Shifting the focus towards an Africa-born HE strategy

In the past, the African continent relied on development frameworks that were not continent specific in its attempts to achieve the desired development for its higher education sector. Africa’s higher education sector seems to be witnessing a paradigm shift towards a trusted framework that will drive the developmental aspirations of the continent.

A number of global strategies – UNESCO’s Education 2030 Framework for Action, and now the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – are worth mentioning. In particular, the SDGs have witnessed global acceptance as the blueprint to achieve development for every sphere of development, including higher education (Goal 4).

Amidst the publicity and funding for the SDGs, many institutions of higher learning, especially in Africa, have streamlined their activities in accordance with Goal 4 in order to attract the appropriate funding to implement their programmes.

Continent-born strategy

At the same time, however, there is a paradigm shift by African organisations towards a greater focus on a continent-born strategy that will lead Africa’s higher education to ‘the Promised Land’: development of the continent.

This reasoning is born out of the existence of the Continental Education Strategy for Africa (CESA 16-25) which falls within the broader framework of the African Union’s Agenda 2063, launched in May 2013. Three years after CESA's launch, the strategy has witnessed projects, programmes, initiatives and conferences intended to achieve the aspirations of the 13 strategy clusters.

A number of these initiatives are worth highlighting.

In 2018, the government of Kenya agreed to convene a Pan-African High-level Conference on Education (PACE 2018) in collaboration with the African Union and the major discourse was centred on CESA and how its 13 clusters can be achieved.

Hosted by the Association of African Universities, the Conference of Rectors, Vice-Chancellors and Presidents of African Universities (COREVIP) was held from 8-11 July in Egypt under the theme: "The Role of Higher Education Institutions in Promoting the Continental Education Strategy for Africa (CESA 16-25)".

This choice of focus indicates that the implementing body assigned by the AU for CESA was poised to ensure African institutions of higher learning are well informed of the strategy and encouraged to work towards its achievement. The conference saw diverse contributions on trends in higher education in Africa and how the strategy had been and-or can be adapted to enhance higher education.

In Ethiopia, where the CESA strategy was originally carved out in 2013, St Mary’s University held its 17th International Conference and immediately thereafter, together with the International Network for Higher Education in Africa, organised the second symposium of the Higher Education Forum for Africa, Asia and Latin America (HEFAALA) from 25-27 July, at which an entire session was dedicated to discussions about CESA.

Also, the yet to be held 11th International Conference and Workshops on Quality Assurance in Higher Education in Africa (7-11 October 2019 in Abuja, Nigeria) is also dedicated to CESA as the organisers have chosen the following theme: “Towards Sustainability of the Continental Harmonisation Agenda of Higher Education in Africa.”

Taking responsibility

The above are indicators that the continental education strategy, beyond the blueprint, has become accepted by practitioners of higher education in Africa and that, beyond donor orientation, African stakeholders in higher education are taking responsibility for their destiny and are working towards an idea of an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the international arena – as espoused by Agenda 2063.

I would argue that the growing importance of CESA over SDG4 and other globally oriented frameworks is the product of a realisation that no strategic document can solve the challenges of Africa’s higher education other than one that is tailor-made for Africa. The discussions referred to above in Kenya, Egypt and Ethiopia seem to confirm this, and the notion that African academics do not see the SDG document as entirely fit for purpose for Africa, especially its higher education sector.

This reasoning is partly hinged on the fact that, in the entire SDG document, while the word “development” is mentioned 50 times, “education” features only 13 times, with “higher education” being referred to only once and “university” once. This seems to suggest that the document is generic and not sufficiently specific to Africa.

It gives room to reason that African academics and framers of policies are thinking correctly by creating a continental framework which takes into consideration the specific aspirations and desires of Africa as a continent.

Funding dynamics

Institutions of higher learning in Africa and their mother associations rely heavily on resources from partner organisations in fulfilling their agendas. A number of these organisations, as a prerequisite for granting funds, require the applying organisations to work in line with achieving specific SDGs. I would argue this has a tendency to undermine the new drive by African institutions of higher learning – obliged to attract funding from international organisations – to focus adequately on CESA.

This situation has been made more acute given the fact that since its launch in 2016, CESA has not been accompanied by funding for member countries and organisations committed to driving the CESA agenda.

Adopting strategies arising from other jurisdictions has witnessed little success in Africa, largely due to differences in political, economic, social, technological and legal factors. Therefore, I would argue that a holistic commitment to CESA by the framers of the strategy, implementing agencies and other stakeholders within the African region holds greater hope of achieving the deliverables required for a prosperous Africa.

Fred Awaah is a doctoral candidate at the University of Burundi Doctoral School. He holds a Master of Philosophy in Public Administration from the University of Ghana Business School and currently lectures at the University of Professional Studies, Accra in Ghana. He has held visiting scholar positions in Nigeria, Botswana and Lesotho. Awaah is a regular presenter at the Conference of Rectors, Vice-Chancellors and Presidents of African Universities, the International Conference on Quality Assurance in Higher Education in Africa, and the annual conferences of African culture and human security of the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library. He can be reached at