “China is not exploiting Africa but assisting Africa's transformation, which is creating a win-win situation and will not block cooperation between Africa and other countries.”

However, Mamadou Goita, special advisor to the director-general of the Mali-based Rural Economy Institute, told University World News: “It is too early to assess this type of strategic partnership between China, the largest developing country, and Africa, the largest group of developing countries.

“It remains to be seen how these educational cooperation programmes will be implemented and the impact on the African ground, as well as their affects on establishing knowledge-based societies on African soil.”

Australia-Africa network

Meanwhile, an expanded Australia-Africa Universities Network (AAUN) was launched in Canberra on 17 July. The network now consists of a consortium of 17 Australian universities and research institutes and about 30 African institutions.

It focuses on promoting interdisciplinary research and teaching, and boosting collaboration in priority areas such as education, health, food security, public sector reform, governance and mining – which mirrors the Australian government’s focuses on Africa.

The AAUN will also link University of Sydney experts on African issues with policy-makers, NGOs and the business community, with the aim of establishing the university as the leading institution in Australia for the expansion of Australia’s engagement in Africa.

It will focus on providing an intelligence and advisory portal for government, the corporate sector and the media, offering a range of expertise on Africa, and will produce policy papers with key academics, NGOs, business and political representatives

Besides fostering sustainable partnerships involving activities such as forums and workshops, and a funding programme for academic exchanges and knowledge sharing, the AAUN will provide post-training support for African scholars, including an alumni network, and develop capacity-building and training programmes.

Mouhamad Mpezamihigo, vice rector for academic affairs and chairman of the research coordination committee at the Islamic University in Uganda, welcomed the news.

“AAUN is an ideal tool to build academic bridges between Africa and Australia for the transfer of technology, knowledge and best practices to African universities", Mpezamihigo told University World News.