Strengthening Science, Technology and Innovation in Africa
Written by: Paulina Atim
On the 1st May 2017, Africa Universities facilitated a three-day technical expert meeting to discuss issues affecting higher education in Africa. The meeting took place at the Bingi International Conference Centre (BICC) in Lilongwe, Malawi. The key messages from this consultation will be presented to the committee of 10 Heads of State set up by the African Union to champion education, science and technology development in the continent. A number of stakeholders including academia, policy makers and government officials participated in this meeting. The 10 Heads of State meeting will be held in the second half of 2017.
A number of themes were deliberated upon including possible mechanisms for strengthening higher education, as a key driver for economic development in the continent. As of now investments to this sector is very low, averaging only 0.45% of the targeted 1% agreed upon by African Governments ten years ago. Yet the return to higher education is very high, averaging about 20% in the continent. Investment in higher education from the government and private sector is necessary in order to achieve the SDG goals and the African Union Agenda 2063. Various actions are therefore needed to enable the continent achieve these goals. Harnessing science and technology capacity for innovation in Africa is paramount now and will continue to be critical for the development in Africa.
During the discussion, it was noted that an increase in student enrolment in higher education is a necessity for Africa. Currently, only a limited number of young people are enrolled in higher education in African universities compared to the rest of the world. Although fewer students are enrolling, it should be noted that universities also lack the necessary financial support to expand existing infrastructure to accommodate the increase on the number of students in higher education. Consequently, this has resulted in few PhDs in African universities that is contributing to the shortage of personnel with advanced degrees and staff at the universities to fill the gaps left by professors retiring. As such there is very low staffing (averaging less than 40%) in most African universities, unable to offer quality higher education.
Further, transformational entrepreneurship is imperative for the creation of employment opportunities. Curriculum need to be changed to incorporate trans-disciplinary between education and entrepreneurship through experiential learning to have graduates with practical skills. This would contribute to curbing the huge unemployment rate in Africa with graduates becoming job creators other than job seekers.
Overall, for Africa to achieve Agenda 2063, we must invest more in higher education as it is linked to economic development. This was a recurring point made throughout the meeting and in the papers presented for discussion.