Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

African Alliance Will 'Boost' Sector and Work with West

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

African Alliance Will 'Boost' Sector and Work with West

Article excerpt

But Western institutions must show they have no 'imperialist' designs on the continent, British Council director says. Ellie Bothwell writes

A new "Russell-Group type" alliance of the top universities in Africa will boost higher education across the continent and encourage more Western collaborations with African universities outside South Africa, according to the British Council's director of education and society.

Last month, 15 research-intensive institutions from eight African countries launched the African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA), aimed at improving training and support for PhD students, capacity-building and collaborative research.

Jo Beall (pictured below) said that the alliance was "an effort to get a type of African Russell Group of the better-ranked universities, but not only in South Africa". Although the ARUA includes six South African universities, institutions in Nigeria, Ghana, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Senegal are also members.

Professor Beall told Times Higher Education that at the moment universities in North America and Western Europe "only want" to collaborate with a select group of top universities on the continent, most of which are in South Africa. Consequently, these institutions are "oversubscribed and have to fight people off", while other universities lack the same opportunities to collaborate.

However, she added that although the alliance is "absolutely" the right direction for the continent, it has been "difficult for those universities to negotiate, because there is a sense in Africa that everyone must be equal".

"The differentiation of the university system, the allowance for research universities to emerge and be better resourced, has been a difficult argument to win," she said. "It wasn't long ago in the UK that that was a difficult argument to win."

Speaking to THE ahead of the British Council's annual Going Global conference, which will be held in Cape Town from 3 to 5 May, Professor Beall added that universities in the West must recognise both the opportunities in Africa as well as the contributions that they can make.

"When I work with private sector partners in Africa and we go to a place like Lagos or Nairobi, [the companies] say, 'We see opportunity - there's so much to invest in.' When NGOs go in, they say, 'We see so much poverty and destruction, we want to help.'

"I think the higher education sector needs to fall somewhere between those two, to see opportunity in the same way as the private sector does and to recognise that to have equal partnerships you need to recognise that some people are starting at the wrong end of an un-level playing field," she said. …

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