Ministers propose three-point plan to boost PhD numbers

Recognising the need for more doctoral graduates who can contribute to the science and innovation agendas needed to promote development, African ministers of education, agriculture, science and technology have proposed a three-point plan to escalate postgraduate training and staffing in African universities.

The ministers were meeting on the sidelines of the Sixth African Higher Education Week and Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM) Biennial Conference in Nairobi on 23 October, to agree on strategies to enhance African regional cooperation for strengthening higher education, science, technology and innovation in Africa.

According to a communiqué released after the meeting, the plan will include an expanded regional academic mobility programme to promote partnership in the field of higher education in Africa and to increase access to quality graduate programmes in Africa. It will also encompass a regional initiative to Build Africa’s Higher Education, Science, Technology and Innovation Capacity (BASTIC), and a specific programme to increase the pool of women scientists.

The focus of the ministers’ meeting was to explore how higher education in Africa could be strengthened, with emphasis on regional mechanisms, to improve science, technology and innovation to meet the objectives and vision of the Sustainable Development Goals and the African Agenda 2063.

Ministers from 19 countries – Kenya, Uganda, Angola, Benin, Burundi, Egypt, Ghana, Côte D’Ivoire, Liberia, Lesotho, Malawi, Mali, Rwanda, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, South Africa, South Sudan, Sudan and Zimbabwe – attended the meeting.

Among the other recommendations were the acceleration of the harmonisation and the adoption of qualifications’ accreditation frameworks and ranking systems at national and regional levels.

AU Summit

The recommendations are to be presented by the Kenyan government for “consideration and inclusion” in the declaration to be made by the Committee of Ten Heads of State championing science, technology and innovation, and subsequently in the Summit of African Heads of State and Government during the African Union’s January-February 2019 Summit.

According to Jessica Alupo, Uganda’s minister for education and sports, Africa needs to have stronger science, technology and innovation capacity to tackle the challenge of food security.

“This can only be possible if the higher education systems provide the relevant human resources, research culture and knowledge based on innovation,” said Alupo.

The ministers noted that access to the higher education system in Africa is challenged by increased demand from the expanded primary and secondary education systems, with repercussions for other areas of the academic enterprise.

“Research in our universities is still low as compared to the global output. Universities have to work together with the private sectors to boost research in their institutions,” said Amina Mohamed, Kenya’s cabinet secretary for education.

The ministers also highlighted the increase in graduate unemployment. It was therefore important that graduates be encouraged to pursue entrepreneurship opportunities. However, universities had a responsibility to equip them with the relevant skills and knowledge to enable them to do so.

It was noted that the number of qualified staff with PhDs is constraining the teaching and research that can support science, technology and innovation in universities.

Visa requirements

“The ministers have agreed to engage with the African Union and the Committee of Ten Heads of State Championing Education, Science and Technology to enable the mobility of students and scholars (including those in diaspora) across the continent by minimising visa requirements or making the issuing of visas easier; endorse the expansion and strengthening of postgraduate training in agriculture, science, technology and innovation through Africa’s Agricultural Higher Education, Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy for Africa (AHESTI) in alignment with AU educational frameworks,” read the communiqué.

The ministers committed to work through national mechanisms to legitimise the work of RUFORUM in the member states through a charter to be endorsed by the respective governments in line with the member states’ established procedures.

They agreed unanimously that there is urgent need for curriculum reform and skills development to combat graduate unemployment, and as industry increasingly indicates, that graduates do not have the skills that they are looking for.

“To overcome the situation, the quality of higher degree programmes and their relevance for Africa’s challenges must be addressed. Agricultural education will be critical to enhance the quality of employment and ensure inclusive growth,” said the ministers in their communiqué.