Political boost for university and research initiatives

African leaders have supported higher education and research by adopting the statute for the Pan-African University, approving plans for a Tunisia-based African Union Institute for Statistics, and endorsing the creation of an African Observatory on Science, Technology and Innovation and a Pan-African Intellectual Property Organisation.

The initiatives were outlined in African Union assembly decisions and declarations endorsed at the 20th Ordinary Session of the AU Summit of Heads of State and Government, which had the theme “Pan-Africanism and African Renaissance” and ended in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa last Monday.

At the opening summit Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, chair of the African Union (AU) Commission, said: "Education and skills development is at the heart of our regeneration efforts.

“The Pan-African University and the general expansion of our higher education sector will equip young people with critical abilities to drive innovation, sciences, entrepreneurship, research, social development and industrialisation."

To put Zuma's words into action, the summit adopted the statute of the Pan-African University, or PAU, as a continental research and postgraduate training institution operating in all regions.

The statute consists of articles dealing with principles, objectives, academic freedom and autonomy, structure, governance and management, the PAU council and senate, the rector, staff, directors of institutes, intellectual property rights, research policy, the endowment fund, budgeting and financing, headquarters, a disciplinary committee, modalities of awarding degrees, and examination regulation and special provisions.

The AU also gave a proposal from Tunisia the green light. The Tunis-based AU Institute for Statistics aims to boost the continent's capacity to development indicators in vital areas, including higher education, and will also train African statisticians.

African heads of state endorsed the creation of an African Observatory on Science, Technology and Innovation to be hosted by Equatorial Guinea. The observatory will formulate, adjust and implement science, technology and innovation policies, monitor global technology trends, conduct foresight exercises and determine areas of investment.

The leaders called on African countries and development partners to avail the necessary technical and financial support to sustain the observatory and its programmes.

The meeting also approved the creation of a Pan-African Intellectual Property Organisation to promote research in universities and the transfer of new technologies to the industrial sector.

It requested the African Commission to convene a meeting of stakeholders dealing with intellectual property to a summit by May, to debate implementation of the organisation.

Meanwhile, in an effort to improve the quality of research and find solutions to Egypt's environmental and industrial problems, a group of professors from Beni Suef University have established the first specialised faculty in Africa for nanotechnology and biotechnology, or FPGSAS – the faculty of postgraduate studies for advanced sciences.

The faculty’s dean, Mohamed Hamdy Khedr, told local media that it was the “first of its kind not only in Egypt but also in Africa and the whole Arab world”.

FPGSAS will kick off by opening three main departments: for nanotechnology and material science, biotechnology and biology sciences, and environment and industrial development.

Nanoscience and nanotechnology are at very early stages of development, without concrete funding and with only a few government-sponsored nanotechnology initiatives in South Africa and Nigeria and some nano-education initiatives.