International Partnerships in Higher Education Conference

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A three day International Partnership in Higher Education Conference was convened in Addis Ababa this week under the theme of “Higher Education for Development”.  The Conference organized by USAID and HED, and co-sponsored by Addis Ababa University and the Ethiopian Ministry of Education, was held to help to enable the higher learning institutions of Africa and America to work in partnership for education development. Participants included representatives of universities together with African, U.S and European higher education associations, the African Capacity Building Foundation, the World Bank, UNESCO, RUFORUM and African Union Commission. Also attending were Dr. Gebissa Ejeta, President Obama's Science Envoy, and US Ambassador to Ethiopia, Donald Booth.
The Conference was opened by the Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, who noted that the number and diversity of institutions and development partners present demonstrated both the desire and the commitment of governments and the international community, particularly the higher education communities of the U.S and Africa, to solve the societal, national and regional challenges of development. The Deputy Prime Minister acknowledged the US government’s continued interest in Africa and its support to development. He said that the globalized and knowledge-based world of today necessitated the need for greater cooperation and collaboration to alleviate poverty, build national institutional and human capacity, ensure peace and stability, improve governance and establish democratic institutions.

The Deputy Prime Minister said Ethiopia was committed to working with the U.S. government and universities to build up its institutional capacities through such efforts as the Feed the Future Initiative, the Global Health and Climate Change and Adaptation programs, the U.S.- India-Africa trilateral higher education capacity development program, the recently launched USAID Higher Education Engagement program and similar initiatives. He believed such initiatives and programs would have a far-reaching contribution for Africa's transformation and development. However, collaboration between U.S. and African higher education institutions would have meaningful impact only if they were focused on addressing the challenges and problems that had been prioritized by national governments and local people; that were based on mutual agreements and benefits; that were owned and led by Africans; and were designed for long term and sustainable engagement. He noted that Africa-U.S. Higher Education Initiative partnerships had detailed five-year and ten-year perspectives, and said investing in such plans would help institutions transcend the boundaries between research, education, community services and development policies. He also underlined the critical role the African Diaspora could play in any partnership and engagement and in the implementation of these programs.

Deputy Prime Minister Hailemariam said Africans were striving to make the 21st century the “century of Africa's renaissance”. The first decade of the century had demonstrated that Africa could achieve significant development in improving its economy, the livelihood of its populations and its competitiveness. The role of higher education in realizing the continent’s vision of progress was critical. The current higher education enrolment rate for Sub-Saharan Africa was estimated to be around 6%, compared to the global average of 26%. With increased graduation from primary and secondary levels, there was a need to expand vocational and tertiary education. Other problems facing African higher education institutions included developing and retaining faculty, ensuring attractive work environments and support for research throughpost-graduate level programs. Institutional good governance and management were also crucial and there was a real need of more capacity development in these areas.Many African governments had put higher education development and reform at the forefront of their development priorities. The Government of Ethiopia currently invested about 18% of its education budget inhigher education expansion and reform. The Deputy Prime Minister said it had increased the number of universities in the country from 2 in 1996 to over 30 today, and the student population had increased from around 40,000 to over half a million. There had been a focus on improving the quality and relevance of learning and research. Ethiopia recognized that nothing could explain more clearly its commitment to democracy than these efforts to expand education throughout the country. The thirty-two higher learning institutions and the dozens more training institutes in Ethiopia today were microcosms of a democratic society in the making. Ethiopia's renaissance could not be achieved without the expansion of education. Education was an instrument to put in place a democratic political order which could accommodate diversity and allow peoples of all backgrounds, whether religious or ethnic, to exercise the fullest measure of democratic and self-government rights.

Deputy Prime Minister Hailemariam noted that despite the progress in expanding higher education the Government still needed to forge viable partnerships to enhance the competitiveness of the country’s higher learning institutions, build the capacity of its academic personnel, and of its graduates. The Government believed it could and should learn from the experience of other institutions in the world and Ethiopia’s higher learning institutions were therefore keen to have partnerships with institutions elsewhere. These would allow them to tap into the wealth of knowledge and scientific expertise that more developed universities had achieved. The Government was keen to create viable potential for centers of excellence in the country: for basic and applied sciences and technology at Addis Ababa University; in agriculture, food security and environment at Haramaya, Hawasa and Mekelle universities; in medicine and community-based health sciences at Jimma and Gonder; and in water resources development and engineering at Bahr Dar and Arba Minch universities. He noted that Haramaya and Jimma Universities had been established through collaborative partnerships and support from the U.S government over many years.

This was not just the case for Ethiopia. The Deputy Premier expressed his belief that these partnerships could work closely with national governments and regional entities like the Association of African Universities and African Union Commission, as well as with private sector foundations and local and international stakeholders. Regional centers of excellence could also serve as springboards for regional cooperation, elevating Africa's competitiveness. He quoted the examples of environment and engineering at 2iE in Burkina Faso; of solar power at the University of Cape Town; of veterinary and trans-boundary diseases at Makerere University; of dryland agriculture at the University of Nairobi; and of water resources management and engineering at Addis Ababa University. These, he added, could also be used as stepping stones by the African Union in its recently launched Pan African University initiative. These and other complementary partnerships, with U.S. institutions as well as with other countries including India, China, Brazil, Japan, the U.K., France and other European would assist Africa to develop the next generation of leaders and professionals, entrepreneurs, teachers and researchers and truly make the 21st century the century of Africa's Renaissance. (MoFA)