New AAU leadership wants to increase its membership

The Association of African Universities or AAU has appointed Professor Olusola Bandele Oyewole, the former vice-chancellor of the Federal University of Agriculture, Nigeria, as its secretary general. He will take over from Professor Etienne Ehouan Ehile, who has been at the helm for the past nine years.

Oyewole is a professor of food science and technology, an expert in traditional food production, processing and marketing systems, a senior expert in higher education at the African Union (AU) Commission and currently one of the coordinators of the AU’s Continental Education Strategy for Africa (CESA16-25) on research and graduate studies.

The AAU also appointed Professor Saeed Bakri Osman, the president of Sudan International University in Sudan, as its new president and he will chair the incoming 17-member governing board that will represent the association’s five regions in the next four years from 1 October.

The new appointments were announced by the AAU’s outgoing president, Professor Antonio Orlando Quilambo, the rector of Eduardo Mondlane University in Mozambique, during an extra-ordinary general conference that was held virtually on 9 August.

According to Quilambo, apart from the appointment of the secretary general and the president, three vice presidents, two board members from each of the continent’s five regions, as well as one alternate board member from each region were also appointed as per the AAU’s constitution.

The three vice presidents selected included Professor Mohamed Hussein Mahrasawi, the president of Al-Azhar University in Egypt, Professor Theresa Nkuo-Akenji, the vice-chancellor of Bamenda University in Cameroon and Professor Lilian Imuetinyan Salami, the vice-chancellor of the University of Benin in Nigeria.

“The composition of the new governing board considered regional representation, gender balance and the profile of the different members of the AAU,” said Quilambo.

Promoting intellectual engagement

In his acceptance remarks during the meeting, Oyewole said his vision is to amplify the relevance of the AAU as the voice of higher education in Africa.

“My top focus areas will include identifying and implementing strategies for sustaining the association during and post the COVID-19 era and helping African universities to overcome the challenges of the pandemic,” said Oyewole.

According to a briefing provided by the AAU on Oyewole’s agenda, the new secretary general will try to build a strong leadership style that will improve communication with universities as one way of promoting intellectual engagement across the continent.

Amid efforts to enhance the AAU as the technical implementing arm of the AU in higher education, Qulambo said the new secretary general will have the challenge of building the next generation of African academics, as well as promoting collaboration among African universities and other tertiary institutions in the continent and in the diaspora.

The other daunting task that is awaiting Oyewole is how to increase the AAU’s membership, as only 400 universities are members of the association, representing about 33% of universities in Africa. According to uniRank, the global universities search engine platform, there are 1,225 officially recognised higher education institutions on the continent.

But, in his short speech during the extraordinary meeting, Oyewole said his leadership will embark on an aggressive campaign to recruit more members and also build capacity in the secretariat.

“I intend to build new strategic partnerships and revive old partnerships as one way of promoting the visibility and relevance of the AAU,” said Oyewole.

Towards this goal, the new leadership said it intends to strengthen AAU sub-regions and equip them with the capacity to undertake membership drives to increase and improve relations with existing and potential members as well as involving regional governments to support AAU activities.

As a former president of the AAU between 2013 and 2017, Oyewole is not new to the affairs of the higher education body and he seemed to be aware that a weak organisation will not achieve the intended mission of creating a dynamic higher education in Africa.

“Without strong partnerships and collaborations, the AAU would be unable to achieve her grand mission of improving the quality of African higher education systems,” said Oyewole.

In his agenda as the new secretary general, Oyewole said he will also strengthen relations with development partners and international organisations on issues related to higher education in Africa.

Stronger regional offices

In his remarks, Osman, the incoming president, said his governing board’s first agenda item will be to improve AAU regional offices in order to improve information sharing and to encourage them to take on leadership roles on how universities could improve the quality of education.

In addition to the incoming president, the outgoing president, secretary general and the three vice presidents, the AAU inaugurated 11 other members of the governing board.

They included Professor Mahmoud El Meteini, the president of Ain Shams University in Egypt as a board member and Professor Hisham Abdelsalam, the president of Egyptian E-learning University as an alternate member to represent the North Africa region alongside vice president Mahrasawi.

For the Eastern Africa region, Professor Sanctus Niragira, the rector of the University of Burundi, and Professor Hunud Abia Kadouf, the vice-chancellor of the International University of Africa in Sudan, were appointed as board members.

Professor Rungano Jonas Zvobgo, the vice-chancellor of Great Zimbabwe University, and Professor Tawana Kupe, the vice-chancellor of the University of Pretoria, will represent the Southern Africa region.

The Central Africa region will be represented by Professor Tsafack Nanfosso, the rector of the University of Dschang, Cameroon, as a member and Professor George Nkeng, the rector of the National Advanced School of Public Works in Yaounde in Cameroon, as an alternate member alongside the vice president Nkuo-Akenji, who hails from the same region.

The West Africa region will be represented by Professor Elisabeta Olarinde, the vice-chancellor of the Afe Babalola University in Nigeria and Professor Johnson Nyarko Boampong, the vice-chancellor of the University of Cape Coast in Ghana as board members and Professor Abiodun Adebayo, the vice-chancellor of Covenant University in Nigeria as an alternate member.