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The Erasmus Mundus-funded programme Access to Success was effectively wrapped up on 28 September 2010 with a concluding conference and the release of a ‘white paper’ entitled Africa-Europe Higher Education Cooperation for Development: Meeting Regional and Global Challenges. This work brought together the European University Association (EUA) and the Association of African Universities (AAU), along with a consortium of four other national and regional higher education organisations from Europe. The project involved several operational components, including a series of institutional surveys on access and retention in 19 European countries and 16 African countries; a first-ever Europe-Africa rectors’ dialogue; and three workshops involving university leadership, faculty, students, donors, government agencies and regional government bodies.
Access to Success was specifically designed to focus on raising awareness about access and retention issues facing both regions, as well to examine the ways in which African and European higher education institutions are “coping with the changing demands of their specific socio-economic environments”. It ultimately embraced a much wider set of topics, however; notably, the convergence of interests between development, cooperation, and the modernisation of higher education institutions and systems. The project’s leadership also noted the potential for effective collective action among higher education organisations in Europe and Africa to contribute to policy discussions in various high-level fora. For example, the EUA and AAU plan to put forward recommendations for consideration at the next Africa-EU Summit and within the context of the elaboration of higher education-related initiatives falling under the Africa-EU Strategic Partnership.
European-African engagement in this area is encouraging on a variety of levels. Both sides have much to gain from balanced, thoughtful, and substantive international engagement. However, the political and practical challenges inherent in this work remain daunting, as well, given the size and scope of the critical shortages facing Africa and the serious financial limitations facing both regions. The objectives are unquestionably worth pursuing, but patience and pragmatism will likely be as important moving forward as finely crafted policy recommendations.