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Past Editorial : January 2011

January 2011

The Market Place of Higher Education Partnerships: Re-Engaging Africa in the New Era of Internationalization

Damtew Teferra Ph.D.
Dr. Damtew Teferra is a professor of higher education, the leader of Higher Education and Training Development, and founding director of the International Network for Higher Education in Africa, University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. He is also the Editor-in-chief of the International Journal of African Higher Education. He may be reached at
teferra@ukzn.ac.za and teferra@bc.edu.



One of the popular approaches to revitalize higher education in Africa and the buzz word of the sector currently is partnerships: Regional Partnerships, South-South Partnerships, North-South Partnerships, North-South-South Partnerships, and North-North-South-South Partnerships. To be sure, higher education in Africa has always been an international affair owing to its history and trajectory and as such this development may not appear that surprising. That as it may, however, the intensity and the magnitude of high-profile international partnership initiatives, specifically in higher education, have recently increased.

This article analyzes emerging trends in higher education partnerships in Africa and attempts to explore opportunities and challenges based on recent developments and past experience.


Africa: Marketplace of Higher Education Partnerships

It was once thought that Africa would become less attractive to the rest of the world with the cessation of hostilities between the Cold War era rivals. In twenty years, that prediction proved to be wrong as the contemporary economic and (geo)political realities have changed which prompted the re-engagement of both “historical” and emerging powers with Africa.

As part of that larger global reality, higher education in the region has also re-ignited a number of interest from around the world including the European Union, United States, Canada, China, India, and Brazil, to mention some. The snapshot of some of these partnerships include:


Africa-US Higher Education Initiative

In July 2007, a group of universities based in the United States and Africa came together to launch an initiative to strengthen the capacity of African higher education through partnerships between African and U.S. higher education institutions. The initiative is intended to facilitate more effective partnerships between African and U.S. institutions of higher education to contribute in priority areas for development. The 2010 Omnibus Appropriations bill, which includes Foreign Operations funding, was signed into law on December 16, 2009. The bill provides $200 million for higher education programs in developing countries, of which $25 million committed for programs in Africa. Of this, $15 million was allocated for partnerships between African and U.S. institutions of higher education (http://www.aplu.org).


Canada-Africa Higher Education Partnership

The Association of African Universities (AAU) has formed a partnership with the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC) to strengthen higher education stakeholder relations in Africa. The initiative, “Strengthening Higher Education Stakeholder Relations in Africa”, has three components: Strengthening African University Outreach, University-Industry Linkages, and, Strengthening AAU Stakeholder Relations working in partnership with AUCC. While directly targeting a total of 27 African universities, the project will lead to the development of strategic plan and advocacy tools for all 250 AAU member institutions in 44 African countries (http://www.aau.org).


Southern Africa-Nordic Partnerships (SANORD)

University Cooperation between Southern African countries and Nordic university cooperation, otherwise known as SANORD, is a partnership of 25 research-led higher education institutions from Norway, Finland, Sweden, Iceland, and Denmark and institutions in Malawi, Zambia and South Africa. SANORD aims to advancing multilateral academic collaboration between institutions in the Nordic countries and the Southern African regions, as they seek to address new local and global challenges of innovation and development. SANORD intends to bring together the leadership of Nordic and Southern African institutions of higher education and research for discussion, planning and joint endeavors. It also provides opportunities for academics to convene around issues and develop strategic cooperation projects while help build relevant relationships with the donor community, commerce, industry and the media (http://sanord.uwc.ac.za/).


European Union-African Union Partnership in Higher Education (EDULINK)

The objective of the EDULINK Program is to foster capacity building and regional integration in the field of higher education through institutional networking. EDULINK represents a harmonized approach for the implementation of European Commission funded programs in the African Caribbean and Pacific countries (ACP) with a view to improving the effectiveness, management, and impact of ACP-EU co-operation in the field of higher education. The support for higher education has changed with the introduction of new EC initiatives such as the “ACP Science and Technology Programme”, “Erasmus Mundus” and the launching of “Intra-ACP Mobility Scheme” what is now called the Nyrere Consolidated Scholarship. This scholarship just got launched with a commitment of 35 million Euros (http://www.acp-edulink.eu/).


Scandinavian Partnerships

Partnerships between Scandinavian and African universities is probably one of the most sustained and impressive cooperation. Norway and Sweden in particular have committed a large amount of funds for several decades, even when support for higher education in Africa was out of favor. For instance, at a “National Seminar on Norwegian Support to Higher Education in Tanzania” that took place in Dar es Salaam in November 2010, we learned the massive financial support of NORAD to the sector for over four decades in the order of 750 million NOK. The impact of this long-term commitment and support to capacity building not simply institutionally but also nationally, has been rather impressive.


The “Historical” Partners

Guided by a variety of objectives and interest, numerous university cooperations between Africa and its “historical” partners were developed. These include Austrian Partnership Program in Higher Education and Research for Development (APPEAR), University Commission for Cooperation with Developing countries (CUD, Belgium), Irish African Partnership for Research Capacity Building (IAP), Netherlands Organization for International Cooperation in Higher Education (NUFFIC) and United Kingdom’s’ Education Partnerships for Africa (EPA).


The Emerging Partners

Emerging economic and political powers such as China, India, and Brazil are also engaged in a host of university development support as well as capacity building effort in Africa. While, for instance, China has been involved in building infrastructure, and in certain cases as in Mozambique a major university library, and in Ethiopia, a full fledged technical college, the modalities of the support and partnerships are yet to be clear (More on this in an earlier article available here). Russia and other former Eastern bloc countries are also throwing themselves into the action, after two decades of absence from educational engagement in the region.

South Africa, the regional powerhouse, is also striving to establish university partnerships with other African countries, as in the one spearheaded by Stellenbosch University. Egypt’s Alexandria University is also spreading its wings to include Southern Sudan—a region expected to declare independence.


Partnerships: Internationalization as Instrument of Capacity Building

The floodgates of university partnerships have opened and the international dimension of higher education in Africa is expanding. With the declaration of higher education as vital development tool, multilateral and bilateral regimes, foundations, and other development partners now favor the support of the sector, though still with constrained enthusiasm as the latest African Commission Report (2010) indicates. Needless to say, partnerships are vital for capacity building in teaching, learning, and research. Joint research activities play an important role in fostering research capacity, nurturing research culture, pushing the frontiers of knowledge, as well as benchmarking quality. Meticulously developed long-term joint research partnerships have shown successful results. In Ethiopia, for instance, the long-term inter-university cooperations—through the support of Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA) and VLIR-UOS (Belgium)—have shown impressive institutional and national results. Quite a large number of PhD candidates have been trained; numerous programs have been developed; and sustainable capacities have been put in place. A large number of respondents that include institutional leaders, administrators, staff and students, agree that such results would have simply been impossible without the financial, logistical, and human resources made possible through the inter-university partnerships.


Partnership Paradigms: Nurturing the Good and Uprooting the Bad

When capacity building in the context of university cooperation is often invoked, the perceptions are that the Southern partners are the predominant, if not sole, beneficiaries of the cooperation. What is even more disenchanting is that this perception is often internalized by the Southern partners. And yet, while the extent of the benefits to the Northern partners have not been clearly, and explicitly, documented, there is no doubt that they also gain from the partnerships in many ways. For instance, the discovery of a new cattle disease in Brazil by a Mozambican PhD student while in a fellowship indicates the potentials of such partnerships, as well as the benefits, to both parties. In a recent visit to an institution, I had an opportunity to interact with a team of researchers involved in inter- university partnerships who discovered a new strain of disease that afflicts animals on the highlands of East Africa. Whereas the discovery may seem to have an immediate benefit to the Southern partners, the research and development—and thus know how—to regulate the disease, for instance, by way of developing a drug to control it, would have financial and intellectual benefit to the North. Even without regard to the immediate and visible benefits, the know how to address such problems generates institutional and national knowledge capital for the North. In the current global realities, where the global is local and the local is global, the mutual benefits from such cooperation should not be underestimated, and for sure, not overlooked. Whereas the modality and scope of partnerships, to be specific higher education partnerships, are diverse, complex, and numerous, they however, are not always successful, nor are they effective. In many cases partnerships do not simply live up to expectations for a number of reasons: from paltry financial resources to weak logistical support, from poor planning to substandard execution, from bad policy to cumbersome guidelines, from unstable leadership to inconsistent follow up. As the number of institutional partnerships grows, their impact on institutional resources—time, funding, and infrastructure—and institutional dynamics—cohesion, complementarity, and priorities—may be considerable. This may be particularly so in countries with a fewer “partnerable” institutions in the region that tend to attract more development support. We recognize that development cooperation has often been the subject of passionate political and academic debate of numerous school of thoughts. It is in light of this long and simmering, often acrimonious, debate that the Paris Declaration and the Accra Accord were promulgated. Though these declarations did not have in mind university partnerships in particular, the basic tenets governing them such as predictability, mutual accountability, ownership, alignment, and harmonization are both relevant and applicable.


“Monolithic” Partnership: Action and Retrospection

Several major US-based foundations had formed a consortium, known as Partnership for Higher Education in Africa, in 2000 to revitalize the higher education sector in the region. This partnership that effectively culminated in 2010 supported institutions in nine African countries spending a total of $350 million. The Partnership supported 49 universities in these countries with 22 of them receiving “significant funding for systematic transformation of the university as a whole” . The Partnership countries were Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar,Mozambique, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda (http://www.foundation-partnership.org/index.php?id=9). The Partnership was relaunched for the second and last time in 2005 attracting such high profile personalities as Kofi Annan, then UN Secretary General from Ghana, and several African head of states. Beyond the resources made available for revitalizing the sector, the significance of the occasion to the development of higher education in the region and moreover the moderation of “Washington’s consensus” on the sector was considerable. At the time, the high visibility of this initiative was greeted with some surprise in some European corners that have had long-standing and substantial higher education partnerships with the region. The impact of this effort and the dynamics of independent philanthropic organizations operating in a consortium are now captured in two self-sponsored retrospectives. Entitled “Accomplishments of the Partnership for Higher Education in Africa, 2000-2010: Report on a Decade of Collaborative Foundation Investment”  and “A Case Study of the Partnership for Higher Education in Africa: Lessons from a Ten-Year Funder Collaborative”, they are now available for free download.



The consensus that higher education plays a central role in the socioeconomic development of the region has generated considerable interest to revitalize the sector through a variety of ways. One of the renewed approaches to achieving that goal is building capacity in teaching, research, and innovation through university cooperation between the North and the South. Prevalence of competing donor-driven agendas, lack of sustainability, unpredictability of donor resources, and poor harmonization and coordination have been common concerns of development cooperation. Whereas the Paris Declaration and the Accra Accord are meant to address development cooperation as a whole, university development cooperation is not their prime targets. However, the spirit in which these regimes were developed and communicated, though not fully implemented so far, seems to be influencing the culture of cooperation in that sector as well. This is a positive emerging trend that may foster more productive university partnerships as well as help develop new and “progressive” partnership discourse. Finally, it is imperative that in the marketplace of partnerships discourse is guided by well informed, responsible and pragmatic stakeholders in the South and the North. At the end, it is to the best interest of all the stakeholders, both in the North and the South, to have a sustained impact and meaningful outcome in the (re-)engagement with Africa.

This editorial is a longer essay building on a blog post by the same author available at The World View.



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