”Good Morning class!” With these words Narciso Matos, Vice-Chancellor at the Polytechnical University of Mozambique, started his opening statement at the Africa-Europe High Level Conference on Higher Education Collaboration on October 25. He made clear that in order to fulfill the sustainable development goals and alleviate poverty, we need to invest in human capital – in education. EU-AU collaboration is identified as a way to make use of opportunities to strengthen education and alleviate drivers of forced movement.
Window of opportunity
“Africa is a window for opportunity,” Matos said. The economy is developing and the political situation in many African countries is stabilizing. Now is the time to invest in education in Africa.
Nevertheless, Africa is facing challenges. Matos explained that there is not enough money to provide for the needed materials, such as books and libraries; not enough qualified, high level teachers; there is a high unemployment rate and a very low percentage of youth that has access to higher education.
Refugees in higher education
Accessibility to higher education is an even bigger issue for refugees. At the conference, it was stated that only 60% of the refugees have access to primary school and only 3% to higher education.
Omar, who fled Sudan, is one of the few refugees that is able to go to university. For him, the future used to be very uncertain: what would he do after high school? No one in his family had gone to university and there were not a lot of resources available. Luckily, he was granted a ‘refugee-scholarship’. Via a livestream, he told the audience that he was happy with his scholarship because ”education enables you to do great things”.
Several initiatives to improve the accessibility for refugees to higher education were discussed, such as the importance of scholarships and exchange programmes. Besides those initiatives, Barbara Moser-Mercer from the University of Geneva showed higher education projects that the university facilitates in refugee camps in the Horn of Africa and the Middle East.
Moser-Mercer’s vision is that it is better to invest in refugee camps and develop these into livable, pleasant communities, because those camps will not go away. Refugees that participate in the project gain ECTS points (study points), but more importantly, skills that are needed to develop society and refugee communities.
Education to avoid conflict and counter migration
According to Dr. Dorothea Rüland, Secretary General at German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), accessible higher education for both refugees and non-refugees in Africa is highly necessary, as it creates innovation, new knowledge, and shapes the leaders of tomorrow. She argued that higher education can cultivate change in order to avoid conflicts and war.
Prof. Sarah Mbi Enow Anyang Agbor, African Union Commissioner for Human Resources, Science and Technology, agreed with Dr. Rüland and added that if more Africans have the educational level and jobs required, forced migration issues will be alleviated.
Investing in people
‘Investing in education is investing in people’, was the overall theme of the conference. Caroline Schmidt, education specialist at the UN Refugee Agency, argued that investing in people is of great importance because ”there is nothing that we can’t change, climate change, sustainability, etc., if we use the potential that is there”.