China ups Africa support with training, scholarships

Chinese President Xi Jinping has announced 10 major plans to boost cooperation with Africa in the next three years, including 40,000 training opportunities in China and 30,000 government scholarships. In total, China will provide US$60 billion in funding support across the continent.

Xi said on 4 December during a major summit in Johannesburg, South Africa, that China would also establish regional vocational education centres and several capacity building colleges for Africa and train 200,000 African technicians, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

Further, China would invite 200 African scholars to visit China, would offer 500 young Africans opportunities to study in China each year and would train 1,000 media professionals from Africa.

There are further higher education collaboration initiatives within the 10 plans. For instance, to accelerate agricultural modernisation, China will run agricultural development projects in 100 African villages, send 30 teams of agricultural experts to Africa, and establish a ‘10+10’ cooperation mechanism between Chinese and African agricultural research institutes.

The Chinese premier was speaking at the second summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, or FOCAC, held in South Africa’s economic capital Johannesburg from 4-5 December and attended by heads of state and representatives from some 50 African countries as well as the African Union Commission. The last summit was in Beijing in 2006.

Education commitments made by China at FOCAC follow a far-reaching agreement on collaboration in education signed by the BRICS countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – last month. It includes joint research and more collaboration in postgraduate training and co-publishing.

The total package

The China package comprises 10 cooperation plans over the next three years in areas key to development – industrialisation, agricultural modernisation, infrastructure construction, financial services, green development, trade and investment facilitation, poverty reduction and public welfare, public health, people-to-people exchanges, and peace and security.

Xi said that China would provide US$60 billion in funding support to ensure that initiatives are smoothly implemented: US$5 billion in free aid and interest-free loans; US$35 billion in preferential loans and export credit; US$5 billion for the China-Africa Development Fund; US$5 billion for the Special Loan for the Development of African SMEs; and US$10 billion for a China-Africa production capacity cooperation fund.

China will also offer US$156 million in emergency food aid to African countries with poor harvests caused by El Nino.

The initiatives, said the president, would help African countries break the three development bottlenecks of backward infrastructure, talent shortages and inadequate funding.

Stepping up education support

China’s support for African post-school education and training is on the up.

In a commentary in University World News this week, Simon Ngalomba of the University of Dar es Salaam charts the growth of Confucius Institutes in universities across the continent – 46 in more than 30 countries, at last count – an important ‘soft power’ development.

Also, since FOCAC’s launch in 2000, “there has been a clear government effort to attract more African students to China”, wrote István Tarrósy, an associate professor of political science and director of the Africa Research Center at the University of Pécs in Hungary, in an article last week in AFK Insider.

Tarrósy cited figures from China’s Aid and Soft Power in Africa by Kenneth King, professor emeritus at the University of Edinburgh in the UK, showing that China increased government scholarships from 2,000 awards in 2006 to 4,000 in 2009 and 6,000 in 2015.

China also upped its commitment to short-term training of African professionals from 10,000 to 30,000 between 2006 and 2015.

While China has been giving government scholarships to Africans since the 1950s, self-supported young Africans studying at Chinese universities now outnumber award-holders, indicating China’s growing popularity as a destination country for African students.

According to NORRAG, the Switzerland-based network for international policies and cooperation in education and training, between 2000 and 2011, 79,000 African students went to study in China.

“One of the important aims of China-Africa educational cooperation is to enhance capacity building on both sides. A number of institutional development projects have been developed and implemented in recent years,” NORRAG reported.

There has been exchange of expertise between universities under the 20+20 Cooperation Plan of Chinese and African Institutions of Higher Education, for instance between Nanjing Agricultural University and Egerton University in Kenya.

“These linkages represent an effective mechanism for tapping into the reservoir of China’s university expertise to strengthen African universities.”

Need for a two-way street

Dr Nico Jooste, president of the International Education Association of South Africa and senior director of international education at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, pointed out that the education collaboration announced during the Chinese visit placed a focus on both the vocational and higher education levels.

“Collaboration in the education of future workers, between educators of both countries as well as other BRICS countries, is of critical importance,” Jooste told University World News.

Employees who work in developing infrastructure and other cooperative ventures between China and Africa will need to operate in an international environment where intercultural competencies would be of critical importance.

“This can only be acquired when students move both to China and Africa. Although the announcement only focused on mobility to China, it is hoped that the mobility of Chinese students to Africa in general and South Africa in particular will also be promoted by the Chinese government, to also acquire global skills needed to work in Africa.

“It is hoped that some of the students who currently go to the United States and Canada could also come to Africa to enhance understanding of the peoples of the places that could be the future economic growth areas of the world.”

“It would be of great importance that institutions take control of student and academic staff mobility as this is the only way that interpersonal understanding and collaboration would be enhanced. The numerous Confucius institutes will play a critical role in guiding the future cooperation,” Jooste concluded.