Cooperation between European and African universities must become a political priority, according to higher education leaders.
Ahead of a meeting in Libya between politicians from the two continents, the Association of African Universities (AAU) and the European University Association (EUA) - which together represent more than 1,000 universities - have argued that there is "no time to lose".
Universities in Africa and Europe need to work together to address global challenges including climate change, security and migration, the two organisations say.
With African universities facing many obstacles, stronger partnerships and greater mobility of staff and students would help to boost both teaching and research.
But the AAU and EUA fear that the importance of cooperation between universities across the two continents has not been sufficiently recognised in political dialogue.
They have called for leaders at the third Africa-EU Summit, which will be held in Tripoli on 29 and 30 November, to give higher education a stronger position in the Africa-EU Strategic Partnership.
A recent report on the outcome of a two-year project, Africa-Europe Higher Education Cooperation for Development: Meeting Regional and Global Challenges, says that "urgent action" is needed to ensure that African countries have the necessary higher education capacity to respond to local and global challenges.
The current enrolment rate for sub-Saharan Africa in university education is estimated at about 6 per cent, compared with a global average of 26 per cent.
Many African universities face growing demand but insufficient public investment, difficulties retaining staff and poor ICT, and there are concerns about the quality and relevance of learning and research, according to the report.
Lack of governmental and institutional policy, lack of financial support and lack of infrastructure are all problems, it says. But it adds that partnerships should have mutual benefits and that academic mobility needs to be two-way.
The report calls for action to increase partnerships, research collaboration, joint degrees and the mobility of staff and students, and to reduce brain drain from Africa.