Continental drift towards global alliances 'not in Africa's interests'

Build bridges closer to home to stop best minds going West, conference is told. Jack Grove reports

March 22, 2012

African universities need to cooperate more closely and not rely simply on partnerships with European or US institutions.

That was the view of Olusola Oyewole, professor of food science at the University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, in Nigeria, who told the Going Global conference that African countries were too often "on the receiving end of internationalisation".

It was Western countries that tended to reap the rewards of trans-national partnerships, he said. They gained Africa's brightest minds and contributed little to African universities in terms of improving staff skills or improved management practices.

"It is easy to collaborate with universities in Europe and America, but it is much harder to create networks between Nigerian universities," said Professor Oyewole, a former Association of African Universities expert in quality assurance and academic mobility.

"We need to promote staff exchanges and networking opportunities...and set up regional centres of excellence. We need universities to see what they can do to promote [their] strengths."

The conference also heard during the 15 March session - titled "Internationalising higher education in Africa: Funding versus impact?" - that only 1 per cent of global research output comes from Africa.

"We need to focus on our young scholars and draw attention to research within African countries," Professor Oyewole said.

James Otieno Jowi, executive director of the African Network for Internationalization of Education, based at Moi University, Kenya, was also wary of the pitfalls of international partnerships between universities.

"We come to internationalisation from very different contexts and we are both looking for different things," Dr Jowi said.

"I am worried that we could be embracing internationalisation because it is trendy or that everyone else is doing it, but Africa must know why we are doing it."

He said a brain drain of talent was a huge problem for the continent but Africa was fighting against the tide of commercialisation in higher education - the key driver of internationalisation.

"We need to develop new centres of excellence in Africa so we do not always have to send our young people abroad," Dr Jowi said.

"The interests being served by internationalisation are not necessarily [those of Africa].

"We need to promote the Africanisation of internationalisation. We need to determine what we want to do and [what we want to] get out of it.

"We are not going to be like Europe for a very long time. If we are chasing this dream then we are chasing shadows."

Professor Oyewole also called for academics to speak out on the low level of state investment in research.

"It is high time that African academics discussed this issue with their governments," he said. "The more we keep quiet, the more investment in research will be low."

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