Consultancy Opportunities: Country Level Study on the Status of the Higher Agricultural Education Sector
Science, technology and innovation is critical for responding to the challenges of African agriculture and to elevate its performance and contribution towards economic development and poverty alleviation. Universities have a key role to play in producing the next generation of the African workforce, including researchers/scientists, extension and advisory service practitioners, input dealers and other development practitioners that are expected to generate, translate, extend and share knowledge with rural farmers to increase agricultural productivity, agribusiness and incomes. Trained human resources in a wide range of topics, aligned to the Science Agenda for African Agriculture, are central to stimulating science-based technology innovation. Research has shown the returns to investment in higher education are around 20%, and in Africa closer to 30% (Borland et al., 2000; Montenegro and Patrinos, 2013; USAID, 2014). These are higher returns to investments than in both secondary and primary education.
Although higher education enrolment and graduation rates have increased considerably gross enrolment ratios remain low, with only 6% of Africans enrolled in universities (Bloom et al., 2006) compared to 40% in Latin America and 94% in North America. Moreover, the increase has come at the expense of quality with expenditure per student falling significantly. There is thus an urgent need to invest in higher education and for higher education to transform itself to produce the quality of graduates and knowledge needed to achieve the African Unions Agenda 2063.
The current expansion in both public and private higher education system in Africa without strategic reform is not likely to respond to the challenges the agriculture sector is facing and may rather exacerbate current institutional challenges. The low number of qualified faculty members (PhD level staff in most universities range between 20-40% of academic staffing) are likely to be stretched further to meet the teaching and other demands of the expanding education systems. Only a small proportion of the about 1500 public and private universities offer graduate programs (Hayward and Ncayiyana, 2014). Key reported challenges for universities include: a) increased student enrolments that are not balanced with requisite staff increases, nor infrastructure and facilities, nor funding; b) inadequate opportunities to undertake research and for training at MSc and PhD level; c) low funding and investments in higher education institutions; and d) weak monitoring and evaluation frameworks that do not adequately link performance of universities to funding frameworks.
African higher education needs to be transformed so that it produces the graduates and research that will increase the use of science, technology and innovation for economic growth and ensure an Africa that is food secure. Investments must be targeted to ensure the development of strong local post-graduate programmes and to transform universities so that they use modern technologies applied to local situations to provide the human resources that Africa needs for tomorrow. The Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM) invites suitably qualified individuals to undertake an assessment of higher education systems, with specific emphasis on the agricultural sector with view of identifying current gaps to support science and technology in national agricultural innovation systems. At least four countries will be assessed including Benin. The assessment should provide information on the current gaps and strengths at selected African universities. These assessments will provide the base material for input into policy dialogues and finally towards decisions at the Heads of States meeting in January 2016.
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