Universities on the continent are calling for the establishment of a Higher Education Fund for Africa to aid in the strengthening of teaching capacity in the institutions. They argue that such a fund would also help to boost the number of women faculty and researchers engaged in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, also known as STEM fields, in higher learning institutions.
The 129 member universities of the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM), drawn from 38 countries, further want the African Union (AU) as well as governments to take up the mantle and lead the initiative.
“We call upon the AU Commission and the Committee of 10 African Heads of State and Governments (C10) championing Education, Science and Technology in Africa, to create a Higher Education Fund for Africa for strengthening staff capacities and increasing the pool of women scientists in African universities,” they pleaded in a statement issued on 17 June during a virtual pre-United Nations Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) dialogue event.
The 2021 Food Systems pre-summit is scheduled to take place from 26-28 July.
The Committee of 10 was formed by the general assembly of the African Union in 2015, with the aim of championing education, science, technology, training and innovation as agents and key drivers in attainment of Africa’s development agenda. Current members of the committee include Namibia, Malawi, Mauritius, Kenya, Tunisia, Egypt, Gabon, Chad, Sierra Leone and Senegal.
In addition, the institutions asked governments to intensify their efforts to mobilise resources for different initiatives in Africa that support human capital development with the potential of increasing the continent’s capability in research and innovation as well as entrepreneurship, said the statement delivered at the event hosted by RUFORUM.
“Specifically, we propose that efforts should be directed towards ensuring that the results of investments in university education, training, research, innovation, and outreach programmes, in particular the highly skilled alumni and technologies generated, are integrated and used to stimulate local and continent-wide economic recovery and socio-economic development,” they said in a statement read by Professor Teresa Akenga, the vice-chancellor of the University of Eldoret, Kenya.
Food systems research
With respect to food systems, they requested that efforts be directed towards strengthening research to generate technologies and innovations that enhance agricultural productivity and value addition.
Efforts should also be made to improve nutrition, post-harvest management and in responding to emerging threats, including climate change and environmental degradation.
The institutions committed themselves to working with national, regional and international partners from both public and private sectors and civil society, to improve the quality of higher education, research and innovation, and to build capability and facilitate “equitable access to knowledge and skills”.
One way in which the government of Malawi was trying to improve the quality of higher education and research was through strengthening the “education value chain”, said Agnes Makonda Nyalonje, Malawi’s minister of education.
The ministry she noted, was also implementing reforms in a number of other areas including the promotion of “evidence-informed policy- and decision-making and in emphasising good governance”.
In addition, the education ministry had introduced two new directorates, the directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation (STI), and the directorate of Open, Distance, and e-Learning (ODeL).
“The STI directorate will facilitate the mainstreaming of science, technology and innovation in the curriculum, including agriculture, across all levels of education, from pre-primary to higher education. The ODeL directorate will work to increase access to education and to ensure continuity of learning in emergencies, such as the COVID-19 pandemic,” Nyalonje told the meeting.
The Southern African nation was working to strengthen linkages between its universities and the private sector, so as to provide students with work-based experience and opportunities for apprenticeship and internship.
In addition, the minister noted that the government was constantly seeking to obtain international support that could facilitate the development of “innovative academic programmes”.
One such innovative academic course had been the introduction of a PhD degree in Food Systems at the Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and the World Bank-sponsored training in fisheries science through the African Centre of Excellence project, Aquafish, also at the university.
At the same time, the minister added, Malawi was supporting postgraduate research in agriculture that would lead to both commercialisation and industrialisation, in line with the country’s development Agenda MW2063. This was in addition to the introduction of vocational schools and community technical colleges, some of them offering agriculture-related training.
According to Dr Yemi Akinbamijo, the executive director of the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa, Africa remained the most “science starved” continent in the world. This, he said, called for increased investment in agricultural research from the current average 1% of agricultural gross domestic product.
He added that the continent could not afford to underestimate the role of research in improving agriculture and enhancing the food systems in Africa, and research institutions should continue to apply and promote science and technology to decrease food insecurity and end malnutrition on the continent.
The pre-UNFSS dialogues in Africa will climax on 1 July during a heads of state and government event to which a number of presidents and government leaders have been invited and are expected to attend, said Adipala Ekwamu, the executive secretary of RUFORUM.
The UNFSS has been designed to, among other matters, raise awareness and provoke public discussion on reforming food systems for the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals, he noted.
The universities’ organisation RUFORUM has been picked by the United Nations as one of the UNFSS champions, to “mobilise a diverse range of voices in every part of the world, to engage and develop an inclusive coalition for the transformation of food systems through coordinated actions before, during and after the summit,” said Adipala.
Earlier in June, universities called for increased investment in research and innovation to allow scientists to explore factors of agricultural production that could be utilised for enhancing sustainable food production and consumption on the continent.
They appealed to actors in Africa’s development, including governments, to raise funding for science to ensure that resources such as land and water are used sustainably, and to ensure that appropriate technologies are generated for the benefit of its growing population.