By Grace Alegba
Prof. Barnabas Nawangwe, Board Chairman, African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA) says the continent needs more researchers to tackle the issue of poverty and other challenges facing its people.
Nawangwe, also the Vice Chancellor, Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda, stated this at the opening of the 4th International biennial conference of the ARUA, on Wednesday in Lagos.
The theme of the three-day conference is: ‘Re-imagining the Future of Higher Education in Africa.’
According to him, universities in Africa must also move fast and intentionally to be able to liberate the continent from the shackles of multifaceted challenges, occasioned by lack of quality education.
“As Africans, we need to increase the number of researchers in Africa, as that is the only sure way we will solve Africa’s problem of abject poverty and other challenges.
“I want to start my remarks with two quotations from Africa’s great sons, one of whom is Mwalimu Nyerere, who said that ‘While the rest of the world may walk, Africa must run.’
“The second quotation is from Nelson Mandela who said ‘Education is the best way of transforming society.’
“Indeed, we do believe that education is the best way through which we will transform Africa.
“Africa has gone through a number of setbacks.
“To me, the biggest one was the wrong advice given to African governments by the world bank which claimed that higher education is a private good and that African countries need not invest in higher education.
“African universities and scholars, have now multiplied from about 200 universities to over 2,500 universities in two decades, and the number is increasing. This is a good sign for Africa.
“But that is still much smaller than the number of universities in China which has the same population with Africa,” he said.
He stated that, in all, ARUA had become the most vibrant organisation of universities in Africa in the last three years and, therefore, should be able to lead the much needed transformation of the continent.
The don explained that one of the biggest challenges also facing the continent was that of population growth.
According to him, the population of the rest of world is declining, while that of Africa is rising.
“So, there are questions which emerge. How will we feed that population? How shall we make sure that the population is healthy? How shall we ensure that the conflicts that seem not to leave Africa actually diminish even with that increasing population?
“Those are pertinent questions we have to ask. Whatever you researchers are doing, you should always remember you are making a contribution to reducing the poverty in Africa.
“You are also making Africa more stable and making the lives of our people more meaningful,” he said.
He said he was particularly happy that most of these researchers were young people and that was a good sign for Africa.
“That gives confidence that our universities and researchers will lead the transformation that we all desire.
“I want to encourage all of you as you do your work to always remember the pressing issues for Africa.
“I am happy that ARUA has brought together the best minds in Africa, to try and solve these problems.
“I am happy that the centres of excellence we created are beginning to show relevance and becoming vibrant melting points of knowledge creation,” he said.
Prof. Adam Habib, Director, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, in his keynote address, said there was the need for the development of a human resource base and an institutional higher educational infrastructure.
According to him, this will require a new form of equitable partnerships between universities in Africa, Asia, Europe and North America.
“It is the inequality in our world that drives students mobility far more than the research intensity of the universities of the North.
“And should we as leaders of higher education not be advocating against this model of university and this political economy of our education, because of the negative consequences it has on the institutional architecture of the global academy?
“I have become aware and want to highlight our global challenges and our collective responsibility as higher education leaders in different parts of the world.
“We need to build a knowledge base and professional cohorts, needed to manage both our national development needs and contemporary transnational historical burdens of our time.
“It is also worth noting that ARUA and the Guild of European Universities are pioneering a wide range of doctoral and research partnerships.
“ARUA itself also has several other pan-African research and teaching partnerships. We are in a far better place than we were five years ago.
“But I fear that these initiatives are still at the margins of our normal operations and we are proceeding at a pace that is too slow for the challenges that we confront,” he said.
In her welcome address, Prof. Folashade Ogunsola, vice chancellor, University of Lagos, said Africa had the capability to realise her full potential in development, culture and peace and to establish flourishing, inclusive and prosperous societies.
She noted that there was the confidence that Africa had what was required to transform the continent for good.
“We thus commit to act together toward achieving a prosperous Africa, based on inclusive growth and sustainable development.
“We also aspire for an integrated continent, politically united and based on the ideals of Pan-Africanism and the vision of Africa’s renaissance, among many others,” she said.
Ogunsola noted that over the years, the ARUA had been at the forefront of redirecting the collective thinking toward intentionally addressing the existential crisis that bedeviled the people of Africa.
According to her, the university of Lagos aligns with this goal and its research and development culture prioritises addressing urgent societal challenges, particularly within the framework of global agreements, while pursuing an overarching agenda to be a ‘future ready’ university.
“The truth is that if Africa is going to change, it must start from the mind.
“According to Achille Mbembe (2016) ’We cannot keep teaching the way we have always taught.’ A number of our institutions are teaching obsolete forms of knowledge with obsolete pedagogies.
“In order to set our institutions firmly on the path of future knowledge, we need to reinvent a classroom without walls in which we are all co-learners; a university that is capable of convening various publics in new forms of assemblies that become points of convergence of and platforms for the redistribution of different kinds of knowledge.
“It is, therefore, my firm belief that universities have both educational and social functions.
“Knowledge institutions have critical roles to play in convening evidence gathering across disciplines and dissemination across sectors, horizon scanning clarifying and defining boundaries for emerging technologies and new areas of inquiry.
“They must also raise awareness through teaching and advocacy, alongside stakeholders, policy makers and the public.
“Universities are the place where a desired future can be imagined.
“Our business today is to imagine a desired future for Africa and going beyond that, to establish the steps required to produce a new generation of African thinkers and doers that can take us to this desired future,” she said.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that ARUA comprises 17 prominent research institutions across 10 African countries, including the host of the conference, university of Lagos. (NAN) (www.nannews.ng)
Edited by Chinyere Nwachukwu/Salif Atojoko