Stakeholders engaged in higher education in Africa gathered in Gaborone, Botswana from 25th to 30th July 2017 to map out transformations necessary to increase the contribution of higher agricultural education to Africa’s development. Convened by the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM) in partnership with Botswana University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (BUAN), the meeting was attended by representatives from the World Bank, African Union Commission, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), South African Development Cooperation (SADC), Association of African Universities (AAU), Inter-University Council for East Africa (IUCEA), South Africa’s National Research Foundation (NRF), African Women in Agricultural Research for Development (AWARD), OCP Policy Centre in Morocco, Western and Central African Council for Agricultural Research for Development (CORAF/WECARD), independent consultants in the area of higher education in Africa and representatives from African universities.
The meeting was convened to review challenges facing the agricultural sector and identify solutions that the higher agricultural education could offer in enhancing the performance of the sector and its contribution to economic development. There was consensus on the need to shift from merely fit-for-purpose to creative models of agricultural higher education that make agriculture attractive to young people while creating impact in rural communities and serving the needs of industry. Training that presents farming as a lucrative business along the agri-food value chain and attracts young people to engage was identified as a new paradigm in training that African universities need to adopt. Creative arts such as music, dance and drama, in addition to the traditional mode of higher education delivery, were presented as possible new ways of attracting young people into pursing agriculture courses at tertiary education level and retaining them within the sector.
Based on experiences shared, it emerged that education models that integrate the private sector and communities during higher education training produced higher quality graduates that created positive impact in society. The stakeholders present thus agreed to build on and scale out successful models of higher agricultural education that identified and integrated end user needs.
The role of policies and policy champions was also underscored as key in creating an enabling environment for transforming universities and other higher education institutions to produce quality graduates, relevant research as well as reach out to communities and industry. Participants agreed to rally behind the African Union Commission’s Committee of 10 Heads of State (C10) championing Education, Science and Technology development in Africa. The meeting therefore constituted the Second Expert Planning Meeting (following the first meeting held in Malawi in May 2017) for the C10. The meeting further reaffirmed the need for quality data for evidence-based planning, ensuring strong policies continentally to create an enabling environment for higher education and constitution of a core working group to support the activities of the Committee.
Within institutions, the role of leadership and management was emphasised as key to putting in place relevant incentive systems to drive institutional change. Success stories of transformation were shared and highlighted the need for continuous lesson sharing and capacity development.
To achieve greater impact, participants recognised that no single player can achieve it alone and underscored the need for collaboration and partnership among actors if impact is to be realised at scale. Proposed areas of collaboration included Phase One and Two of the World Bank African Centres of Excellence (ACE) implemented by AAU and IUCEA, East African and Western African productivity programmes (EAPP and WAPP), among others. The partnerships and collaborations are expected to be among universities, national governments, regional networks and other actors to jointly respond to emerging issues. Partnerships should also incorporate gender inclusive programming and participation with clear targets.
The higher agricultural education transformation agenda will require bold steps to be taken in order to implement the recommendations identified in the meeting. The actors present were a fair representation of key actors on the continent and will provide an excellent launch pad for moving forward. The C10 will play a critical role in ensuring that the relevant policies are enacted and/or implemented as well as securing buy-in from other Heads of State to create a higher education sector that addresses the aspirations of Africa’s Agenda 2063. Finally, participants endorsed RUFORUM to develop a regional programme for strengthen higher agricultural education in Africa (SHAEA).