Reimagining the Role of Higher Education in African Development

Academics, and higher education in particular, have always played a large role in advancing a nation’s economic and social development. University research is on the front lines of health, technology and science. Can universities also be in the forefront for more hands-on training in areas such as engineering, agriculture and even infrastructure projects in the developing world? Could reimagining the role of higher education in African development create an incubator for innovation?

Reimagining the Role of Higher Education in African Development

By Professor Calestous Juma

Higher education in Africa faces many unique challenges. At the core of these challenges is addressing the separation of teaching and research exhibited in institutions across the continent. All too often, non-research universities have outdated curricula and teaching methods producing unprepared graduates, while research is conducted in institutions with no graduates at all, thus lacking the means to disseminate findings to the public.

One potential solution, which I suggest in my paper "Education, Research, and Innovation in Africa: Forging Strategic Linkages for Economic Transformation", is the creation of “innovation universities” in specific government agencies or programs, public corporations, private enterprises, and development agencies. Innovation universities combine research, teaching, community service and commercialization with the policy, managerial and financial support of the institution in which they are housed. Innovation universities have relevant curricula that address local needs and serve as research hubs.

In addition to companies, organizations, and government ministries, large infrastructure projects can also offer an opportunity for innovation universities. Infrastructure projects offer onsite technical training and learning opportunities, from land rights education to masonry to architecture and design.

By creating “innovation universities” aligned with long-term socioeconomic objectives, Africa can create a critical mass of educated professionals equipped to invest in the development of their own countries, like we see at African Rural University as mentioned on page 20 of Professor Juma's paper. This model of relevant, training-based curricula can be applied to transform the higher education system globally, even in the United States.


Rural African Innovation & Sustainable Economic Development

RAISED is a resource for the latest in sustainable economic development practices in Rural Africa. For nearly 35 years, we have connected North Americans with well-stewarded, quality development projects. With RAISED, we continue to cultivate this collection of development practices as well as stories of program impact.

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