Global forum – A ‘unique opportunity’ to share HE ideas

The Global Forum for Higher Education and Scientific Research (GFHS), to be held in Egypt this week, is expected to focus inter alia on the enhancement of academia-industry partnerships and the forging of new scientific and research alliances aimed at helping universities to meet the goals of sustainable development.

The biannual forum is to be held under the theme "Between the present and the future" in the new Egyptian administrative capital from 4-6 April in what has been declared by Egypt to be the 'Year of Education'. The forum, held for the first time in Egypt, coincides with the country’s presidency of the African Union.

Asked how African universities can benefit from the forum, Carita Prokki, director of TAMK EDU, Tampere University of Applied Sciences, Finland, told University World News: "We all must discuss and share new concepts and ideas, cooperate, internationalise and take care of the world together. This is the only way forward to face the challenges and possibilities of the 21st century in education."

According to Randy Collins, executive director of academic initiatives at the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences at Clemson University in the United States, GFHS offers a “unique opportunity for higher education and government leaders to come together for the first time in Egypt and Northeast Africa to share best practice around funding models, university-industry engagement, student learning, and advancing research".

"For example, as a result of the forum, we will learn how the region's universities engage with industry, and what opportunities exist to embrace and incorporate successful models from around the world," Collins said.

John Cavanaugh, president and CEO of the Consortium of Universities of the Washington Metropolitan Area, told University World News the forum provides an opportunity for universities to share best practices, engage in discussions, and potentially form collaborations. “All three activities are essential for any university as a good way to improve quality and to become a globally connected university ... This opportunity is especially important for African universities, particularly for those that are relatively new."

Dr MS Shyamasundar, adviser at India's National Assessment and Accreditation Council, said the GFHS would facilitate the sharing of information. “Various innovative practices in higher education would be shared which would lead to excellence in higher education in Africa," Shyamasundar said.

"The impact will be multinational as well as multigenerational for Egypt and for Egypt’s continental partners" said Trey Traviesa, chairman and CEO of MGT Consulting Group in the US.

"Leadership matters and the dedication of the Egyptian Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research to leading new levels of collaboration, engagement and focus has the potential to totally reset the stage for African and international higher education outcomes, competitiveness and human impact," Traviesa said.

New alliances

Asked how African universities and research institutions can prepare themselves and their societies for the Fourth Industrial Revolution and emerging technologies, Andrew Balas, professor and lead at the Biomedical Research Innovation Laboratory of United States-based Augusta University, said research and innovation “need new alliances as innovation and collaboration are the foundation of economic success in the 21st century".

"Large companies need innovative startups, universities needs industry partnerships and academic research needs the test of reality at every step in Africa," Balas said.

Balas said there are several opportunities for new initiatives. These include the development of resource centres to promote academia-industry partnerships and technology transfer; new transatlantic collaborative centres with universities in the region to develop joint research and development projects and attract joint funding; and educational institutes, programmes and seminars to develop scientific entrepreneurship in Africa.

Andrew Williamson, vice-president for strategy in the president's office, PACD at Huawei Technologies, China, said as a result of new digital infrastructure roll-out, Huawei expects cloud-based learning will become a “dominant force” in education.

"Cloud will ease the burden of knowledge transfer and underpin an education ecosystem that will expand beyond teachers, parents, and students to include hardware and software vendors and teacher trainers," Williamson said.

"Different learning forms will emerge, including learning simulations that supplement teachers, true mobile learning, seamless transitions between face-to-face and online learning, and personalised learning algorithms where data analytics hone a truly personal study experience.

"It is vital that African countries aim to be part of this revolution, otherwise an educational digital divide could open up rapidly with the rest of the world.”


On the question of international rankings of African universities, also due to come under the spotlight, Traviesa said: "I believe authentic, comprehensive institutional rankings play a vital role in the elevation of the network of participating institutions by focusing individual institutions on excellence and preeminence, expressed uniquely through their particular mission.

"The ranking framework should align the highest cultural and institutional ideals with a nation’s and region’s most enduring social and economic priorities,” Traviesa said.

Shyamasundar said tracking performance would help African universities to achieve excellence. "As ranking leads to competition among African universities, certainly it would attract better students and teachers across the globe."