Meeting the challenge of sustainability

The new president of the Association of African Universities, or AAU, for 2017-20, Professor Orlando Antonio Quilambo*, was elected at the association’s 14th General Conference. He spoke to University World News about his plans at the helm and the importance of Africa-based funding for the organisation.

UWN: What do you think you can do to improve the AAU?

OAQ: The AAU is an organisation with a very bright past as the voice of the higher education system in Africa, and it is recognised by the sub-regions and by the African Union. However, the number of member universities is still very low; thus one of the priorities will be to attract more members by offering them a range of benefits existing within the AAU.

Another important matter is regional representation. The AAU should seek greater representation from all four regions, particularly from North Africa.

The core programmes of AAU are important flagships of AAU activities, so their expansion to other relevant areas of higher education in Africa would also be important, supported by sound, sustained financial support. The regional distribution of AAU core programmes is important, so an effort will be made to ensure that all regions participate in AAU programmes that bring benefits to members.

The higher education system in Africa has been expanding in the last decades which means that quality assurance mechanisms are needed. It will therefore be important to ensure and reinforce the idea that the majority of the higher education systems should be subjected to regional quality evaluation processes.

The quality of research in the majority of the higher education institutions needs to be improved. Therefore, while consolidating centres of excellence, the AAU should also seek additional funds to support research and capacity-building in terms of post-graduation.

Resource mobilisation to support current and new programmes will also be one of the areas earmarked for special attention in the next few years, with the support of all members and the secretariat.

UWN: What did you think was the main message coming out of the AAU 14th General Conference and Golden Jubilee Celebration held in Accra in June?

OAQ: The main message was that AAU should align its actions with those of the African Union. By doing so, not only will AAU continue to enjoy the blessing of the heads of states, but will also have an opportunity to attract additional support to its activities.

UWN: How can the AAU ensure its sustainability over the next 50 years?

OAQ: One possibility would be to seek support for an endowment fund and to be aligned with the major challenges facing higher education which are emerging from or defined by the continent and regions.

The example provided by the GETFund [the Ghana Education Trust Fund, a public trust set up in 2000 with a mandate to provide funding to supplement government efforts for the provision of educational infrastructure and facilities within the public sector] is an example of innovative approaches that we have to think through to ensure financial sustainability.

Transparency and accountability are dimensions of good governance that we have to continuously improve in order for AAU to be sustainable. Members should all get benefits from being members and in that way they will act as AAU ambassadors and attract more members and support.

UWN: Language is often a hindrance when it comes to collaboration and partnerships of universities in Africa. Coming yourself from a country in which Portuguese is spoken, how do you think this problem can be overcome?

OAQ: Language barriers are real. It is important that the Constitution of Mozambique has a provision which states that Portuguese is an official language. Efforts to translate the main documents into Portuguese would stimulate greater participation, not only from Mozambique, but from other Portuguese-speaking countries such as Angola, Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde. Programmes specially dedicated to those regions may also encourage greater participation in the AAU activities.

UWN: AAU runs and provides a number of services. How sustainable are these in the medium to long term? Should any changes be expected in the near future?

OAQ: The sustainability is weak, since the majority of the programmes are donor funded. We will only fully own AAU when major contributions come from our countries, not donors. So the AAU should strive to negotiate with the African Union, so that at least some of the funding for higher education in Africa is channelled through the AAU.

A very strong resource mobilisation strategy will be necessary to sustain the actual services. Further services may arise taking into account the new challenges emerging from African Union priorities and evolving higher education demands.

* Orlando Antonio Quilambo has been a board member of the Association of African Universities since 2013. He obtained his BA at the Eduardo Mondlane University and his PhD in natural sciences at the department of plant biology, University of Groningen, in the Netherlands. Quilambo is a past president of the Academy of Sciences of Mozambique and the current rector of the Eduardo Mondlane University based in Maputo, Mozambique.