Participants across research universities in Africa came together to deliberate on the future of higher education at the African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA) fourth International Biennial conference hosted by the University of Lagos (UNILAG), Akoka.
The African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA) which comprises of seventeen prominent universities across ten African countries was aimed to provide a platform for further research collaborations among universities.
The conference with the theme: “Reimagining the Future of Higher Education in Africa is a 3-day conference commencing from Wednesday, November 15 to Friday, November 17, 2023.
In her welcome address the Vice-Chancellor, University of Lagos, Prof. Folasade Ogunsola said the conference was apt because higher institutions are going through a major change, which is engendered by changes in the social space and the advent of technology.
According to her, over the years, the ARUA has been at the forefront of redirecting the collective thinking towards intentionally addressing the existential crisis that bedevil us as a people.
She however, said thinking into the future, there is the need for universities across Africa to think very strategically and how to go about it.
“Secondly, how do we then develop these answers to the development problems that we have here.
“Part of this, is collaboration and how do we collaborate in an equitable manner? I can say we have a lot to share with the world, but over time, colonialism and even how we talk about ourselves has degrade our thoughts.
“I think one of the things we are trying to do across the universities in Africa, is to give us back the pride in appreciating our own indigenous knowledge, but not only that, making sure that we actually validate, so that we can export that to the world.
She also added that there is the need for African universities to be engaging more with the public, engaging more with policy makers and moving from there, identifying and talking to people.
Looking back to the first conference by ARUA, the Vice Chancellor said this is the second time the conference will be hosted by a West African university as the first was held in Ghana. “So far, we’ve had good report. I think the topic is extremely apt and really a topical thing. It really speaks to the challenges of tertiary education and everyone in the world not just here in Africa.
“Ours might have been added problems of inadequate funding, but if you speak to anyone across the globe, it is always inadequate funding but ours is at the critical level and till we take it seriously, we will continue to have the same problems.
“But I will say one of the things that would come out of here is what does transnational education look like. How do we expose our students to the best that the world has to offer?” she said.
The keynote speaker, Director, School Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London, Prof. Adam Habib who spoke on the topic: ‘Reinventing Higher Education in the 21st Century: Bridging the Gap between National Agendas and Transnational Challenges said the great task of institutions at the moment is to develop institutional capacities and to build human capabilities across the world to address the transnational challenges.
He added that it is worthy of note that ARUA and the Guild of Universities have agreed on research partnerships and ARUA itself have several other research and teaching partnerships.” But the fear is that these initiatives still left the margins of our operations and we are building an enterprise that is too slow for the challenges that we confront.
“Our ability to address the challenges is dependent on us acting as a collective human community. It is critical to our survival as individual. We must learn to move together. To address this transnational challenges we need to bring wisdom from all parts of the world together.
“For instance we could not understand the Ebola outbreak in West Africa a few years ago with a purely clinical approach.
We needed to adopt a multidisciplinary research to understand certain factors and help to adapt them to prevent the spread of the virus because such global solutions are dependent on local knowledge.”
He added that any interventions need to be rooted in the cultural social and technological realities of the context.
This, he said requires academic professionals and other stakeholders to engage together across national boundaries and in the process of that, global solutions will be found.
“This is what it means to suggest that science should have no boundaries. It should be a continuous process of engagement and application between the universal and the local university community.
“We need more inventors, scientist, technology, social, academics and students, in short innovators to develop more innovations.
He however said for this to happen, institutions of higher learning need an enabling environment for students. “We need universities and vocational colleges into research. We need companies.
“We need incubators that can venture new technologies. In this era of globalisation, we have more global partnerships, more scholarships across the world, yet it is also in this period in which the brain drain has drastically escalated and this is because a number of countries in the global north are repeatedly recruiting international students from the global south, charging them a premium fee, and subsidizing the cost of their higher education system.
“There has to be a self-sustaining logic to the operation and business architecture of the program itself. In essence the argument here is not to stop the mobility of students but to call them to institutions of their own that enable training in the countries of the global south.
“The strategic purpose is to enable the continuous cycle of institutional development in learning across the universities of our nations and in particular, the institutions in the global south.
The central purpose is to bring higher education and Postgraduate training to wider and wider social groups in the global south hence the basis for the foundation of a more responsive university knowledge production system and this is when we’ll be able to address the global challenges of our time.
In his goodwill message, the Governor of Lagos State, Mr. Babajide Sanwoolu, represented by the Commissioner, Tertiary Education, Mr. Tolani Sule said the journey of the African Research Universities Alliance has been a testament to the power of unity in advancing education and research on the continent.
He added that together every one has witnessed the strides made by the Alliance in creating a platform for the exchange of ideas, thus fostering collaborative research initiatives and nurturing the talents of the next generation of African leaders.
“Today, we stand on the precipice of progress, where the dreams and aspirations of our students, educators and policy makers converge.”
L-R: Interim Vice-Chancellor, University of Cape Town, Emeritus Professor Dayo Reddy ; Deputy Head of the School of Education University of the Witwatersrand. Prof Emmanuel Ojo; Vice Chancellor University of London , Prof Wendy Thomson CBE; Host .Vice Chancellor, University of Lagos, Prof Folasade Ogunsola, during the Fourth ARUA Biennial international Conference on Reimagining the Future of Higher Education in Africa, held at the University of Lagos on Wednesday.
According to him. It is a moment of immense opportunity, where there is the power to create lasting impact and shape the destiny of the continent.
“We acknowledge the challenges that persist in the realm of higher education, yet, within these challenges lie opportunities for transformation and progress. It therefore our collective responsibility to address the barriers that hinder the full realization of Africa’s academic potential,” he stated.
Secretary General, ARUA, Prof. Ernest Aryeetey said the idea of the conference is to increase pressure on universities in the region to think more creatively about how higher education should be organized.
“So it is about what is new, what are the different challenges that African economies and societies face and how can universities contribute to finding solution.
Aryeetey who is also the former Vice Chancellor of the University of Ghana added that ARUA’s aim is to bridge new technologies, changing improving governance; making sure that the relationship between the university and government remains good.
“There are countries where the relationship between the university and government is extremely bad and there isn’t much freedom to do a research, there isn’t much freedom to teach the students what they need to know; there are many things that need to improve and ARUA is about helping African governments and their people appreciate better how their universities should be run,” he explained.
The Board Chairman, ARUA, and Vice Chancellor, Makerere University, Prof. Barnabas Nawangwe stated that there is a must for African universities to move faster and be more intentional to increase the number of researchers in Africa and that’s the only sure way Africa’s problem can be solved.
“I am very happy that we laid the foundation for ARUA for over 3 years which I believe is the most vibrant organization of universities in Africa that should lead transformation. I am happy that ARUA has brought together the best minds in Africa to try and solve these problems. I am happy that the center of excellence that we have created have become a vibrant meeting point of knowledgeable individuals.
The Chairman, Local Organising Committee, Prof. Grace Otinwa in her remarks opined that the theme of the Conference, “Reimagining the Future of Higher Education in Africa,” resonates deeply with the transformative journey every one envision for continent.
“Navigating the complexities and challenges of the 21st century has made clear that the future of our countries, our region and indeed our world is tied to the quality of education we are able to provide as universities.
Your role at this Conference is to contribute uniquely and significantly to designing the pathways for that future.
“This Conference offers a vital platform for us to engage in meaningful discussions, share groundbreaking research, and collaboratively explore innovative solutions that will shape the trajectory of higher education in Africa. The challenges we face are numerous and multifaceted but it within these challenges that we find opportunities to redefine and elevate the quality of higher education we offer in our continent.
“But let us not only reimagine the future of higher education in Africa, let us commit ourselves to turning these visions into tangible realities that will uplift our societies.