HE cluster takes forward continental education strategy

The Continental Education Strategy for Africa (CESA) 2016-2025 is the African Union’s continental mechanism for enhancing educational development through a defined vision and strategic framework. It is an outcome of various phases of consultations and envisages taking Africa’s education forward in a coherent and organised manner.

The prelude to the strategy was the consultative meeting held in Kigali, Rwanda in 2015 by African ministers of education and training who took the responsibility of articulating Africa’s post-2015 education agenda. The outcomes of the Kigali meeting were later deliberated upon and endorsed by the World Education Forum at Incheon, South Korea in May 2015. Following this, the African Union (AU) developed the CESA in alignment with the African Union’s Agenda 2063 – a strategic framework of 50 years designed for transforming the continent.

Engagements around the CESA document continued further with a planning meeting for its implementation held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in June 2016. This meeting, among others, focused on identifying the CESA implementation roadmap, its monitoring and reporting framework, and the coalition of partners for implementing the strategy. One of the thematic areas formed as a result of this undertaking was the Higher Education Cluster.

First consultative meeting

The Higher Education Cluster held its first consultative meeting in Addis Ababa on 21 and 22 December 2017 with support from the Human Resources, Science and Technology Department of the African Union Commission. It was coordinated by the Association of African Universities, and facilitated by the International Network for Higher Education in Africa based at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa and hosted by St Mary’s University, Ethiopia.

As an important meeting with possible implications for the wider higher education scene in Africa, it appears essential to look into how the Higher Education Cluster is organised and planning to address continental engagement in the next decade.

The AU provides oversight to the Higher Education Cluster which is coordinated by the Association of African Universities (AAU), based in Accra, Ghana.

At a technical level, the cluster is led by Professor Damtew Teferra, the founding director of the International Network for Higher Education in Africa, at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, who assembled African scholars drawn from the various parts of the continent to lead the respective sub-clusters on the basis of their expertise and experience.

A total of 15 sub-clusters have so far been established on the basis of their particular relevance and significance to African higher education. These include: quality assurance and accreditation; research and graduate education; gender and diversity; ICT, libraries and university networking; student affairs; academics and the profession; curriculum; public-private partnerships and entrepreneurship; open, distance and online education; private higher education; internationalisation; scholarly communication and university presses; diaspora mobilisation; leadership and management; and harmonisation and regional integration.

Each sub-cluster, typically comprising five members including the coordinator, is responsible for identifying specific issues of importance under the sub-theme and developing a concept note that will eventually develop into a fully-fledged proposal.


Using CESA as its principal guideline, each sub-cluster has identified numerous deliverables. The consultative meeting, which comprised sub-cluster coordinators, the Higher Education Cluster leader, AU and the AAU representatives, was used as a platform to present concept notes and deliverables, make further inputs and gather feedback.

Operational plans that will emanate from endorsed proposals will serve as the roadmap for guiding specific initiatives that will be carried out in the next 10 years. Plans will be assessed on the basis of CESA’s standards and indicators for monitoring and evaluation.

Although individual sub-clusters came up with their own list of tasks and deliverables, what surfaced at the end is indicative of common grounds in terms of what needs to be done at continental level. These common elements include clusters’ action plans during the first phase, the need for building on what already exists, and the need to prioritise the identified tasks.


African higher education typically lacks up-to-date information and organised data; often the most basic features, such as enrolment data and dropout rates, among others, are hard to come by.

In addition to a lack of organised data on most elements of African higher education, facts and figures that may be obtained at national level are also often effectively inaccessible for a wider use. As a consequence, policy-making and research on higher education in Africa suffer from such deficiencies.

CESA acknowledges this void and has set improvement in this critical area as one of its strategic objectives, through the initiatives of the Higher Education Cluster. The need for data and baseline studies that will portray the state of affairs of higher education on the continent has thus been identified by all group members as one of the major takeaways of the meeting.

In addition to facilitating the future tasks of each group by helping them identify various gaps within identified sub-themes, the overall engagement is expected to generate huge higher education data that could be used by numerous stakeholders.

A myriad of initiatives driven by national, regional and global interests exist within the African higher education ecosystem. CESA’s Higher Education Cluster aims to benefit from these initiatives by aligning its plans with ongoing initiatives through exploration of what exists and in what ways these can relate to what is being considered under CESA objectives.

In addition to complementing and building on what already exists, this avoids unnecessary duplication of efforts. It can also provide additional advantages in terms of aligning efforts and sharing and attracting resources.


The first consultative meeting has laid out the plan of action and anticipated deliverables in a concept note along the lines of the Higher Education Cluster objectives of the education strategy. The next immediate task now lies in developing fully-fledged proposals along the identified sub-clusters, expected to be endorsed and supported by a number of stakeholders.

It should however be noted that the realisation of the Higher Education Cluster in particular and CESA in general cannot be solely entrusted to this small, but committed group of individuals who have taken charge of the monumental tasks ahead. It requires the commitment of all stakeholders, especially African governments, in assisting with the requisite resources, provision of favourable policies, and creating synergies necessary in transforming the continent’s higher education sector.

Wondwosen Tamrat is associate professor and founding president of St Mary’s University, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. He is a PROPHE – Program for Research on Private Higher Education – affiliate scholar and the coordinator of the private higher education sub-cluster. He may be reached at or

Damtew Teferra is professor of higher education and founding director of the International Network for Higher Education in Africa, based at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa. He leads the Higher Education Cluster. He may be reached at or