The vision of the African Union is “an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, an Africa driven and managed by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the international area”.
Education is the most important tool for equipping African peoples with the necessary knowledge, skills and attitude to be able to drive this vision. Quality Higher education in particular is imperative if Africa has to attain this vision, generate home-grown solutions to African challenges according to the NEPAD philosophy; and participate fully in the global knowledge economy.
Unfortunately, during the decades of the 80’s and 90’s, support for education in Africa was focused at primary and secondary levels, thus negating some of the gains that had been made in the late 60’s and 70’s in African higher education. Consequently, investments in the higher education sector have not been commensurate with the increasing enrollment, leading to many challenges especially in quality.
The quality of many African higher education institutions has been further adversely affected in recent years by harsh economic, social, political and even conflict situations on the continent. According to a UNESCO report (1), African publications referenced in the Science Citation Index stagnated at 1.4 percent between 1981 and 2000 while research and development expenditures experienced a nose -dive from 1.3 to 0.8 percent.
In the meantime, higher education has also been hard hit by the endemic phenomenon of brain drain, which deprives the continent of some of its finest intellectual capital. Indeed, as a result of low salary scales and poor working conditions, many lecturers leave their universities for under qualified positions abroad and almost half of young persons who complete doctoral studies outside Africa do not return. Worse still, at the national level, the alarming rate at which lecturers leave universities for lucrative administrative positions in the central administration is glaring.
As pointed out in the African Union Strategic Vision document, universities and other educational and research institutions do not frequently exchange students or academic staff within the continent. Moreover, collaborative projects are often driven by external donors, and usually focused on problems which are of limited relevance to the continent. The last decade has seen a net increase in the mobility of lecturers between African universities, but this has been restricted to linguistic or geographic sub regions.