Keynote address by the Minister of Education of South Africa, Mrs Naledi Pandor, MP, at the UNESCO Regional Conference on Higher Education in Africa (CRESA), 11 November 2008, Dakar, Senegal
"Creating an African Higher Education Space in the Context of Regionalisation and Globalisation.
New Partnerships: South-South and North-South"
Members of the higher education community
Ladies and Gentlemen
Much has already been said at this conference about partnerships, so much so that it is emerging as a thread running through our deliberations. While the notion of partnerships holds much promise, we should not run the risk of being diverted from the real task at hand, which is the renewal of higher education in Africa. This is not an undertaking for the faint-hearted. It requires from all of us a sustained commitment to developing and nurturing national higher educations systems as the building blocks of sub-regional and regional systems, without which we cannot hope to participate meaningfully in partnerships.
What then are the fundamental steps that must be taken towards sustainable and robust systems of higher education in Africa?
The first task has to be a detailed assessment of the state of higher education on the continent. Such an assessment will support and inform the strategies for partnership, co-operation and development that will make up the immediate response to our intention to build African higher education into a robust and responsive sector.
The review is made urgent by the need to ensure that we do not drive change on the basis of plans that are over ambitious and de-linked from the reality of under-investment and poor capacity that characterises many of the universities on the continent. This implies that careful thought must go into the content of the conclusions of this conference. A list of tasks is not an adequate outline of key strategic objectives that must define action in the sector for the next five to ten years.
The first and foremost challenge has to be institutional and sectoral renewal. Strong partnerships are reliant on strong African higher educations institutions.
I will confine myself to what I consider to be five key imperatives for renewal:
• Increasing and broadening equitable student access, with the appropriate financial support to students from poor and marginalised communities;
• The diversification of institutional types in higher education to enable improved responsiveness to labour market, research & innovation and broader societal needs (especially high quality teacher education);
• The development of robust national quality assurance frameworks as a pre-requisite for sub-regional and regional harmonisation and mobility;
• Improving the infrastructure, conditions of service of academic staff and the quality of student life; and
• Enhancing the management and governance of higher education within the context of greater autonomy matched with high levels of public accountability.
To achieve these broad goals will require political will and a commitment to the significantly improved funding of higher education from both national budgets and other income streams, premised on the shared understanding that higher education brings both private and public benefits.
According to a report that was presented last month to African Ministers of Finance, “ Accelerating Catch-Up – Tertiary education for growth in Sub-Saharan Africa” , enrolments tripled between 1991 and 2005, expanding at an annual rate of 8.7%, which is one of the highest regional growth rates in the world. However, over a 25 year period, the spending per student declined from an average of US $ 6 800 per year to a low of US $ 981 in 2005 for 33 countries.
With current levels of expenditure, we cannot, even with all the best of intentions, aspire to be globally competitive. At the core of our declaration at this Conference, must be a resounding statement to motivate improved levels of funding. But more resources must also be matched with a commitment towards building and strengthening African higher education systems in ways that genuinely contribute to social, economic and political development and the alleviation of poverty, disease and war.
Let me now elaborate on the complexity of partnerships in the context of globalisation.
A sign of increased demand for access to higher education is student outflow from the continent to higher learning institutions in the developed countries. Studies show that the international mobility of students has increased significantly over the past 10 to 15 years. The total number of mobile tertiary students was estimated at over 2,7 million in 2005, an increase of more than 60% from the early 1990s. Traditionally, the majority of mobile students came from the less developed countries and 80% of these studied in the OECD countries.
In September 2007, a British Council report in the United Kingdom revealed that education is worth more to the United Kingdom than the banking sector.
Clearly this makes education vital to the United Kingdom economy, and in particular, it makes international students and the tuition fees they pay vital to the United Kingdom's economy.
While the United Kingdom's earnings have increased from international students, its share of the global international student market has declined.
Other directions of student flow are now emerging, such as mobility within the commonwealth countries and South-South or North-South flows. The reasons for this shift include cost factors, increased competition in the market, and skills shortages. The study on International Student Mobility Key Figures by Campus France indicates that the number of African students studying abroad has grown significantly over the past ten years or so – from 161 877 in 1999 to 284 260 in 2006. The same study shows that that the majority of African students studying outside their countries of origin study in France, the United States of America, and the United Kingdom. However, the United States of America still dominates the market in international students, despite the rise of universities in South and East Asia, where China and India are producing four million graduates a year.
UNESCO figures highlight the fact that sub-Saharan Africa has the highest outbound student mobility rate at 5.9%. This translates into 1 out of every 16 African students studying outside of their home country. Lack of capacity in their home country is often the driving force.
Africa's outbound migration of students and professionals has some benefits in creating networks favourable to Africa, and also sharing knowledge about Africa with others around the world. But if left unabated the phenomenon could have negative consequences on the region as it takes away the talents and skills that are necessary for the development of the continent.
In the context of rapid globalisation, mobility is a reality. As African states we can, nevertheless, increase capacity and opportunities in our countries and within the region itself. Also, as a region, we should aim to attract talented individuals from other parts of the world.
It is, thus, imperative that we take it upon ourselves to create conducive environments to ensure that student and staff mobility does not happen at the expense of African development.
Collaboration and partnerships between North and South can work to the benefit of the continent. Sweden, for example, has supported Rwandan students to study in South Africa. This is a model that could be extended and applied on a regional basis.
Perhaps one of the areas where regional co-operation is required is on the issue of differentiation. A strong case must be made for more diverse higher education institutional types that are able to meet appropriate quality benchmarks.
This requires the active involvement of the private sector both in partnership with the public sector as well as its direct participation in providing higher education programmes. In South Africa we are only beginning to look at the policy implications of planning for a single higher education system, combining both public and private institutions in ways that bind us to common goals and objectives. In particular, I have initiated a discussion on the possible extension of financial aid to students studying at ‘not-for-profit' private institutions, especially in areas of scarce skills needs.
In pursing differentiation as a policy instrument, we must be strategic. Not all universities can be research intensive. For instance, Africa's sub-regions could agree that a selected group of institutions should be developed as research intensive. This does not mean the relegation of other higher education institutions to a second-class status.
On the contrary, our continent needs large numbers of high quality undergraduate institutions focussed on meeting the professional and other skills needs of developing communities and nations. They, too, like the research-intensive universities, must be appropriately funded. The early history of the land-grant universities in the US may provide us with an interesting model.
If we are to selectively and systematically build research-intensive universities on the continent, we must look towards new and innovative partnerships to support our vision.
The output of academic research in sub-Saharan Africa is a matter of concern. The United Nations Institute of Statistics, Bulletin of Science and Technology Statistics (2005) indicates that the whole of Africa represented only 1,4 percent of the world scholarly publications in 2000.
As a region, Africa does not compare well with the rest of the world in regard to research or academic scholarly output. For instance, from 1997 to 2007, South Africa, which is the leading country in sub-Saharan Africa in terms of scholarly publications, produced 51,738 publications, which was half of what the United States and the United Kingdom were able to produce in one year. In 2006, the United States and the United Kingdom scholarly publications were calculated at 100,000 and 97,904 respectively. The second and third sub-Saharan countries are Nigeria and Kenya at 9,540 and 6,661 respectively. (1) 1
There are of course many reasons why Africa as a region fares badly when compared to other regions. These vary from socio-political factors, environmental and economic factors including the fact that a significant number of African scholars are now based in western countries.
Having said Africa needs to improve on its research publications output, as we formulate our renewal strategies we must take cognisance of the changing nature of knowledge production. Networks of researchers transcending national and regional boundaries are a growing characteristic of knowledge creation in the twenty-first century. Between 1987 and 1997 internationally co-authored articles doubled and accounted for 15% of all world journal articles as reported by the US National Science Board. Furthermore, this analysis revealed that countries with an internal capacity to research local issues are better positioned to participate in global networks.
This resonates with the objectives of the emerging partnership between India, Brazil and South Africa (IBSA) where building the identification of research themes has been informed by each country's unique research strengths and strategic advantages to address development challenges shared by three partners.
The critical assessment of the state of higher education in Africa, which I proposed earlier, will provide the basis for identifying opportunities for building national and sub-regional systems which will leverage continental and international partnerships that will substantially contribute to the revitalization and renewal of African higher education.
1Ondari-Okemwa, E (2007) Scholarly publishing in sub-Saharan Africa in the twenty-first century: challenges and opportunities , Public Knowledge Product