President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo has challenged African governments not to rely on the World Bank and other institutions to decide on the choices they have to make concerning policies and the funding of education on the continent.
“We should not get into arguments with foreign agencies about our priorities. We must set our own priorities and we must accept that we must provide the funds to translate our plans into reality,” he said.
Addressing the opening session of the 14th General Conference and Golden Jubilee anniversary of the Association of African Universities (AAU) in Accra yesterday, the President said African countries should never have to make a choice between basic education and higher education.
“We should never have to rely on the World Bank and any other institution to decide for us what our emphasis should be in our education,” he added.
The four-day conference is on the theme: “Achievements, challenges and prospects for sustainable development in Africa”.
Crippling World Bank reforms
The President’s stance speaks to several decades of decline in African universities following the World Bank’s directive on education reforms in the 1960s and 1970s when it advised African governments to redirect support away from tertiary education towards primary and secondary education.
At that time, the bank argued that such a policy was justified by the desperate need for basic education across Africa, but the directive contributed to the deterioration in African universities.
It resulted in run down, under-resourced universities which now also face a huge demand for places — as a result of successfully increasing the provision of secondary education.
In a speech that resonated with academia and attracted loud applause from it, President Nana Akufo-Addo stated that education was key to the development of the continent and, therefore, its leaders must run economies that would be able to fund the education of the youth.
He took on issues of curriculum development and challenged academia to help find answers to ill-prepared graduates for the job market.
“We need to ensure that the curriculums we offer are relevant to the skill needs of the job market. Our products should have transferrable skills to enable them to cope with the realities of modern-day world of work.
“We have done enough talking and dare I say we have had enough conferences and workshops; we know what we need to do and it is time just to do it. We have run out of excuses for the state of our continent. We have the manpower; we should summon the political will and make Africa work,” the President said at the conference, which brought together some of the continent’s leaders in education at the higher level.
“We are not doing well in research, and we are not at all doing well in Science and Engineering. It is, therefore, not surprising that we are not meeting the demand of the labour market.
“The universities and institutions of higher learning in the successful Asian economies made a deliberate decision to prioritise the teaching of Science and Mathematics,” he said.
Turning to the AAU, the President applauded the umbrella body of the continent’s more than 400 universities for being a bridge that linked the universities.
But he expressed worry that although private universities had increased, it was still difficult to meet the growing demand for university education, as well as challenges with quality and harmonisation of academic qualifications.
He urged African universities to stand up and document their achievements, including their contribution to democracy and environmental protection.
President Nana Akufo-Addo was presented with a citation that eulogised Ghana’s contribution to the 50-year journey of the AAU, which has been hosted by Ghana since its formation.
The Head of Education, Human Resource, Science and Technology Department of the African Union (AU) Commission, Dr Beatrice Njenga, while describing the AAU as the continent’s intellectual capital, urged universities in Africa to join the association to be in a position to influence policy at the continental level.
She said the AAU was the AU’s vehicle for translating its educational vision into reality, especially in the areas of higher education and research.
“It is not an exaggeration to say that the AU cannot achieve its vision of integration if the higher education community resists intra-African collaboration and the mutual recognition of one another.
“We cannot achieve sustainable peace unless educational institutions buy into and practicalise the notion of education for peace and incorporate critical thinking and African values into teaching and learning experiences,” he said.
Earlier, a former President of the AAU, Professor Is-haq Oloyode, who praised Ghana’s contribution to the growth of the AAU, stated that the association deserved commendation for stepping up on the ladder to challenge the World Bank’s position on higher education which had now shifted.
Among topics to be discussed at the four-day conference are the achievements, challenges and prospects of higher education in Africa, higher education for innovation, employability and entrepreneurship, elements of higher education sustainability and harmonisation in African higher education.