Critical to include HE in post-2015 development agenda

The alarming news emanating from the conversation on the post-2015 development agenda is that it may – as in the current Millennium Development Goals – perilously marginalise higher education from the priority it deserves in the highly anticipated development blueprint.

It is not the intention of this article to engage in a perfunctory debate on a well-grounded fact that higher education is critical to social development, poverty reduction, wealth creation and the knowledge economy.

However, it is opted to recall ad verbatim a plethora of coherent positions and statements from numerous credible global authorities and bodies to underscore the urgent need to unambiguously articulate the paramount importance of higher education in the post-2015 development agenda.

African Development Bank
The Bank will support African governments in developing skills in traditional professions as well as in such areas as engineering, research, and science and technology to support the continent’s rapidly changing political, social and economic development. Universities and regional vocational training institutions will be at the centre of this effort.

African Union Commission
Support for higher education has been on the decline in the last decade, but there is renewed interest driven by the new vision of the African Union, an acknowledgement of the role of knowledge and innovation in the world economy, and the role of higher education as a core resource base for the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals.

Association for the Development of Education in Africa, ADEA
The evidence on the situation of higher education and research is unambiguous: Africa has not invested adequate resources to play its rightful role in the global production of scientific, technological and industrial knowledge…to enable the continent to take its place in a globalised economy based on knowledge and skills. Realising this potential demands the establishment of robust policies and measures in the field of higher education.

Association of African Universities
Higher education has a critical role to play in delivering the knowledge and skills necessary for the social and economic development of the continent in the 21st century. The rapidly growing African society and the concomitant development challenges increasingly necessitate the urgent need for building a robust and effective higher education system on the continent.

European Commission
Higher education has a key role to play in delivering the knowledge requirements for economic development: through job creation, better governance, increased entrepreneurship and intergenerational mobility, and a stronger civil society. The challenge of providing more and better education in developing countries, taking a holistic approach, includes the need to strengthen higher education systems. The post-2015 framework must take this holistic approach and focus on learning opportunities across the whole life cycle (2014).

European University Association
Higher education is of critical importance to the long-term development of knowledge societies. Universities in particular are vital for conducting research and researcher training, and therefore are important for knowledge generation and innovation to meet both domestic and global societal and economic needs and challenges. Urgent action is needed to ensure that African countries have the necessary tertiary education capacity to respond to these issues (EUA, 2010).

International Association of Universities
It is our shared belief that only with the full engagement of higher education in the post-2015 agenda will it be possible to create the intellectual, economic, environmental and cultural conditions required for a sustainable future for all (2014).

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, OECD
Higher education institutions have a critical and tangible role in developing the principles, qualities and awareness not only needed to perpetuate the sustainable development philosophy, but to improve upon its delivery.

United Nations Former Secretary-General Kofi Annan
The university must become a primary tool for Africa’s development in the new century. Universities can help develop African expertise; they can enhance the analysis of African problems; strengthen domestic institutions; serve as a model environment for the practice of good governance, conflict resolution and respect for human rights (UNIS, 2000).

At no time in history has it been more important to invest in higher education as a major force in building an inclusive and diverse knowledge society and to advance research, innovation and creativity. Higher education and research contribute to the eradication of poverty, to sustainable development and to progress towards reaching the development goals as articulated in the Millennium Development Goals and Education for All (UNESCO, 2009).

World Bank and UNESCO
As knowledge becomes more important, so does higher education. Countries need to educate more of their young people to a higher standard…The quality of knowledge generated within higher education institutions, and its availability to the wider economy, is becoming increasingly critical to national competitiveness (2000).

World Bank
In Sub-Saharan Africa, qualified human capital remains scarce compared to the continent’s development needs and this hinders growth and undermines the foundation for sustainable development. Because skills for the knowledge economy are built at the tertiary education level, improving tertiary education systems should be high on Sub-Saharan Africa’s development agenda (2008).

It is recognised and appreciated that only a handful of development issues are known to sail unchallenged without robust deliberations and contestations.

But the preponderance of evidence on the direct relationship between higher education and development – described as key, critical, unambiguous, core, central – is such that it will be deeply alarming, if not outright dangerous, for any responsible body to ignore it.

It is inconceivable to imagine that the new development agenda will be promulgated without prioritising higher education systems which must constantly supply – in abundance and quality – teachers, doctors, engineers, economists, nurses, accountants, managers and academics, to mention some.

In conclusion, it is thus imperative that all those involved in the development of the post-2015 development agenda situate higher education at its rightful position to realise social and cultural advancement, poverty reduction and wealth creation in the ‘developing’ world in general and Africa in particular, in this increasingly competitive world of the knowledge economy.

* Dr Damtew Teferra is professor of higher education, leader of higher education and training development and founding director of the International Network for Higher Education in Africa, University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.

  • • African Development Bank (AfDB) (2008). Higher Education, Science and Technology Policy. Tunis: African Development Bank.
  • • African Union (2006). Second Decade of Education for Africa (2006-2015): Plan of Action. Addis Ababa: African Union.
  • • Association for the Development of Education in Africa, ADEA.
  • • European University Association (2010). Africa-Europe Higher Education Cooperation for Development: Meeting Regional and Global Challenges – White Paper: Outcomes and Recommendations of the Project: Access to Success: Fostering Trust and Exchange between Europe and Africa (2008-2010). Brussels: EUA.
  • • International Association of Universities (2014), IAU Iquitos Statement on Higher Education for Sustainable Development,
  • • Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development, OECD.
  • • The European Commission's views on education in the Post-2015 Development Agenda and commitments to support the sector. High level discussion 'Education in the Post-2015 Development Agenda', Norwegian Mission to the EU – 5 February 2014.
  • • UNESCO (2004), [I[Higher Education for Sustainable Development, Education for Sustainable Development Information Brief, UNESCO: Paris.
  • • UNESCO (2009). The World Conference on Higher Education. UNESCO: Paris.
  • • United Nations Information Service (2000): 'Information Technology Should be Used to Tap Knowledge from Greatest Universities to Bring Learning to All, Kofi Annan Says.' Press Release No: UNIS/SG/2625. August 3, 2000. Internet:
  • • World Bank and UNESCO (2000). Higher Education in Developing Countries: Peril and Promise. Washington, DC/Paris: World Bank/UNESCO.
  • • World Bank (2008). Accelerating Catch-up: Tertiary Education for Growth in Sub-Saharan Africa. Washington DC: World Bank.