Western Uganda is by any-one's standards a disadvantaged part of the world. The scenery is awesome - lakes, volcanoes and the fabled Ruwenzori Mountains, the highest in Africa, first sighted by Stanley in 1876 and dubbed Mountains of the Moon. But its economy is ragged and its education system is on its knees after the depredations of Idi Amin.
Now, however, an attempt is being made to set up a private university there to train primary school teachers in the first instance and eventually to train other experts in agriculture, horticulture, business and public health and administration.
Called Mountains of the Moon University and situated in Fort Portal, it is desperate for cash and for volunteer staff. Universities in the United Kingdom may be struggling but it is difficult to compare their plight with that of a university with 140 students, a big deficit and where a consignment of 300 books from the UN is a cause for celebration.
"A few million dollars would totally transform the situation, even a few hundred thousand would make a profound difference," says Patrick Davey, vice chancellor. The university believes it is vital to establish links with other universities around the world if it is to develop. Staff exchanges are needed to teach undergraduates and to generate high quality curricula and teaching materials.
These exchanges need to last a minimum of six months to have a real effect. It is hoped that this is going to happen with the UK government's decision to set up an Africa unit in London to foster links between universities in Britain and their counterparts in Africa.
British universities are depressingly short of an international dimension. A recent survey undertaken by the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education found that only about half of 133 higher education institutions have an international strategy that they make available online. That is either because they regard their strategy as confidential or because they don't have one.
Institutions that have an international strategy tend to concentrate their energies on internationalisation abroad and recruitment of overseas students to boost coffers, says the report.
Much less emphasis is put on internationalisation at home, such as giving the curriculum more of an international flavour and making both the campus and the student experience more international.
Moreover, there is very little engagement with the Bologna process, the European Union initiative to harmonise degrees across the Continent. "It is almost as though British higher education is taking the money and running," says Professor Michael Worton, vice- provost of University College London, one of the few UK universities to have thought through the global dimensions of what it does and to have set up research partnerships in Africa.
"The real issue is how can we make a contribution internationally and how do we educate our students in issues such as global citizenship and social justice."
The report from the Leadership Foundation shows that British higher education is less active in offshore partnerships and campuses than its Australian counterparts. All Australian universities are reported to be involved in such endeavours. Some leading institutions in Britain are not.
Information on the offshore partnerships of UK universities and colleges is limited because it is not posted on websites and there is no official documentation of international collaboration. By contrast, the Australian Vice Chancellors' Committee and New Zealand Ministry of Education record such things. Another area where the UK may be slipping competitively is in the emphasis given to monitoring the quality of courses. The …