Plan to engage 10,000 diaspora scholars in African HE

Africa – which more than a decade ago declared the diaspora to be its sixth region – plans to launch a ‘10/10’ initiative that will sponsor 1,000 scholars in the African diaspora a year for 10 years to continental universities and colleges for collaboration.

The Mobilise the Diaspora project is one of six proposals in the Draft Declaration and Action Plan of the 1st African Higher Education Summit on Revitalising Higher Education for Africa’s Future, that came out of the continental gathering held in Dakar, Senegal, last week.

The ‘10/10’ programme is to sponsor in total 10,000 diaspora academics across all disciplines “for collaboration in research, curriculum development, and graduate student teaching and mentoring”, according to the declaration.

The initiative flows out of the Carnegie African Diaspora Fellowship Program, which was launched two years ago in an effort to help turn Africa’s chronic ‘brain drain’ into ‘brain circulation’ through fellowships with African diaspora academics in North America.

A proposal to radically scale up the programme was submitted to the African Higher Education Summit. During one of the sessions the initiative’s brainchild and leader Dr Paul Zeleza, vice-president for academic affairs at America’s Quinnipiac University, said:

“The diaspora is a huge force. In the United States there are at least 25,000 African academics working at universities. And a lot of the diaspora is ready, willing and able to contribute to Africa’s engagement with regards to higher education institutions.”

The fellowship initiative, said Zeleza, was trying to engage the diaspora very actively with African higher education institutions in all areas.

“The point is that the diaspora is not waiting, but the diaspora needs to be engaged actively on the African side so that this is a mutually beneficial relationship and has impact on the revitalisation of African higher education institutions.”

The current programme

The current African diaspora fellowship programme is administered by the Institute of International Education in partnership with Quinnipiac University, is funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, and its advisory council is chaired by Zeleza.

By last December there had been 165 project requests from 81 African universities for collaboration with diaspora academics in the areas of curriculum co-development, graduate student advising and teaching, and research – and 93 of a potential 100 had been granted.

The 81 universities are in the six African countries in which Carnegie operates – Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda. The lion’s share of 38 collaborations went to universities in Nigeria followed by 16 in South Africa and 15 in Kenya.

The African academic diaspora

In its submission to the conference, the current fellowship initiative points out that in 2010 alone, the World Bank estimated that the African-born diaspora worldwide represented more than 30 million people, “though when accounting for unrecorded migrants and second- and third-generation migrants, the size of the diaspora is far greater.

“Available data from North America demonstrates the growing impact of the diaspora on the global higher education landscape,” the submission continued.

According to the United States’ National Center for Education Statistics, 2011 data showed that nearly 38,000 full-time lecturers in degree-granting post-secondary institutions identified as black, or some 5%.

According to Canadian census data, in 2006 there were only around 603 black academics in universities, although the number is likely to have grown “significantly” in the intervening nine years, with immigrant professor numbers having soared to more than 18,000.

The diaspora fellowship programme’s research estimates that there are 25,000 African-born diaspora academics working in North America – and they are the targets of the Carnegie initiative.

“The diaspora’s presence in higher education beyond North America continues to grow as well. In the United Kingdom, from 2012-13, 1,730 of the 185,585 academic staff employed by a UK higher education provider identified as black or black British-African.”

Also, research has shown that racial data in the three countries tends to exclude the African academic diaspora of North African origin and Africans of European and Asian ancestry.

The new post-summit programme is likely to broaden who is eligible for diaspora grants to reflect these exclusions, to include African American academics not born in Africa and to broaden the 10/10 programme to all African countries.

“Getting accurate data on the size of the African academic diaspora in other world regions is exceedingly difficult. This could be an important initiative undertaken under the proposed programme,” says the submission.

Calls for action

The declaration calls for nine actions by governments and seven by universities.

Actions for governments
Governments are urged to adopt a participatory approach with university leaders and scholars to build on existing models and develop new structures of collaboration and, secondly, to draw on the expertise of governments and institutions that have had fruitful diaspora engagement.

Third, governments should actively encourage the diaspora’s participation in policy debates by crafting formal and diverse spaces for their engagement, and fourth, develop policies focused on international networks and supranational organisations that seek out pathways for diaspora engagement in strengthening African higher education.

Fifth, governments should collaborate with the Association of African Universities, African Union and other multilateral organisations to intensify the continental effort to create and expand research partnerships with universities in and outside Africa.

Sixth, they should invest in the technology infrastructure to facilitate distance learning and diaspora collaboration.

Seventh, the declaration says, governments should promote policies that facilitate travel for diaspora academics, and eighth, they should promote relationships between diplomatic missions and higher education systems in host countries to support diaspora engagement.

Finally, governments should ease import restrictions on research materials and supplies to facilitate collaboration between scholars and their networks.

Actions for institutions
The declaration calls for African institutions to formalise mutually beneficial relationships with universities with diaspora academics, based on collaborative ownership of processes, scholarship and curriculum development.

Second, universities should increase support for faculty and student exchanges through strategic partnerships, fellowships, travel stipends, collaborative grant development, course release and cost sharing.

Third, universities should seek multiple models of engagement that do not privilege the Atlantic model and recognise the histories and importance of the African diaspora outside of this model and these geographies. Fourth, they should implement research plans that benefit both overseas and continental academics and recognise the importance of academic rankings.

Fifth, universities should ensure that their policies encourage maximum visibility of local and collaborative scholarship between the diaspora and continental scholars, and sixth, they too should invest in technological infrastructure to facilitate distance learning and collaborations.

And finally, universities should implement monitoring and evaluation to assess short- and long-term impacts of partnerships with the African academic diaspora.

* The African Higher Education Summit was livestreamed courtesy of The World Bank. To watch plenary sessions in the English stream until mid-May 2015, click here.

* The summit was hosted by the government of Senegal and organised by TrustAfrica. Other partners included the African Union Commission, Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa, UN African Institute for Economic Development and Planning, Association of African Universities, African Development Bank, South Africa’s National Research Foundation, Association for the Development of Education in Africa, Carnegie Corporation of New York, MasterCard Foundation and the World Bank.