The 13th ANIE (African Network for Internationalization of Education) conference, held in Zanzibar, offered a platform for academic leaders and experts to discuss key issues related to internationalization, higher education, and the challenges faced by African universities. The conference was marked by insightful discussions and reflections on the state of higher education in Africa and the path forward for meaningful internationalization.
In the opening address, Prof. Goski Alabi, the Chairperson of the conference, emphasized the importance of every voice being heard and the evolving forms of internationalization of education. Key topics included issues surrounding visas, student mobility, credit transfer, and academic credentials. Prof. Alabi highlighted the transformations that have taken place in recent years and the need for mutual partnership in addressing these challenges.
The keynote address by Prof. Goolam Mohamedbhai, titled "Higher Education in Africa – Quest for Relevance and Impact," commended ANIE for its achievements but stressed the ongoing challenge of funding. He noted that most private universities in Africa have low enrollment, and female participation in science and technology fields remains limited. While there has been a significant increase in PhDs, the number of researchers relative to the population is still low. Research publications are primarily in internationally referenced journals, and African institutions often seek global rankings. Prof. Mohamedbhai questioned the relevance of higher education in Africa, given significant graduate unemployment and the need for increased emphasis on relevance and impact.
Prof. Mohamedbhai highlighted several key insights:
- Graduate unemployment is a significant issue, driven by a mismatch between skills and industry needs, reluctance to work in rural areas, and the prevalence of small and medium-sized enterprises with limited capacity for absorbing graduates.
- There is an overemphasis on obtaining PhDs, which are often limited to universities and lack impact on societal challenges.
- African universities heavily rely on donor funding, and there's a tendency to follow the development of higher education in the Global North.
- The latest UNDP report casts doubt on Africa's ability to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and points to a lack of intra-African partnerships.
The proposed pathways forward include establishing reliable data and increasing research within African universities to enable accurate policy development and the potential creation of sub-regional Centers for Higher Education Research. Additionally, the conference emphasized the importance of decolonization in higher education, recognizing the significance of local languages and developing curricula that reflect African realities.
Diversity and differentiation in the higher education system were also discussed, focusing on better matching the needs of different regions and industries. Climate change and artificial intelligence were acknowledged as critical challenges and opportunities for African higher education.
In conclusion, the conference highlighted the importance of African higher education institutions actively participating in the global arena. Meaningful and equitable partnerships with institutions worldwide are crucial for addressing the challenges faced by African higher education.
Participants furthermore actively took part in three panel discussions, attended six workshops, and collectively presented 30 papers. Alexandra Grieshofer and Julia Lichtkoppler from the APPEAR Office shared their experience on APPEAR and Africa-UniNet in the presentation "Creating frameworks for cooperation: Achievements, challenges and future directions in funding higher education and research cooperations between African countries and Austria".
During the panel discussions, several key themes emerged, including the tension between globalization and localization in internationalization efforts, the significance of decolonization as a localizing force in higher education, and the need to define knowledge and competencies relevant to Africa's specific needs. The impact of international partnerships on policy guidelines and the equitable sharing of research findings was also discussed, as well as the diversity of curricula across different regions in Africa and the potential for intra-university partnerships and the need for critical infrastructure.
The conference underscored the imperative of enhancing the relevance and impact of higher education in Africa, ultimately addressing the continent's unique challenges and opportunities. It emphasized the importance of collaboration, the localization of education, and the promotion of research that directly serves African societies and governments.