The Vice Chancellor of University of Cape Coast, Rev Prof Emmanuel Adow Obeng, yesterday stressed the need for greater diversification in higher education to equip individuals with new skills and knowledge in the face of the rapid changing global economy.
He noted that research and teaching, in all their forms were perhaps the most powerful vehicles that could induce the change required in higher education on the continent.
Addressing the 40th Anniversary of the African University Day, which coincided with the Association of African Universities (AAU) celebration in Accra, Prof. Obeng indicated that Africa's higher education system had ample proof of its viability over the centuries and of its ability to change and to induce the change to progress society.
The AAU was established in 1967 and was seen as part of the evolving Pan-African organisation under the general umbrella of the OAU and envisioned as an association that would bring together African Universities in the same fashion as the OAU had assembled newly independent African countries.
It started with a representation of 34 of the then 46 institutions of higher learning that qualified for membership but now had grown to 208 out of 44 countries. The Association was primarily established to promote cooperation among themselves, between the international academic community.
Prof Obeng noted that education played an indispensable role in addressing critical challenges of development.
'A sound and effective system of higher education provides solutions to a whole range of challenges plaguing society, globalisation, poverty alleviation, social justice and empowerment of vulnerable groups such as women and the poor, democracy, human rights and the threat posed by HIV/AIDS', he added.
Prof Obeng stated that in the 1980 and 1990's, the significance of higher education institutions was played down in support of basic education by key institutions such as the World Bank and IMF.
'In effect, our higher education systems became less competitive as regards the financial rewards offered teaching and management staff and less capable to offer possibilities for original research', he said.
He noted that as a result, African higher education institutions struggled to retain the critical mass and necessary interdisciplinary skills that were now found in the Western institutions.
The V.C said upon realisation by the Breton Woods institutions and their allies that quality economic management could not be guaranteed in the absence of an effective higher education system and due to the resilience of the AAU, the mid 90's saw the beginning of change in favour of higher education.
Prof Obeng said this brought about unflinching support to efforts and revitalising higher education in Africa, which led to the British Department for International Development signing an MOU with the AAU for disbursement of a grant of 3.5 million pounds for the implementation of a new programme.
He stressed that there were numerous opportunities for Africa higher education to leapfrog its problems and re-start its unique role of knowledge production and dissemination.
'The Information and Communication Technology revolution of the past decade and half holds the promise of contributing to the rapid transformation of the African society by integrating the people of the continent more fully into the information and knowledge flows of the current global and networked society', he added.
Dr Pascal Hoba, Head of Communication, AAU noted that the growth rate in higher educational institutions in Sub-Saharan Africa in particular had been the highest worldwide over the past fifteen years.
However, although much had improved, higher education in Africa still faced many challenges as a result bad economic situation. 'According to Africa Economic Commission, our continent is the only one in the world where in the past two decades, income per capita has decline at the time when the rest has experienced rapid economic growth ', he added.
Dr Hoba said despite the challenges resulting from the under-resourcing and planning deficits, many African universities, after diagnosing their problems, efforts were being made to find a positive and lasting solution.