Internationalisation – A step towards quality higher education

African universities have been urged to internationalise their curricula as a first step towards strengthening and marketing African higher education and graduates in a rapidly changing world.

The call was made by several African academics and their counterparts from the diaspora during the second edition of the African Academic Diaspora Virtual Homecoming organised jointly by the Association of African Universities (AAU), the African Union, the government of Ghana, the African Diaspora Development Institute and the Pan African Heritage World and held from 27 to 29 September.

In a presentation, ‘Internationalising the curriculum to strengthen academic programmes in African higher education for a fast-evolving world’, Nneka Nora Osakwe, a professor of English at Albany State University in the United States, said African universities should infuse international and intercultural perspectives into their programmes and courses across academic disciplines.

Global competencies

“The goal is to introduce African students to global learning about foreign countries and their economies, education, governments, histories and languages in order to enhance global competencies upon graduation,” said Osakwe, who is also a specialist in international education.

According to Osakwe, most African universities were still using curricula and other teaching modes inherited from colonialism and which have never been reviewed or updated.

She said higher education in Africa should respond to globalisation by giving African graduates an education that would provide them with skills to work in other countries as professionals.

Osakwe said having knowledge about other countries and their people enhances a person’s capacity to engage with others, valuing different outlooks in life, as well as learning to seize employment opportunities and being tolerant of differing views and ideas.

Cooperation with HBCUs

On cooperation between African universities and the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in the United States, Osakwe called for student and faculty exchange programmes to be strengthened. She said few students of African descent in the US currently join study programmes in African universities, as compared with their white counterparts.

Professor Tendai Paula Johnson, a retired former associate vice-chancellor of academic affairs at Fayetteville State University in the United States, also called for the development of centres of excellence and joint academic programmes between African universities and HBCUs.

“But, to make it a reality, there is need for improvement of communication technology in terms of fast and reliable internet connectivity in the African universities,” said Johnson.

She highlighted the need for African universities to embrace learning using cellphones and other flipped learning models that, so far, are not commonly used on the continent.

According to Johnson and Osakwe, diaspora talent is ready to come to the aid of African universities in restructuring curricula, as well as in fundraising for certain academic programmes and the regular exchange of faculty and students.

Highlighting the need for curricula reforms, Vannie Naidoo, a professor of management and entrepreneurship at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, said knowledge was not enough; students should be taught how to apply knowledge across different academic fields.

Entrepreneurship as mandatory

She said entrepreneurship should be introduced as a mandatory course in all African universities, while the curriculum should be current and not fixed. According to Naidoo, some curricula in many academic programmes in Africa have remained unchanged for decades.

“We must be current in our teaching and adapt to technology-driven systems as some of those will be required by students in their lines of work after graduation,” said Naidoo.

Julie Sullivan-Detheridge, a professor of health sciences at Arizona State University in the US, said students should be taught how to navigate challenges and professional guest speakers should be regularly invited to explain to students how to navigate challenges in various professions.

“Universities should be encouraged to open entrepreneurship hubs, while there should be sharing of knowledge and innovations between universities in the continent,” said Sullivan-Detheridge.

Arising out of the conference session was a recommendation that new aspects of entrepreneurship be taught while they are still current and for innovation and creativity awareness to be nurtured.

In a bid to increase employability, Osakwe proposed that African graduates emulate the skills and tenacity of graduates from Indian universities who are able to work from their homes for companies in other parts of the world.

While most of the suggestions were sound, what was missing from the discussion was how African universities are likely to achieve such objectives while operating on shoestring budgets.