UNESCO, African Union push continental ‘Bologna process’

The African Union Commission is pushing for all of its 54 member countries to ratify the UNESCO-backed 2014 Addis Convention – the Revised Convention on the Recognition of Studies, Certificates, Diplomas, Degrees and Other Academic Qualifications in Higher Education in African States.

The new protocol replaces the 1981 Arusha Convention, which had only been endorsed by 20 countries.

According to UNESCO, the objective of establishing criteria for the recognition of studies and qualifications was to strengthen African unity and solidarity by removing constraints based on past colonial experience.

“It was also meant to promote and to strengthen the cultural identity of Africa and its various countries,” according to part of Article 2 of the revised convention.

Meeting in Paris from 16-17 July at the invitation of UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova and African Union Commission Chair Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, delegates representing African states set up an informal working group to oversee implementation of the 2014 Addis Convention.

Agreement on actions

In a communiqué issued on 17 July, the group agreed that harmonisation of higher education was critical to the revitalisation of higher education on the continent.

Taking into account global trends in higher education and particularly those in Africa – such as the expansion of higher education, and diversification of provision and providers – there was a “need for increased attention to quality assurance, qualifications frameworks and higher education integration in Africa”, the delegates noted.

The Addis Convention is meant to be similar to the Bologna process – one of the world’s most successful processes of harmonising university degrees. Through a mutual agreement, Bologna has created a European Higher Education Area involving more than 40 countries.

Delegates agreed to develop a ratification campaign, including advocacy, for signature by all African countries. “Member states must signal their interest, identify champion countries in each region and mobilise the regional economic blocs,” stressed the delegates.

Convinced that a framework for harmonisation and quality improvement is essential for higher education in Africa, the delegates also agreed to support the Incheon Declaration issued by the World Education Forum 2015 held in South Korea in May.

Among other things, the Incheon Declaration pledged to promote quality lifelong learning opportunities as well as equitable and increased access to quality technical and vocational education and training as well as higher education and research, with due attention to quality assurance globally.

Harmonisation overdue

According to a report from the African Union Commission, a credible process to streamline higher education harmonisation efforts in Africa is long overdue.

The crux of the matter is that in recent years there has been a growing tendency for African governments to liberalise education provision, without the necessary assessment to ensure that providers offer relevant, quality education that promotes human resource development.

Delegates attending the Paris meeting urged UNESCO to assist African countries in putting in place effective quality assurance, qualifications fraud prevention and accreditation mechanisms at all levels of higher education.

Commenting on the challenges of higher education harmonisation Dr Mary Njeri Kinyanjui, a senior research fellow in the Institute for Development Studies at the University of Nairobi, identified a mismatch between the skills acquired in different universities, different admission criteria and lack of credit transfer modalities between universities and other institutions.

“Besides, there is lack of recognition of prior learning in most African universities,” Kinyanjui told University World News in an interview in Nairobi.

But these challenges can be overcome, and have been elsewhere.

Apart from the Bologna process, implementers of the Addis Convention will no doubt draw experiences from other regional initiatives including the Asia-Pacific Regional Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications in Higher Education, the Convention on the Recognition of Studies, Diplomas and Degrees in Higher Education in Arab Countries, and a similar pact for countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.