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April 5, 2015

Responding To: Week 10: University Action

Supporting Education and Development in Africa: Beyond MOOCs and Frantz Fanon

Wilmot Allen

For sub-Saharan Africa, there is a true symbiosis between development and education. As Dr. Olugbemiro Jegede, Secretary General of the Association of African Universities, has observed, “no economic, social, political and other development in Africa can truly eventuate without educational development. Education, and higher education in particular, is the fulcrum and pivot upon which all other developments rest and rotate around."

The Economist magazine’s recent cover story, “The World is Going to University”, explored whether the ever-increasing cost of higher education delivers a suitable return on investment for American students. The article asserted that the evidence is inconclusive when considering the relatively poor global ranking of American graduates in literacy and numeracy. For many international development stakeholders, a more alarming observation was that more people are now engaged in higher education in most places around the world, except Africa.

Educational reforms and international financial investment in higher educations have helped increase graduate enrollment in sub-Saharan Africa. This holds promise for increasing skilled labor. A 2012 report on education published by Africa Economic Outlook indicates that, while progress has been made in addressing the labor demand for engineering and IT training, preparation for skilled workers in extractive industries, logistics, agribusiness, pharma, and manufacturing are challenged. The distance learning and MOOC model for sharing intellectual capital across the Atlantic Ocean is impaired by technology and power limitations.

While an increasing number of American universities have an institutional connection with sub-Saharan Africa, opportunities exist to support sustainable development through creating more formal channels for contributions by the Africa diaspora and providing research and technical support for entrepreneurship.

Universities should find creative ways to incentivize more African students educated in the US to utilize their training in Africa. Offering more graduate/PhD scholarships to promising students, particularly women, who will return to teach in higher educational institutions would help. Another approach could be collaborating with corporations on recruitment strategies that offer greater financial incentives for employees taking medium term assignments in Africa. Coordination of professional development resources focusing on African alumni across universities could provide a more efficient way to pair talent with opportunity.

American universities should also pursue partnerships focusing on technical and professional training for entrepreneurs. Faculty exchanges with African institutions of higher learning and tech transfer with selected businesses are worth greater investment. Stronger ties with research departments of African institutions of higher education can facilitate the development of high growth businesses to the extent that more universities in Africa are connecting to or launching innovation hubs. These hubs are not only attracting the investment but also supply chain partners and potential customers. Technical training focusing on African solutions to African problems offers value beyond liberal arts education.

Wilmot Allen is a Ph.D. candidate in the department of Government at Georgetown University, where he researches comparative political economy of Africa, the Middle East and Asia. In addition, Allen works as Principal of 1 World Enterprises, an advisory firm focusing on emerging markets.

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