6 December 2017

Reforming and Revitalizing Higher Education Sector Crucial for Africa's Development, Experts Say

Dakar — The fourth Senior Experts Dialogue on Science, Technology and the African Transformation Agenda ended in Dakar Friday with experts making concrete recommendations for consideration by policy makers, universities, regional and continental organizations on how to align higher education policy with science, technology and innovation (STI) and industrial policies to support the transformation of Africa's economies in line with the continent's integration and development agenda.

Experts attending the meeting under the theme; 'Higher education, science, technology and innovation and African integration and development', agreed funding increases for universities and other higher education institutions are needed if these institutions are to make a significant contribution to Africa's development.

The recommendations, which will be detailed in a report to be shared with African governments and other stakeholders, include the need to reform and revitalize the higher education sector in Africa; leveraging higher education and STI to achieve the sustainable development goals; exploring innovative ways of financing higher education institutions; and formulating incentives for university researchers to promote transfer of technology from universities to the private sector.

Kasirim Nwuke, Chief, New Technologies and Innovation Section in the Economic Commission for Africa's Special Initiatives Division, said countries could begin by enacting domestic laws similar to the United States's Bayh-Dole Act, a law which enables universities, non-profits, to own, patent and commercialize inventions that result from research funded by the US government.

The experts are also urging governments to increase research funding for STEM education and encourage more women to take STEM subjects.

Mr. Nwuke said a smart higher education and STI policy should include recruiting the best talent no matter where they are from.

"African governments could consider using targeted immigration and free-movement of Africans to attract talent to build world class competitive universities, great centres of research excellence," he said, adding there were two good examples worthy of consideration; one is the Carnegie University programme in Rwanda and the American University of Nigeria (AUN).

Governments were also urged to deploy ICT to improve access to higher education, reduce the cost of research innovations and to use continental trade policy, notably Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) that is currently being negotiated, to advance the focus of African universities and to drive STI.

In closing Mr. Nwuke said this SED was successful as participants had used it to broaden and deepen the constituency for higher education and STI on the continent as they sought to help Africa to support higher education and STI 'because it is only by so doing that we can achieve African development and integration'.

Professor Amadou Thierno Gaye, Senegal's Director General of Research and Innovation said information and communications technologies and digital infrastructures were crucial for Africa's success.

ICTs, he said, were increasingly becoming the backbone of teaching and the SED had emphasised on this and the need for them to foster scientific research, technological progress and innovation.

On the last day of the SED, the senior experts visited centres of excellence in and outside Dakar, including the Knowledge City, that is currently under construction, which will bring together Senegal's higher education and research communities and promote innovation and scientific culture, among others.

They also toured the Amadou Mahtar Mbow University that is currently being constructed on the outskirts of Dakar. The university will take 30,000 students upon completion concentrating in science and innovation.

This SED was organised by the ECA and Senegal's Higher Education, Research and Innovation Ministry.

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