Industry links in spotlight at African University Week

African University Day and its attendant commemorations provide an opportunity for the Association of African Universities, or AAU, which hosts the celebrations, not only to reflect on its activities but to advocate for more support for higher education institutions across the continent and stronger partnerships between academia and industry.

Marking this year’s week-long celebrations which ran from 21-24 November, AAU Secretary General Professor Etienne Ehouan Ehile said the planned activities were intended to encourage the engagement of various stakeholders to help improve tertiary education. Stakeholders include the Committee of Ten Heads of State nominated to champion African higher education, private industries, the All-Africa Students' Union, national councils of higher education, ministries of education and several development partners.

This year’s commemorations of African University Day, which falls annually on 12 November, were particularly significant according to Ehile, because of the 50th anniversary of the AAU celebrated in June 2017.

“Fifty years of service to the higher education community in Africa presents us with the opportune time to re-look at the relationship and linkages between universities and industry and to strengthen them going forward,” he added.

As part of the celebrations, an Educational Technology Forum was held. Ehile said it created the platform for universities to interact with 10 educational technology companies to help promote effective e-learning and blended learning in African higher education institutions. There was also the opportunity for universities to showcase their research and innovation and explore ways to link these to industry.

“This Educational Technology Forum is our response as an association to the call for African universities to work more closely with the private sector,” he said. “As an association we are creating this platform purely for networking – with the hope that universities and the concerned companies will work out ways that they can work together.”

Ehile said it was important for university leaders to be at the forefront in championing the educational technology agenda in their institutions; hence the call by the AAU for vice-chancellors and university leaders to participate in the forum.

“If educational technology solutions are properly aligned to the intended educational outcomes, our universities would be able to solve some of their challenges that include dealing with large classes, quality assurance, managing content for learning, academic collaboration, ensuring outputs from universities are more visible, among others,” Ehile said.

He challenged university leaders to reflect on progress in implementing their educational technology strategies, in addition to reflecting on how they can learn from each other as universities.

Ehile appealed to the educational technology private sector to take time to understand the needs of universities and provide tailored solutions to address real and proven needs. He said it was important that they build partnerships with universities based on trust.

In the area of developing women in academia, the Africa University Week also set aside a day for the International Leadership Conference for Women in Higher Education which deliberated on ways to empower young women in higher education.

There were real-life stories from women who had broken the barrier. Ehile said the AAU and its partner organisation, the Centre for Gender and Advocacy Studies based at the University of Ghana, Legon, was optimistic that such stories will inspire young women to aspire to the top.

“We also believe that through this event, a critical stage has been created for the sharing of knowledge, ideas and cutting-edge skills required for success in leadership positions,” he said.

Ehile said the AAU will continue to create platforms for critical discussions with governments, industry, development partner organisations and academia to build capacities of women and girls.

In June this year, the AAU hosted an African Research and Innovation Summit as part of its golden jubilee celebrations. Ehile said the summit created a platform for higher education to share research findings, innovations and best practices in areas including science, technology, education, health care and agriculture, together with industry players, government officials and other stakeholders.

The AAU will continue to create important platforms for critical discussions aimed at improving universities’ collaboration with industry, he said.

According to Ehile, the AAU had put in place several programmes for staff and students of higher education institutions in Africa, which had been instrumental in building capacity among member universities. These included a leadership development programme and a management development programme.

It had also put in place projects which documented and showcased dissertations emanating from African universities; provided small grants for completion of postgraduate theses; facilitated university-industry linkages; helped to create African centres of excellence aimed at speeding up the continent’s development; and supported research and education networks in Africa to negotiate higher bandwidth at cheaper prices for higher education institutions.