Universities could play a crucial role in the developing world but are restricted by an internationalisation agenda in the West that is self- interested and must change, European academics have been warned.
A White Paper presented by the European University Association this week made the case for considering the development of universities in Africa and the developing world a key part of the internationalisation agenda within the academy.
Speaking ahead of a conference in Brussels on 28 September to discuss the report, Michael Gaebel, head of international strategy and cooperation at the EUA, said until now European universities had only viewed internationalisation in terms of what it could do for them.
"We have a good discussion on internationalism in higher education, and everybody is aware of it. But what we sometimes forget is that development cooperation is part of that," Mr Gaebel said.
He argued that too many universities saw reaching out to the world as a chance to partner with other major, established institutions rather than to help less prestigious universities in Africa, for example, to improve.
"We have to focus on not only attracting students and academics from universities in developed countries, but also considering capacity building as part of internationalisation," Mr Gaebel said.
He argued that European governments had failed to include universities within their strategies for development in Africa although they could play a central role.
The White Paper, Africa-Europe Higher Education Cooperation for Development: Meeting Regional and Global Challenges, adds: "For universities, there is a clear message: there should be a reflection on the ways in which development cooperation is carried out across the institution and how this could be better aligned with internationalisation objectives."
Meanwhile, Edinburgh Business School at Heriot-Watt University has launched an African scholarship programme giving 250 people the change to study for an MBA with the institution - the largest scheme in Africa offered by a UK university. The programme will allow 50 students a year for five years to complete the business school's distance-learning MBA.