Network will support implementation of Addis Convention

A group of African countries has launched the African Network of National Implementation Structures, a framework that will coordinate and campaign for the recognition of higher education qualifications, as well as facilitate academic mobility and inter-university cooperation across the continent.

Established under the ‘Revised Convention on the Recognition of Studies and Certificates, Diplomas, Degrees and other Academic Qualifications in Higher Education in African States’, which came into force in 2019, the new body will also promote peer learning and capacity-building in academia.

The treaty, also known as the Addis Convention, was adopted in 2014 in the Ethiopian capital. It is one of the five regional academic qualification recognition treaties that have been established globally by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) with the aim of fair recognition of university degrees, diplomas and certificates.

Towards that objective, on 15 September, the bureau of African countries that have ratified the treaty launched the network. Its mandate will also incorporate promoting the exchange of information, capacity-building, peer learning and the establishment of awareness creation centres.

Only a few signatories

Only 12 of the 54 United Nations-recognised countries in Africa have ratified the convention, including Togo, Gambia, Congo, Djibouti, Mauritius, Senegal, Mauritania, South Africa, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Seychelles and Zambia in that order. Holy See, or the Vatican, although not an African country, has ratified the treaty as the Catholic Church has sponsored several universities and other tertiary institutions in the continent.

Nevertheless, although only 12 African countries have ratified the treaty, meaning that they are bound by the treaty, 15 other African countries have recognised its importance by being signatories, but are not yet bound by it because the political engagement process has not been concluded.

Those countries include Benin, Burundi, Central African Republic, Comoros, Egypt, Gabon, Madagascar and Mali. Others in this category are Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda.

Calls on countries to ratify treaty

Addressing the issue during the World Higher Education Conference 2022 that was held in May in Barcelona, Spain, Professor Mohamed Belhocine, the African Union’s commissioner for education, science, technology and innovation, urged countries to endorse the convention without delay.

“The ratification of this convention needs a lot of awareness campaigns by all parties involved and I call upon universities to help by championing and popularising it,” Belhocine said.

He explained that the value of certifying the Addis Convention is not just a matter of recognising academic qualifications that are awarded outside a country’s borders, but it is vital towards implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area as well as striving to achieve the aspirations of the African Union’s Agenda 2063, The Africa We Want.

Identifying some of the functions of the new network, Dimitri Sanga, the director of UNESCO’s multisectoral regional office in West Africa and the Sahel, said the body will accelerate the goals of the Addis Convention towards strengthening collaboration of higher education in Africa.

He noted that, currently, there are more than 15 million students enrolled in African universities and the number is expected to double by 2030 – and some of them now, or in future, will be mobile workers who will require their qualifications to be recognised in different countries in Africa.

According to Sanga, who is the officer in-charge of UNESCO’s office in Abuja that acts as the secretariat to the Addis Convention, the new network forms one of the pillars of that objective.

Highlighting the issue, Stefania Giannini, UNESCO’s assistant director-general for education, noted that mobility is on the rise with about half a million African students going to study away from home, with higher education hubs on the continent becoming their preferred destinations.

Overcoming ratification barriers

In most of its work, the network will be guided by a roadmap that was devised by a committee constituted by countries that have ratified the convention.

According to Giannini, the committee met in December last year in the Togolese capital, Lomé, and set in motion plans to establish a network that would be a focal point to overcome barriers that reduce commitment to ratification of the convention by most African countries.

According to UNESCO, the African network will be identical to similar networks that already exist in Europe, Asia and the Pacific that facilitate the exchange of information and qualifications between countries and promote enhancement of quality education in those regions.

Even then, it appears that many challenges remain as the new network will start operating from a point of weakness as there is very little known about the Addis Convention, according to Professor Olusola Oyewole, the secretary general of the Association of African Universities.

“Many education ministers … and decision-makers do not even know about it,” Oyewole told delegates attending the Barcelona conference.

Oyewole noted that the problem lies with most African countries, as currently only 24 countries on the continent have regulatory agencies dealing with qualifications, a situation that is making it harder for those without to understand the values of recognition of qualifications.

But, for the new network to succeed, it will have to encourage countries without academic regulatory agencies to establish them as a starting point of having qualifications from their tertiary institutions being recognised in other African countries.

Further, the network would also have to publicise recognition of micro-credentials, qualifications obtained through distance learning such as the massive open online courses, or MOOCs, and other partial studies and skills that do not lead to traditional vocational and academic qualifications, as complementary avenues for expanding higher education and promoting job creation in Africa.

In this regard, the network should be much more than a public relations office for the convention, but should be a robust organisation with the capacity to meet the academic challenges that lie ahead.