Africa fund lifts off

December 9, 2005

African higher education leaders this week welcomed the UK's first grant towards the revival of African universities. But they view the £200,000 awarded to the Association of Commonwealth Universities in response to Tony Blair's Commission for Africa report as a drop in the ocean.

The commission called in March for a renewal of African universities with funding of US$5 billion (£2.8 billion) over ten years. The UK donation follows a commitment of US$200 million over five years from six of the largest US foundations through the Partnership for Higher education in Africa programme, which runs in seven African countries.

Akilagpa Sawyerr, secretary-general of the Ghana-based Association of African Universities (AAU), said the continent was "looking to the UK to lead" the international effort. "The grant will make a start, but the money is always too little."

The money will not leave London, however, as it is restricted to UK-based initiatives. The AAU is pressing for an equivalent award from the Department for International Development (DfID).

Bill Rammell, the Higher Education Minister, announced during an official visit to South Africa last week that his department's money would support the establishment of an Africa unit within the ACU that would work to build partnerships between UK and African universities.

"The education department does not fund international development, so there has to be something in it for the UK education sector," Mr Rammell said.

The grant would support collaboration between UK universities and African counterparts.

Mr Rammell said earlier that Britain wanted to use its expertise to help revitalise African higher education and "enrich our own understanding of African issues".

Professor Sawyerr said the AAU was hopeful that DfID money would be forthcoming, but that negotiations were "not yet complete".

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