New strategy promotes women in HE and research

Women’s participation in higher education, research and innovation is one of two cross-cutting themes at the heart of the updated Africa Strategy of the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), which was introduced earlier this month.

“We want to increasingly support women in higher education, research and innovation. Women play a central role in the economic development of the African continent, since gender equality is not only a question of social justice, but also leads to greater economic prosperity,” the strategy document reads.

A new funding scheme is to be established to support women scientists in transferring the results of their research into industry, society and policy-making, according to the plan.

The BMBF Africa Strategy, developed with the participation of both German and African stakeholders from the education, science and research sectors, builds on the success of a similar plan that ran from 2014 and ends in 2018.

With an emphasis on key goals such as internationalisation, sustainability and cooperation with African partners, it aims to fund five “action areas” at a total cost of €300 million (US$342 million). These include:
  • • Promotion of knowledge transfer and innovation;

  • • Support of higher education and junior researchers, to improve individual life prospects;

  • • Strengthening of employability of university graduates and making vocational education and training more practice-oriented;

  • • Ensuring that research collaboration increasingly contributes to implementing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals; and

  • • Exploiting potential synergies at national, European and international level.
The updated strategy was unveiled by Anja Karliczek, German minister of education and research, and Sarah Mbi Enow Anyang Agbor, African Union commissioner for human resources, science and technology, in Berlin, Germany, on 13 November.

“Education and research are key to shaping the future, growing markets and creating jobs. This is especially significant for the strong-growing young population on the African continent,” said Karliczek.

In the coming decades, the population of Africa is set to keep growing, doubling to 2.5 billion people by 2050. Most of these would be youths who will need jobs.

“These young people need opportunities to discover, develop and unfold their talents. Such opportunities provide prospects, advance the African continent and strengthen relationships between African and European stakeholders,” added Karliczek.


Recognising digitalisation as a means of promoting access to knowledge as another cross-cutting theme, the strategy commits to supporting digital applications in education, science and research, such as digital teaching methods and other tools – which create value for people locally.

In promoting knowledge transfer and innovation, more knowledge generated at African universities will be brought into practice while networks between science and industry will be strengthened. This will require structures to better utilise and market innovations and scientific findings in the region.

African research and innovation systems will be bolstered to help African partners create conditions for better local economic development drawing upon non-academic areas of employment that offer employment prospects for university graduates, the plan states.

The development of management structures at African universities geared towards innovation, technology transfer and entrepreneurship will continue from the past strategy.

University collaborations

University collaborations will continue to feature strongly in supporting African university structures. In 2003, the German University in Cairo was established as the first bi-national university in Africa. Now there are more than 800 university and institutional partnerships between German and African institutions.

Early career researchers will be supported through strengthened institutions and well-trained scientific personnel relevant to future needs, the plan states.

“We will foster more institutional partnerships in higher education that aim to support local structures,” says the new strategy. To guarantee the sustainability of collaboration, bottom-up processes in the transnational education programme of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) will see pilot projects in Africa.

African universities will be assisted in the expansion of graduate training capacities, and joint masters programmes and joint virtual research centres with digital infrastructures will be set up in partner countries.

To support the African Union’s Continental Education Strategy for Africa 2016-2025, the plan intends to link high-quality vocational education with higher education curricula and the local job market, to prepare students for working life.