WASHINGTON - President Kagame on Tuesday night delivered a keynote address on “The Challenges of Creating a Relevant Higher Education Sector for Africa’s Development”, at the opening of the Higher Education Summit for Global Development in Washington, DC. The two-day summit was convened by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, and aims to expand the role and impact of U.S. and foreign higher education institutions in worldwide social and economic development.
Addressing leaders from academia, government, business and foundations from the United States and around the world, President Kagame said that despite having an indisputable and fundamental role in socioeconomic transformation– as demonstrated by America’s own development in all sectors and its unrivalled global leadership in the knowledge and innovation economy– higher education is not always accorded its due importance.
He commended the summit’s organizers for putting higher education “back where it belongs – among our global development priorities”.
Kagame outlined obstacles confronting the development of a viable higher education system in Africa, starting with the recovery from a tumultuous post-colonial period characterized by conflict, socioeconomic instability and poor leadership, which resulted in the destruction of the handful of higher education institutes that existed and the migration of trained African professionals to developed countries.
He continued that the African “brain drain” had led to overreliance on short-term, costly, imported technical assistance whose effectiveness was questionable and which did not resolve the continent’s skills capacity gap.
He pointed out that Africa was “…exporting skilled African professionals by default and importing their replacements by design at a higher financial cost and in an unsustainable fashion”.
The President also described how donors’ continued misguided preference for funding primary over secondary education undermines the development of knowledge societies which is crucial to socioeconomic transformation, “…primary education is not an end in itself. It is part of the knowledge value chain and therefore a critical foundation for higher education and development in general.”
On national efforts to address the skills shortage, President Kagame said that Rwanda was working with American partners from business and academic institutions on innovative ways to transfer skills locally; supporting numerous Rwandan students through national and overseas scholarships and establishing first-rate science and IT training institutions.
“A higher educational system that propels society forward can only emerge if it is a product of a shared purpose between communities, government, and business focused on delivering essential and relevant knowledge, skills, and talents,” he pointed out.