Calls on governments to increase HE funding grow louder
Dr Patrick Okori, the incoming RUFORUM executive secretary, has made yet another powerful plea at the AGM for greater government investment into higher education, science and technology for the sake of providing opportunities and livelihoods to the continent’s youth and the continent’s economic sustainability.
His call comes in a context in which political leaders, when the issue of funding has emerged during the past year, have shifted the blame for low state funding levels for research and development, to universities, saying they are not responsive to the needs of their communities and societies.
But the message from the AGM was clear. Governments should up their research, development and educational investments to generate the knowledge required for an economic revolution in Africa, thereby creating opportunities for the huge youth population on the continent.
It is by putting money in universities and research institutions that the goods and services required for industrialisation can be created, allowing local economies to grow.
The efforts should be accelerated in view of the fact that, over the next three decades, Africa’s working age population will grow by about 14% every five years, said Okori.
This should be done by harnessing the immense potential of the youth to ensure that this potential translates to “something meaningful”, allowing them to drive the much-desired change, he noted.
“This will require us to invest strongly in the education value chain, leveraging university, vocational colleges, secondary and primary education to skill young people,” he said.
There was no doubt, he noted, that higher education is the key to accelerating job creation for young Africans and, coupled with science, technology and innovation, will be the answer to creating significantly higher rates of economic growth.
Improving agricultural education
Investment should also be directed to the other key sectors such as agriculture, which is projected to become a US$1 trillion-dollar industry by 2030, employing millions of youth, he noted.
This should go hand in hand with revamping programmes such as the Strengthening Higher Agricultural Education in Africa project, and others such as Strengthening Africa’s Science Technology Innovation, the Entrepreneurship Capacity for Agricultural and Economic Development and the Building Africa’s Science, Technology and Innovation Capacity, all aimed at improving agriculture education in universities.
“New approaches on how universities train their graduates will also be needed, focused on how to engage the underutilised potential of universities in contributing to development through the training of quality, entrepreneurial and innovative graduates,” Okori added.
Universities, he explained, could borrow the model piloted by the Transforming African Agricultural Universities to Meaningfully Contribute to Africa’s Growth and Development (TAGDev), implemented by the organisation with the support of the Mastercard Foundation. Among other things, it emphasises the enhancement of science, technology, business and innovation.
Building Africa’s own scientific abilities
While science consumed in African has largely been generated from outside the continent, the trend was not sustainable and should not be allowed to continue, said Professor Amon Murwira, Zimbabwe’s minister of higher and tertiary education, innovation, science and technology development.
Even though Africa is not so well endowed economically, it had the human capital that could be deployed to create and attract wealth, he added. By making use of the resources to create prosperity, it will not only earn respect, but also attract mutual partnerships for research and knowledge generation, he noted.
“Nobody in the world, including the international community, likes poverty. The world can only appreciate mutuality, and that is why partnerships with the outside world are what we should work to pursue,” the minister said during one of the events hosted during the week.
At the same time, an appeal has been made for the building of a partnership among universities and governments to build capacity for less endowed countries in Africa, targeted at countries experiencing extreme economic difficulties, and those ravaged by conflicts or calamities.
The countries include Zimbabwe, a founding member of RUFORUM, but which are unable to directly apply or access funding from certain multilateral and bilateral funders [because of factors such as sanctions], said Professor Adipala Ekwamu, the organisation’s outgoing executive secretary.
“Within our membership there are a number of universities and countries which are not able to raise external resources. Zimbabwe, is one neighbour of both Malawi and Mozambique. Its situation in the international community makes it difficult for international partnerships. Yet, they are a loyal friend to their neighbours,” he said with reference to the centres of excellence to be established in the two countries beginning in 2023.
Centres of excellence
The Southern African countries have been awarded six centres of excellence that will run up to 2025 by the World Bank under the African Centres of Excellence (ACEII) initiative to the tune of US$218 million.
Zimbabwean universities, Ekwamu noted, could do with their support and would also assist the centres to meet their mandate.
“In addition, there are other countries, including Liberia, Sierra Leone, Mali and others such as Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and South Sudan that are emerging from conflict or have limited human resource capacity who require your support. By providing them with opportunities, you are not only serving the broader cause of Africa, but you will also be supporting the delivery of your mandate,” he added.
The ACEII project had met all the project’s targets, from PhDs and MScs trained to publications, partnerships established, and generation of external revenue by over 100%, said Professor Gaspard Banyankimbona, the executive secretary of the Inter-University Council for East Africa, who manages the ACEII initiative.
For example, the 24 centres had trained 5,312 MSc students against the World Bank’s target of 3,700, and 1,395 PhDs against a target of 925. The ACEII universities had also produced 3,185 publications while the set target was 1,500 and, so far, externally raised US$39 million, while the bank had the set figure at US$30 million, he told a roundtable for education and agriculture ministers.
Banyankimbona appealed for support from partner governments to ensure the sustainability of the project which winds up in 2023.
Strengthening Africa’s agri-food systems
The government of Zimbabwe is hosting the AGM with RUFORUM member universities led by the University of Zimbabwe as co-hosts, during which an array of diverse activities have been taking place over the seven days of the meeting.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa officially opened the event on 14 December, leading a strong delegation of his cabinet, who included the vice president Constantino Chiwenga to the event, which has also been attended by at least 14 ministers of education, science and technology as well as agriculture from across Africa.
More than 1,000 delegates have been attending the event, hosted under the theme of ‘Strengthening Africa’s Agri-food Systems in the Post-COVID-19 Era – Opportunities and Challenges’ among them representatives of donors and development partners, vice-chancellors, college principals and deans, innovators and students, farmers and innovators.
It is the last AGM for founding executive director Professor Adipala (who leaves the position this December after 18 years at the helm of the organisation he helped found in 2004).
Okori, his successor, is also a Ugandan, formerly principal scientist at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) where, until the middle of this year, he worked as the deputy director for the Global Research Programme on Accelerated Crop Improvement.