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Dec 20, 2018 at 12:00am ET By Joanna Hughes

At the sixth African Higher Education Week held this fall in Nairobi, Kenya, various African leaders cited the pivotal role African universities can play in helping the continent achieve its goals. Here’s a closer look at why higher education involvement is essential to progress and development in Africa.

A Call to Universities

Science is an overarching theme of both the Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy for Africa (STISA) and the AU’s Agenda 2063. Positioned to play a key role in realizing these aspirations are universities and researchers -- but only if supported in their efforts.

South African Minister of Higher Education, Naledi Pandor, said in her opening remarks, “First, universities and researchers need academic freedom and freedom of expression. The output of researchers is valuable in evidence-based decision making on science policy. [...] The work of science councils impacts on policy in areas such as agriculture health, urban development, environmental management and climate change responses.”

Pandor also highlighted the value of international collaboration. “We all need to strengthen our efforts at inclusion as we can no longer be satisfied with the inadequate innovation capacity of Africa,” she continued. 

Toward a Viable Agriculture Sector

One plenary session attended by Pandor focused on the role of universities and research institutions in shaping agriculture policies and program.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations' (FAO) representative in Kenya, Gabriel Rugalema, said, “There is no better place than higher education to propel the implementation of regional and global commitments, such as Africa’s Agenda 2063 and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  This is done by tailoring research and training programmes to existing social and economic realities to help solve societal problems.”

Pandor also called on African governments to further empower universities, “Higher education should be strengthened to support evidence-based planning, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation of the transformation Agenda, which Africa has embarked on,” she urged. 

Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.

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