Presentation of the Regional Chapter on Africa

Ramon Torrent
Presentation of the Regional Chapter on Africa

HAQAA2 is an EU-funded project developed within the framework of the AU-EU partnership that was formally established in 2000 at the first Africa-EU Summit in Cairo, the sixth edition of which was held on 17-18 February 2022. The HAQAA2 [1]implementing team includes the Association of African Universities (AAU), the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and the European Network for Quality Assurance (ENQA), and is led by OBREAL Global[2].

OBREAL Global was honoured when, as leader of the HAQAA2 project, it was asked by GUNi to coordinate the Regional Chapter on Africa of the Special Issue of its World Report on “New Visions for Higher Education towards 2030”. The content of the chapter largely coincided with the work already initiated within the framework of HAQAA2’s policy component. Most contributions to it will therefore be developed and extended (and be given continuity, which is certainly an advantage) within this HAQAA framework.

The chapter begins with two introductory pieces offering an overview by two distinguished professors with a wealth of knowledge and experience: Wail Benjelloun (Morocco) and Juma Shabani (Burundi). This is followed by a presentation from a regional perspective, prepared by a leading regional institution, the Inter-University Council of East Africa (one of the eight official institutions of the East Africa Community), and co-authored by its Executive Secretary and Deputy Executive Secretary, Professors Gaspard Banyankimbona and Mike Kuria. It continues with four contributions on topics that are highly relevant in the African context and in terms of GUNi’s Special Issue of its World Report, all written by leading and experienced specialists: Transforming Curricula by Charmaine B. Villet (Dean of the Faculty of Education at the University of Namibia), Research and Innovation: Learning and Innovation Strategies by Mafini Dosso (from the Ivory Coast, currently working at the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission), Internationalisation by James Jowi (founder of ANIE – African Network for the Internationalisation of Education - and principal education officer in the East African Community), and  Quality and Quality Assurance by Jeffy Mukora (from Mozambique, with extensive experience in this area at national and regional/continental levels). The last contribution deals with an issue too often forgotten in academic literature: the need for data (and data collection) in order to engage in well-informed policy-making; it has been written by one of the members of the HAQAA2 Policy-and-Data Unit implementing team, Professor Kibrome M. Haile (a former Law School Dean at one of the leading universities in Ethiopia). Finally, the Secretary General of the Association of African Universities (AAU), Professor Olusola Oyewole, offers an overview from the AAU’s perspective. 

All these contributions are comprehensive, and demand and deserve careful reading and reflection. Without intending to summarise them, I will therefore attempt to draw from them some very general conclusions that could serve as a basis for further policy-oriented work. The conclusions will mainly be methodological, as I’m not African and history tells us that it is highly advisable for non-Africans to refrain from meddling with the substance of education systems in Africa.

The premise for the conclusions is as follows: higher education policy is defined and implemented at many levels. The two basic levels will always be (i) the “regulated”, i.e. the universities (or, more generally, Higher Education Institutions, known as HEIs) themselves, endowed with autonomy to a greater or lesser degree, and (ii) the “regulators” at national level, i.e. governments and parliaments. At world level, the United Nations family of organisations, mainly UNESCO, offers a multilateral framework whose effective impact will however always be very limited as governments are extremely reluctant to relinquish their independence in an area as sensitive as education (including Higher Education). In the middle, between the national and multilateral levels, regional integration processes that can embrace higher education may appear. This is certainly the case in Africa, where two integration processes coexist and overlap: that of the Regional Communities and that of the Continent (the African Union, with an important continental player bringing together, at least potentially, all universities: the Association of African Universities).

The conclusions are as follows:

  1. The different levels for HE policy definition and implementation in Africa must be adequately articulated. Not all HE aspects can or should be dealt with at all levels. This will only lead to a duplication of efforts and contradictions. Being overambitious at one level necessarily leads to a dispersion of efforts and ineffectiveness.
  2. Most overriding challenges faced by African higher education seem to have been well identified in Professor Benjelloun’s contribution: i) Massification, ii) Reform of Organisational Structures, iii) Quality, and iv) Employability.
  3. The topics concerning the existing processes of African integration also seem to have been well set out by Professor Shabani: i) Recognition of Academic and Professional Qualifications, ii) Harmonisation and Convergence, including Quality Assurance, and iii) Integration and Networking of Institutions and Infrastructure.
  4. Professor Shabani’s and other contributions strongly emphasise the fact that African integration in higher education (as in many other areas) must combine and adequately articulate the regional and continental levels. The current, very important, role of regions is well explained and illustrated in the IUCEA’s contribution, co-authored by Professors Banyankimbona and Kuria). And Professor Haile’s contribution also explains very clearly how regions could and should be used as building blocks of continental integration.
  5. On issues of substance:
  • Professor Villet’s contribution offers a very convincing argument on i) the need to accept that classrooms cannot remain anchored in the past, ii) teachers should no longer be seen as those who possess a disciplined body of knowledge and skills to pass onto the learner through deliberate instruction, and iii) curricula should no longer be conceived as an accumulation of separate courses and credits. It also offers an appealing guiding principle for the decades ahead: the task of an adequate higher education philosophy is not only to understand the university or even to defend it, but to help in changing the institution (in particular, by applying a transformative approach to curricula design and implementation).
  • Professor Villet’s arguments are backed up by Dr. Dosso’s contribution. She argues very forcefully that i) universities, as one of the elements of the quadruple helix – academia, civil society, industry and government – should feel obliged to contribute to harnessing the emerging technological and innovation potential and opportunities to the benefit of local communities; and ii) this requires novel place-based and people-centred policymaking approaches. These place-based, ‘no-one-size-fits-all’, policies should help to create, capture and redistribute more value locally by upgrading the learning and innovation capabilities of local players. And it is pretty obvious that these objectives will not be achieved if curricula remains anchored in the past and at least some of Professor Villet’s proposed transformations do not take place.
  • Dr. Jowi’s contribution showcases how African higher education systems have advanced in the field of internationalisation and singles out both the challenges and the opportunities that lie ahead. Among the former, i) the historical and growing knowledge divide between developed regions (the North) and Africa, ii) brain drain, and iii) curriculum reforms arising from internationalisation activities that lead to knowledge epistemologies and content from other world regions dominating the curricula of most African universities. Among the latter, i) improvement in capacity and management, ii) international research collaborations, and iii) the possibility of reversing African diaspora, turning it into a “brain-gain”.
  • Dr. Mukora’s contribution explains a success story that proves that optimism about the future of African continental integration is not unfounded: i) the production, at continental level and within the framework of HAQAA1, of the African Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance (ASG-QA), and ii) the ongoing endeavour, within the framework of HAQAA2, to produce a User’s Guide. It also points to the necessary interaction and complementarity between the continental and regional levels of African integration in Higher Education.
  1. Underlying all this is an overarching issue: the need to gather adequate data to be used in well-informed policymaking, as explained in Professor Haile’s contribution.

All in all, the chapter achieves the goals of any venture in the field of knowledge production: systematising existing knowledge, contributing new knowledge and laying the foundations for further future advances.

From a wider political perspective, I will end this presentation with the last sentence of Professor Oyewole’s overview from the AAU’s perspective:

Africa has a very young population. Education is the only viable way of equipping these youths for the future. Special attention should be given to youth development in Africa by ensuring that Africa builds up the youths that will drive its development. This effort must also embrace the higher education sector as the apex and the server of the entire education system”.

It summarises why we and everyone else should care about African higher education.


Sponsored by