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“Revitalising higher education for Africa’s future”: Such was the theme of the African Higher Education Summit, a first-time event that took place in Dakar, Senegal, from 10-12 March. Convened by the NGO TrustAfrica and hosted by the government of Senegal, the summit brought together more than 500 delegates from across the continent, including heads of state, ministers of education, and local as well as international development partners. The meeting culminated with an action plan to dramatically increase higher education participation in Africa over the next 50 years, reaching a 50% enrolment ratio by 2063.
Africa has already seen a sharp increase in higher education enrolment over the past 15 years, which has grown about 170% from 1992 to 2012. Even so, the continent lags behind the rest of the world in this area: Higher education enrolment rates in sub-Saharan Africa barely reach 8%, far behind the world average of 32%, not to mention of the 70% enrolment rates attained by developed countries. If the continent meets its goal of 50% higher education participation rates by 2063, it will be on par with the projected global average by that time. To achieve a sustainable and steady growth in higher education participation, national governments together with the private sector must commit to invest heavily in higher education, science and technology, research and innovation. The summit declaration specifically calls for coordinated investments in academic staff, infrastructure and facilities, as well as research. Indeed, Senegalese President Macky Sall urged fellow leaders allocate 1% of GDP to research within five years, doubling current expenditure, which is 0.5% on average.
The summit also focused on other areas for improvement, such as the need to improve the planning and delivery of higher education programmes at the institutional, national and continental levels. The action plan calls for the development of 200 universities as “hubs of excellence” by year 2063, as well as strengthening of the links to African scholars in the diaspora. Last but not least, the plan calls for steps to achieve a gender balance in enrolment as well as among staff within the next decade.
Ambitious goals have been laid out; the commitment to follow through has been expressed. Now is the time for action, and time will reveal the (hopefully) lasting consequences of this first African Higher Education Summit.