We were at the Development Studies Association Conference at York University on 21st September for a Panel on “New Alliances in Higher Education: Europe and Africa”
Chair: Job Akuni (JEFCAS, University of Bradford, UK)
Discussant: Dr Milton Obamba (Leeds Metropolitan University, UK)
Presenters: Dr Anna Mdee (JEFCAS, University of Bradford, UK)
Professor Germain Ngoie Tshibambe (University of Lubumbashi, DRC)
Professor Faustin Kamzuora (Mzumbe University, Tanzania)
About the Panel:
This single session panel offered a critical analysis of the potential for partnerships between Higher Educational (HE) institutions in Europe and Africa to build new alliances in teaching and research. It explored how HE partnerships under certain conditions can enhance teaching and research capacity, transform curriculum and improve student skills and experience. In addition, the papers demonstrated how alliances between HE institutions can offer significant opportunities for internationalisation and cross-cultural learning. However, the presentations were critical of partnerships and argued that they can also be problematic in terms of differentials in resources and expectations, power relationships and a tendency towards ‘academic tourism’. Therefore, in this panel we brought together contributions from academics based in European and African institutions and presented rigorous and critical analyses of our institutional engagement with partnerships. The overall aim of the panel was to consider how such partnerships can be transformational in the context of expanding HE in Africa and public spending cuts in Europe.
Dr. Anna Mdee examined the nature and function of higher education in Africa, and explored whether partnership between institutions in the Global North and South help to meet the current capacity challenge. After a critical exploration of the contemporary shifts taking place in higher education around the world and how this has been transforming academic and professional identities, Anna analysed the rationales that drive the process of ‘internationalization’ of higher education and argued that internationalisation and globalisation present both a challenge and an opportunity for the rapidly expanding systems of higher education in Africa. The paper examined the mechanics of how international partnerships might support the development of Higher Education institutions in Africa and the pitfalls and potentials of such collaborations. In conclusion, her presentation reflected on the ‘success’ story of the long-term collaborative relationship between the Universities of Bradford (UK) and Mzumbe (Tanzania).
Meanwhile, Professor Germain’s main focus was on how globalization has impacted higher education institutions in Africa in general and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in particular. He observed that HE institutions in the DRC are witnessing a crisis due to a reduction in state funding. Nevertheless, he asserts that international partnerships in higher education sector are filling in some gaps in the HE sector in the DRC. Despite the good intentions of the international partnerships, Germain argues that some of the ‘positive’ impact of collaboration clash with ‘local’ norms. In addition, his paper examined the dynamics in the context of the existing collaboration between the University of Lubumbashi and some Belgium Universities. Finally, Germain emphasised the need for new values and impetus for letting higher education institutions meet their functions which are relevant to the contemporary national and local society needs.
Lastly, Professor Kamuzora presentation traced the first recorded institutions known as a university to Africa (Fes in Morocco in 869 AD and Cairo in Egypt in 975AD). He examined the historical development of roles of universities in development and demonstrated how effective universities cannot be removed from society’s aspirations. His paper argued that unless universities in developing countries embark on constant task of reviewing their relevance, they cannot serve their societies effectively. In addition, he noted that universities must constantly question themselves on the extent they are addressing public policies such sustainable development. Moreover, the paper outlines possible aspirations of such public policies such as the promotion of economic and industrial development, the eradication of poverty, the resolution of conflicts, enforcing rule of law and the optimum use of natural resources. Similarly, it asserted that universities in developing countries must inculcate liberation of mind and intellectual emancipation to their graduates.
Kamuzora’s paper employed institutional and knowledge management perspectives to demonstrate the potential role of universities in developing countries, using the case of Mzumbe University, in implementation of the development agenda while aiming to combat poverty in Tanzania. He used Mzumbe University motto of “Tujifunze Kwa Maendeleo Ya Watu” in his paper in discussing the the recent public policy, Kilimo Kwanza programme – a programmes designed to improve economic wellbeing of Tanzanians through enhanced agricultural productivity. In conclusion, the paper demonstrated how partnership between universities from the North with those in the South, if deployed carefully, can enhance the development agenda.
Discussions: Participants noted that although the benefits of higher education partnerships are enormous (internationalisation, multidisciplinarity, multiculturalism, etc), concerns were raised pertaining to the main motivation for partnerships between universities in Europe and Africa, how sustainable they can be and whether overemphasising international partnerships does not risk undermining intra-African universities partnerships. Nevertheless, the Bradford-Mzumbe universities partnership model provided a unique case that assuaged all the fears that the participants had about the challenges that HE partnership between Europe and Africa may pose.