Developing-nation universities looking for Western partners

Institutions in poorer nations have the eager students, and hope the West is now ready to supply the expertise

September 3, 2021
Tassew Woldehanna, president of Addis Ababa University
Tassew Woldehanna, president of Addis Ababa University

Western universities truly looking to spread equity can now find developing-world partners increasingly capable of making productive use of substantial alliances, academics across the geographic divide are finding.

An early example involves the University of Toronto, which created a programme in 2003 that now sends dozens of its teaching staff every year to provide medical and academic training at Addis Ababa University.

That has helped produce more than 250 medical professionals in Ethiopia, who in turn have helped staff in 50 new universities opened since 2000 in their impoverished country.

It was clear evidence, said Joseph Wong, vice-president, international at Toronto, that Western institutions with a mission of service can make deeply meaningful contributions overseas.

Successful universities in the 21st century must look beyond what they have long regarded as their “peer” institutions, Professor Wong told Times Higher Education’s World Academic Summit.

“That means building partnerships with diverse institutions, with institutions that don’t look like ours, that bring to the table different kinds of resources,” said Professor Wong, a professor of innovation and political science at Toronto.

The help was vital, said Addis Ababa’s president, Tassew Woldehanna. The institution runs more than 100 doctoral programmes, Professor Woldehanna told the THE summit, and absolutely needed the outside help to handle the numbers of students who are willing and able to do the necessary work.

On its own, said Professor Woldehanna, a professor of economics, “We don’t have enough instructors to run more programmes.”

The Covid crisis made the deficiencies even worse, leaving Addis Ababa capable of serving only 40 per cent of its students for eight months, Professor Woldehanna said. “There is huge inequality among these people,” he said of his students.

Other major international academic partnerships aimed at tackling social challenges include the U7+ Alliance, a mix of several dozen campuses in developed and developing nations.

This year the alliance is led by Northwestern University and its associate provost of global affairs, Annelise Riles, a professor of law and anthropology who saw obstacles more within Western institutions than across foreign borders.

Faculty often were eager to help their colleagues in low-income nations, Professor Riles told the THE summit, but struggle with the campus politics. “The harder piece is to grow those coalitions internally,” she said.

For that, said Gül İnanç, co-director of the Centre for Asia Pacific Refugee Studies at the University of Auckland, more external motivations may be needed.

One important goal set forth by the United Nations involves raising to 15 per cent by 2030 the share of young refugees worldwide studying in college, Dr İnanç said. The actual figure remains stuck at about 3 per cent, she told the THE summit.

Public awareness of which universities were being most helpful with such problems, including institutional rankings that give weight to socially beneficial accomplishments, could drive progress, Dr İnanç said.

“This will lead them to look and reflect on what they’re currently doing,” she said, “and how can they do better.”

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