Professor Njabulo Ndebele, President of Association of African Universities (AAU), on Tuesday urged African institutions of higher learning to engage government, private sector and civil society in dialogue for support in facilitating achievement of development plans in academia.
“Universities are centres of learning and not development agents so leaders of higher educational institutions must understand the larger environment by identifying opportunities, threats, and constraints in order to put their cases across to decision and policy makers,” he said.
Professor Ndebele was speaking at the end of a three-day university leaders' forum, which was organised by the University of Ghana and sponsored by Partnership for Higher Education in Africa.
“African governments need to be committed to the responsibility and accountability in promoting higher education, the institutions must also develop the skills to engage the emerging private sector in effective negotiations,” he said.
Professor Ndebele called for innovative policies that would help recruit, retain, and develop the institutions.
“Internal challenges in tertiary institutions such as lack of infrastructure, slow promotion process, gender discrimination, lack of professional development and support, heavy undergraduate teaching load, poor institutional setting of priorities, low remuneration and lack of housing are factors that hinder the development and retention of next generation of African academics in tertiary institutions,” he said.
Professor Ndebele said there were other unintended actions that drew academics in Africa to other countries including overseas opportunities, better opportunities in private and civil sectors than the academia, overseas training which increased the threat of brain drain and more government funding in other countries.
He said regional organizations had been formed to work out strategies for acquiring new academic talent and managing the continued development of professors who were currently in practice.
“If 30 professors are to retire in the next five years, we need to put in place measures to replace them in order to prevent shortage of academic staff in African institutions of higher learning.”
Professor Clifford Nii Boye Tagoe, Vice Chancellor of University of Ghana, called for the implementation of structures and working conditions that would afford staff in the academia an opportunity to upgrade their knowledge and promote career advancement.
Mrs Ruth Simmons, President of Brown University in United States, said Africa needed to develop a society where more educational opportunities would be accessible to students.
“Students must move across the educational system easily and resources must be at their disposal to enable them to upgrade their knowledge in areas such as Science and Technology and embarking on research,” she said.
Participants at the conference included vice chancellors and presidents of African universities, leaders of international development organizations, business leaders, U.S. and European University Presidents and donors.