July 6, 2023 will be remembered as a historic day for India-Africa education cooperation. On that day, IIT-Madras signed an MoU with the government of Zanzibar to set up the first Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) campus outside India. India’s External Affairs Minister, Dr S. Jaishankar, travelled to Tanzania to witness this landmark moment. Indeed, this is a milestone event demonstrating India’s commitment towards uplifting the Global South, particularly Africa.
It has been decided that the campus will be named as ‘IIT Madras at Zanzibar’. As the principal partner, IIT Madras will develop the pedagogical elements. In addition, IIT-Madras will also be responsible for the academic programs, curricula, and criteria for selecting students. Finally, the degrees will also be awarded by IIT Madras. For their part, the government of Zanzibar-Tanzania will be responsible for providing the capital and operating costs. The first batch will have 50 undergraduate and 20 master’s students. The classes for this batch are expected to commence around October 2023.
History of India-Africa educational cooperation
India has traditionally prioritised Africa in its foreign policy. And one of the primary components of India’s development relationship with Africa has been education cooperation. Going back in history, the first Prime Minister of independent India, Jawaharlal Nehru, expressed his grave concerns about education in Africa when he said, “The whole purpose of our scholarships to African students to come to India must take some positive measures to meet the situation.”
After Nehru, all the following leaders continued to support Africa’s educational needs. This becomes palpable from the fact that during the last IAFS-3 also, India pledged 50,000 scholarships for African students to pursue their studies in India. India is aware of the value of education in advancing civil society, business, health, defence, and agriculture. India is dedicated to promoting self-reliance and sustainable development in African countries, which can only be done by revitalising the education system following the demands of the population.
Towards this goal, India launched India Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) in 1964, marking the beginning of India-Africa educational cooperation. Since, ITEC has been playing a very crucial role in advancing India’s educational partnership with Africa. The ITEC program currently has the largest recipient from Africa. In essence, ITEC is a customised training curriculum based on the micro-level requirements of the project location.
To meet the demands of a changing world, the ITEC program and delivery strategy has also evolved over time. For instance, India launched the prototype e-ITEC course for African nations in 2019. Because of the covid-induced lockdown, the popularity of the e-ITEC has soared and still remains high. Over the years, several fresh and innovative studies including Big Data Analytics, urban infrastructure management, WTO-related topics, and solar technology were launched.
ITEC has helped India to instil a deep imprint in African minds. Many learners who took ITEC courses have advanced to the top of their respective professions in their respective countries and many of them climbed the social ladders to occupy important positions including becoming ministers. Many Defence Ministry professionals and high government figures of different African countries have participated in ITEC. For instance, Buhari, the outgoing President of Nigeria, attended the Wellington Defense Services Staff College in Tamil Nadu.
Dr A P J Abdul Kalam, the former president of India, during his inaugural speech to the African Parliament in Johannesburg on September 16, 2004, urged all African Union members to connect with Indian institutions via a satellite and fibre-optic network. Accordingly, the Pan African e-Network Project (PANEP) was conceived and formally launched in 2009. PANEP has immensely contributed to the development of tele-education and telemedicine across Africa. The project has been commissioned in 47 countries, and Telecommunications Consultants India Limited (TCIL) has been working as the nodal agency in its implementation. In 2019, PANEP was remodelled as EVAB (e-Vidyabharati and e-Arogya Bharati).
Future of India-Africa education cooperation
Hundreds of students from Africa comes to India every year. They receive degrees in various disciplines, from sciences, law, medical sciences, agriculture, veterinary and social sciences, and later serve in their home countries in different capacities. Currently, India features among the top five overseas destinations for African students. About 25,000 African students are presently studying in 500 universities in India.
While the connection between the two continents has always been positive, the current Indian government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has shown unprecedented assertiveness in extending India’s robust partnership with Africa. India’s education cooperation with Africa has a lot of potential. With world-class higher-education institutions and global education brands like IITs and IIMs, India is well-positioned to assist Africa in developing higher education infrastructure and skill development.
As a matter of fact, the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 of India strongly recommends internationalisation of Indian education and encourages top-performing Indian universities to establish campuses abroad. Indeed, these overseas campuses would help provide state-of-the-art programs to draw students from various African nations. It also fits well with India’s objective to help African students achieve their educational goals and further the continent’s technological advancement.
India’s efforts to bring world-class education to Africa are expected to have a far-reaching impact on the continent. With access to the best education opportunities and facilities available, this will pave the way for a brighter future for students across the continent. Moreover, this will positively impact the local economy, attracting investments and fostering a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship.
The road to the future won’t be smooth. Africa needs to address several challenges simultaneously, such as access to higher education, funding challenges, the growing influence of private higher education institutions in Africa, governance and autonomy issues, management difficulties, gender (including the access of women to higher education and the challenges they face as students and academic staff) and brain drain. Under the umbrella of South-South cooperation, India could become the key partner for Africa to resolve these challenges towards realising its aspirations and assist in future academic development.
The author is a Senior Research Associate with the Vivekananda International Foundation and doctoral scholar at Jawaharlal Nehru University