A Plea for Change
In our discussions with policy-makers from the European Union (EU) and the African Union (AU), as well as researchers and university vice-chancellors, our thinking about the need to commit to changing the African knowledge society through investing in universities has evolved.
At the core of our demands within The Guild and ARUA (African Research Universities Alliance) is still the creation of African clusters of excellence – these could address societal challenges that are key strategic concerns for the AU and the EU, build up south-south collaboration, and strengthen the capacities of African universities for the long term. They could also bring a new dimension to African-European scientific collaboration. In this way, African universities could meet the fast rising demand for university education, train the next generations of scientists and innovators, and produce knowledge which local societies need. It would transform the capacity of African public universities to enhance economic growth and technological change.
We are also calling attention to our demands to enhance the capacity of the African science system to support excellent science. This requires the creation of a pan-African research funding scheme to support frontier science. It also entails the strengthening of science policy, through appropriate institutions ensuring that decisions are based on evidence and data about national and African science production.
We do need to take additional note of the very significant extra funding which the EU has made available to African researchers and universities this year. The African Initiative in Horizon Europe has earmarked €350m in 2021-22 for collaborative projects between Europe and Africa. Erasmus+ also invites applications for strategic partnerships with significantly enhanced funding available. There is significant capacity for synergies between the NDICI instrument and these calls for individual projects, while the Global Gateways initiative strengthens the call for synergies to enhance infrastructure funding. If we are bold and imaginative, we are on the verge of being able to implement a wholistic vision for how the capacity of African science can be transformed.
Such an enhanced commitment by the AU and the EU to recognise the importance of science and higher education to the African knowledge society requires the support and commitment of national governments in Africa. There needs to be an urgent commitment to raise spending on research, innovation and higher education as a percentage of GDP, coupled with a vision for how strengthening research universities can benefit the whole nation. This is a commitment that can be supported also by national European agencies. And it is a commitment that could be underwritten by often multinational companies operating in individual countries, and who are set to gain by the creation of a more skilled workforce.
Europe’s universities could support this transformation through developing long-term partnerships with African universities. Such partnerships would have to be based on mutuality and equity. For this, institutions, scientists, academies and subject associations should accelerate a critical debate about the indebtedness of universities and science to colonialism and post-colonial structures. This is about how we view science and how we articulate it, and it is about reforming our curricula. Developing equal partnerships is not only about resources. It must begin by fully acknowledging the contributions of African researchers and communities to our knowledge production in past and present.
Strengthening African universities through the AU-EU strategic partnership is thus not only about changing African universities. It is also about transforming Europe's Universities - their self-understanding, their sense of global connectedness, and how they translate this within their communities, through the curriculum, and within the science system. It should prompt us to reflect deeply on how we think about science, how we teach it, and how we communicate this to the wider public.
See the latest ARUA-The Guild statement (17 December) here.