Campus Africa: Programme wants to bolster research capacity

Campus Africa, a UNESCO education-focused programme, will serve as a platform aimed at transforming and reinforcing higher education in Africa, and asserting the right to education as a ‘public common good’.

The Priority Africa Flagship Programmes, through Campus Africa, will also focus on inclusive tertiary education and aim to improve quality.

It will endeavour to democratise access to scientific knowledge with higher education as a key pillar, and will seek to build strong African universities that can deliver relevant skills and competencies.

The Campus Africa programme will also, among other goals, work to increase the enrolment in universities in Africa significantly above the current rate of 9%, compared to the 70% transition from basic to tertiary education in the global domain, said Stefania Giannini, UNESCO’s assistant director general for education.

“The programme has been crafted with the realisation that not much social economic development will take place in Africa without strong infrastructure for knowledge generation through research,” she said.

“Campus Africa is, therefore, aware that it must initiate action to boost research capacity in education institutions by building strong universities with adequate infrastructure for research,” she told an event on the Priority Africa programme during the UNESCO Transforming Education PreSummit in Paris on 30 June.

The high-level policy meeting, which took place in preparation for the upcoming UNESCO summit in September, presented the new strategy for higher education in Africa for the first time after approval by the general conference in September last year.

An action framework

The programme has prepared an action framework which it has termed a “comprehensive approach” to higher education transformation, with proposals to strengthen tertiary education across Africa by supporting development and reviewing existing policies, Giannini noted.

One of the specific actions it will advocate is the creation of ‘intensive’ research hubs in universities to share data, information and knowledge in various fields with other universities in the spirit of regional cooperation, she disclosed.

Universities will be supported to develop PhD programmes, train doctoral students and become “real centres” for production of knowledge, she added.

“As we are all aware, many African universities lack the capacity for establishing PhD schools and for developing adequate doctoral programmes, resulting in many of its academics seeking this level of education abroad. Campus Africa will seek to change this by also encouraging inter-university cooperation in training,” said Giannini.

The programme will also ensure that thousands of refugees in Africa access higher education as a right, and are allowed to enjoy the benefits of the UNESCO qualification passport for refugees and vulnerable migrants, a tool that enables the mobility of refugees and facilitates the recognition of their academic, professional and vocational qualifications, courtesy of yet another UNESCO flagship initiative.

The United Nations education and culture agency, the director explained, will, under the initiative, support research and development of Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET), as one way of addressing the quality of education offered by the sub-sector in Africa. This, she said, will result in the building of an improved “ecosystem for innovation” for TVETs.

The Campus flagship programme, she revealed, will be actualised via a detailed implementation plan, with phase one of the plan involving extensive consultations with all actors in higher education, including governments, institutions, donors, the private sector, academia and the youth, among others.

As part of the second phase, a regional network of key actors and universities will be established for purposes of sharing data and information, and will elaborate on priorities that need to be addressed. In the third phase, a Campus Africa platform will be designed, including setting standards.

“We welcome all stakeholders and we are opening up consultation processes to help refine implantation plans,” she invited.

Building open science

The new strategy and its crafting was a demonstration of UNESCO’s commitment to Africa, said Edouard Matoko, the assistant director-general for Priority Africa and External Relations.

Africans, he said, had taken an active part in drafting it, and it was the result of “a new way of reflecting on African challenges”. It sought to transform Africa via education in the interest of social inclusion, and was in line with the objectives of re-engineering Africa in line with African Union’s Agenda 2063.

“This strategy will, for example, build open science in Africa and boost scientific research. If there is something we Africans have learned during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that we are excluded from science,” he said. “Under this initiative, we will expand this knowledge in the continent,” he added.

Owing to its importance, therefore, UNESCO was appealing to the maximum support, especially political buy-in at the highest level including that of heads of states and governments for its successful implementation, he said.

The Egyptian Ministry of Education will support UNESCO in actualising the Campus Africa initiative by sharing and volunteering technical expertise and knowledge in its databases.

Among other things, it will offer support in building an Africa Campus platform, in the development of Learning Management Systems, progression and learning processes, publishing and quality assurance, said Tarek G Shawki, the minister of education.

“We have a lot of things from our knowledge database available in different languages, including a competence-based curriculum for more than 200 disciplines and fields for TVETs,” he said.

The high-level meeting, which took place under the theme of ‘Transforming Africa through Education and the Valuing of its History’ also deliberated on UNESCO’s second education-related Priority Africa Flagship programme, the General History of Africa, with updates on the integration of the legitimate history in education systems in Africa and in the diaspora.

On the other hand, the pre-summit event aimed to harness discussions on transforming education, establish a shared vision and suggested actions for the main summit, and generate greater momentum in the lead up to September.

Some 140 ministers and their deputies joined the meeting with office-bearers from UNESCO, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the European Union Commission.

The discussion comes at a critical time when government spending on education everywhere is not keeping up with the growing crisis in learning, with an estimated 40% of low- and lower-middle income countries cutting spending on education owing to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, with an average decline in real spending of 13.5%, according to UNESCO.