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Member of the European Commission for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth
How EU is helping to transform higher education in Africa
African Higher Education and Tuning Workshop on Credits and Portability of Qualifications
Brussels, 27 March 2014
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure to join you today. This meeting is the latest in a series of events which have contributed to the rapid progress of EU co-operation with Africa in the field of higher education.
Before we look in some more detail at the challenges and opportunities ahead in EU-Africa co-operation in higher education, let me just recall that one of the basic principles of EU cooperation with partners across the globe is that the cooperation must be based on mutual respect and joint action. This is even more so in the case of Higher Education, given its connection with growth and development. And it is central to our agenda with Africa.
Higher education has a key role to play in delivering the knowledge requirements for economic development: it is vital for growth and job creation, better governance, increased entrepreneurship and intergenerational social mobility, and a stronger civil society.
This holds as true for Africa as it does for the European Union. In the EU in the last ten years, the creation of a common space of Higher Education among the EU countries has been considerably helped by "Tuning".
This started as a methodology to support recognition and promote higher levels of relevance and quality in Higher Education Degrees. It is designed to bring together academics within and across countries to discuss their disciplines, consult stakeholders (academics, students and employers) on the type of degree profile required for their graduates, and agree upon profiles, learning outcomes, teaching, evaluation and assessment in the teaching process.
There is no doubt that the extension of the Tuning process to Africa has enabled us to further strengthen the cooperation between the EU and African Higher Education Areas, to address the key features of the African Union Higher Education Harmonisation Strategy and to strengthen ties between higher education policy makers.
This is important because the global progress made in expanding access to basic education has now led to a considerable expansion in higher education participation and enrolment virtually in every country in the world - and Africa is no exception.
This is of course a positive development, but it does not come without challenges. Tertiary education systems in Africa face the pressures of massification and enormous challenges in infrastructure. This places many countries at a disadvantage, and puts a strain on academic systems as they face a dilemma between expanding enrolment and supporting top-quality education.
Therefore, crucial issues that need to be addressed to strengthen higher education systems include: financing, the training and retraining of teachers, harmonisation of educational structures, quality assurance, recognition of qualifications and research capacity.
Incidentally, I am pleased to see that in the current 2014-2020 programming exercise education is being chosen as an area of concentration by a number of partner countries, including in Africa. The focus is shifting towards more holistic and comprehensive support to the whole education sector. And more importance is being given to innovation, knowledge, quality and skills development in a lifelong perspective.
We all know that education is the best possible investment against inequality and poverty. We need to cooperate at all levels to help higher education institutions develop and teach a relevant curriculum, allow students and teaching staff to overcome barriers to mobility and address the recognition of qualifications across Africa.
The quality and responsiveness of higher education to society's needs is central to any reform. Employers demand that higher education provides graduates with skills needed in the labour market. The African Higher Education Harmonisation and Tuning pilot initiative has been instrumental in working towards these objectives.
The African Union Commission has declared the revitalisation of higher education and its quality enhancement to be one of its priority areas for the future development and regional integration of Africa. Africa needs to modernise its higher education institutions, to offer relevant curricula and promote staff, researchers and student mobility if it aims to prepare its graduates for the world of work.
We aim to expand the African Higher Education Harmonisation and Tuning pilot initiative from 60 to 120 universities across the African continent and increase the number of disciplines and levels addressed. I understand that you have been discussing this in-depth over these past two days.
We are also supporting the implementation of the Pan-African Quality Assurance framework and accreditation mechanisms and will continue to support the Pan-African University. In addition, enhancing the African Union Higher Education Harmonization and Quality Assurance initiatives with input from European universities, agencies and associations will help support the introduction of new quality practices, the implementation of the continental framework for quality assurance and accreditation, an increase of aligned partnerships and the internationalisation of higher education in Africa.
Europe has a lot to offer. Since the start of the Bologna Process, nearly a decade and a half ago now, we have seen how cooperation has grown inside the European Higher Education Area. From having a rather marginal status in some countries, a culture of quality assurance has taken a firm hold.
As underlined in the recent communication on "European Higher Education in the World" we want to enable higher education institutions to work with partners in Africa and to modernise their education offer and develop internationalisation strategies. We want to help them to respond to the challenge of globalization, so they can cooperate at all levels in order to overcome barriers to mobility and ensure recognition of qualifications and thereby enhance the use of European instruments and their potential as global standards.
Our programmes can support this work.
I am confident that this is the message that Heads of State will pass next week at the Summit here in Brussels and I am even more confident that the work you have been doing over the past three years, including in this workshop, will be really instrumental in making our cooperation progress even further.