President Paul Kagame has called for a greater role of the private sector as African countries seek to develop quality tertiary education.
Kagame was speaking yesterday at the opening of the Sustainable Development Goals Center for Africa forum in Kigali.
The forum was held under the theme; “Mobilising African Intellectuals Towards Quality Tertiary Education.”
The two-day summit aims at creating a coalition of African intellectuals who will explore solutions and build consensual and well researched approaches for implementing SDGs in tertiary education and research throughout Africa.
Kagame said that although a lot has been achieved in the education sector in recent years, there is still more to be done.
"There has been much progress in the education sector in recent years, including through the catalyst that was the Millennium Development Goals. In particular, access to education has greatly improved,” the President said.
“But it is not enough to support the ambitions we have for our continent. More children are attending school but Africa needs many more graduates with knowledge and skills, to grow and sustain our economies, and shape the continent’s future,” Kagame said.
At the moment, statistics indicate that Africa’s Gross Enrollment Ratio in tertiary education is about a quarter of the world average which, Kagame said, is below the basic minimum required to end poverty, instability and achieve prosperity.
By multiple rankings, the continent has only 10 universities among the top 1,000 universities in the world which experts say reflects the relatively low quality.
To get past the challenge, Kagame said there was urgent need to mobilise involvement and investment by the private sector as governments and development partners cannot do it alone.
With the Government’s role in the education sector largely to set up policies and create conducive environments for investment, the President said there was need to bring private sector on board.
“We have to find innovative ways to attract resources from the private sector. Businesses have vested interest in the quality of graduates and skills they bring to the market,” he said.
Among the urgent steps for countries seeking to boost their tertiary education Kagame proposed adopting modern technology in the rollout of education.
This, he said, would solve the challenges related to increasing access to quality education as well as aspects such as global cooperation in research.
“Modern technology including ICT presents us with unprecedented opportunities to overcome barriers to delivering information and skills to our population,” the President said.
Kagame also spoke about the need for aligning technical and vocational education to Africa’s transformation efforts. He noted that across the continent, the poor perception of technical and vocational education is fast changing.
Prof. Jeffrey D. Sachs, the director of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network and the Earth Institute, challenged governments to be more supportive of the development of their higher learning institutions.
Among the ways this can happen is to open up their tertiary education institutions to paying students from across the world as well as leverage the power of ICT to increase access and quality.
Dr Belay Begashaw, the director-general of the Sustainable Development Goals Centre for Africa, highlighted the urgency of boosting the quality of tertiary education saying that the continent was spending over $4 billion every year to employ Western experts.
“Africa spends at least US$ 4 billion per year to employ some 100,000 western experts for ‘technical assistance’. This is unacceptable,” he said.
Begashaw criticised the fact that the solving of many African problems is often outsourced to intellectuals from outside Africa.
These, he said, are “unfamiliar with local contexts and tend to offer short-term solutions, and in the worst case are only interested in cashing in on huge remunerations.”
Begashaw, however, observed that the challenges are not insurmountable and can be addressed if all stakeholders worked closely together.