Ed­u­ca­tion at the heart of African growth

CityPress - - Business And Tenders & Auctions - STEVE KRETZMAN busi­ness@city­press.co.za

Qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion is re­quired to re­alise Africa’s growth po­ten­tial as en­vi­sioned in the 2030 Sus­tain­able Devel­op­ment Goals (SDGs).

While the con­ti­nent’s ex­pand­ing youth­ful pop­u­la­tion and abun­dant re­sources have seen the global gaze turn­ing to Africa for eco­nomic growth, Swiss am­bas­sador He­lene Budliger Ar­tieda noted at the open­ing of the 6th World Sus­tain­abil­ity Fo­rum in Cape Town that World Bank pro­jec­tions sug­gest the world’s poor would be in­creas­ingly con­cen­trated in Africa, even if the av­er­age 1995 to 2014 growth rates were main­tained.

Ar­tieda said that of­fi­cial statis­tics es­ti­mate 70% of the 836 mil­lion peo­ple liv­ing in ex­treme poverty on less than $1.25 a day are liv­ing in sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa and south­ern Asia.

How­ever, qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion was the “fun­da­men­tal ve­hi­cle” for chang­ing this sit­u­a­tion, and the SDGs ac­knowl­edged the im­per­a­tive for fo­cus­ing at­ten­tion on all lev­els of ed­u­ca­tion, un­like the Mil­len­nium Devel­op­ment Goals, which fo­cused only on universal ac­cess to pri­mary ed­u­ca­tion.

Ed­u­ca­tion equipped peo­ple with the rel­e­vant skills to seek de­cent em­ploy­ment and en­gage in en­trepreneur­ship; pro­vided the knowl­edge to pro­mote sus­tain­able devel­op­ment; ed­u­cated fu­ture ed­u­ca­tors to con­tinue the cy­cle of knowl­edge trans­fer; and pro­vided the foun­da­tion for break­throughs in science and in­no­va­tion that could find solutions to com­plex sus­tain­abil­ity chal­lenges across the globe.

Univer­sity of the Western Cape vicechan­cel­lor Tyrone Pre­to­rius said the world had shifted to a knowl­edge econ­omy, which re­quired the tech­ni­cal skills and ex­per­tise only ed­u­ca­tion could pro­vide.

“Uni­ver­si­ties are to the knowl­edge econ­omy what the steam en­gine was to the in­dus­trial econ­omy,” said Pre­to­rius.

How­ever, Univer­sity of Cape Town deputy vice-chan­cel­lor in re­search and in­ter­na­tion­al­i­sa­tion Mamokgethi Phak­eng warned that knowl­edge of it­self was not the an­swer to achiev­ing the SDGs or cre­at­ing sus­tain­able growth.

“Are these knowl­edges com­plicit to the so­cial struc­tures and pol­i­tics that en­gulf us across the globe?” asked Phak­eng, “or does our re­search chal­lenge ac­quis­i­tive struc­tures that de­pend on so­cial in­equal­ity?”

She said while the SDGs, adopted in 2015, were wide-rang­ing, it was “strik­ing” how closely they aligned to crit­i­cal prob­lems in Africa.

“In­equal­ity, cli­mate change, food and wa­ter in­se­cu­rity, un­em­ploy­ment, safe cities – this is a script that could have been writ­ten by us in Africa,” she said.

Yet, re­search was cru­cial to achiev­ing the SDGs that ad­dress these prob­lems, and African uni­ver­si­ties, his­tor­i­cally set up to pro­vide hu­man re­sources for pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions, needed to in­clude re­search as a larger part of their pro­gramme.

As it stands, African uni­ver­si­ties pro­duce only 1% of global re­search out­put, and most of that comes from spe­cific South African uni­ver­si­ties.

South African uni­ver­si­ties needed to over­come the chal­lenges the low level of in­vest­ment in re­search and devel­op­ment – which av­er­ages less than 0.25% of gross do­mes­tic prod­uct in African coun­tries – and the lack of re­search col­lab­o­ra­tion and knowl­edge ex­change be­tween academia and in­dus­try.

If African uni­ver­si­ties did not take the lead in re­search in Africa, the agenda of re­search on the ef­fects of is­sues such as cli­mate change in African coun­tries would con­tinue to be dom­i­nated by re­searchers from “the north”.

At the mo­ment, only 30% of the re­search pa­pers study­ing cli­mate change in Africa had an African re­searcher as the lead au­thor. This meant Africans were not for­mu­lat­ing the

What do you see as key to driv­ing growth on the con­ti­nent? Why is Africa un­able to break the shack­les of colo­nial­ism?

SMS us on 35697 us­ing the key­word GROWTH and tell us what you think. In­clude your name and prov­ince. SMSes cost R1.50 ques­tions in­form­ing the re­search and were not set­ting the agenda.

African uni­ver­si­ties needed to en­gage in south-south rather than north-south col­lab­o­ra­tion, be­come part­ners rather than com­peti­tors, share re­sources and in­fra­struc­ture and cre­ate cen­tres of ex­cel­lence to com­pete for fund­ing sit­u­ated in the north, as lo­cal fund­ing was in short sup­ply.

UN spe­cial ad­viser on SDGs and direc­tor of the Earth In­sti­tute at Colom­bia Univer­sity Jeffrey Sachs said ed­u­ca­tion was “top of the agenda in SDGs” and re­search needed to meet lo­cal needs in or­der for in­vest­ment to be made wisely.

“The les­son from Asia is well-tar­geted in­vest­ment,” said Sachs. This meant in­vest­ment in good gov­er­nance, in­fra­struc­ture, hu­man cap­i­tal, in­tel­lec­tual cap­i­tal, so­cial cap­i­tal and fi­nan­cial cap­i­tal.

If Africa could sub­stan­tially raise its in­vest­ment rates across these six ar­eas, it could dou­ble its growth rate from 5% to 10% per an­num.

This was es­pe­cially true if “ev­ery child is given a de­cent start in life” in terms of nu­tri­tion, safety and ed­u­ca­tion to stim­u­late brain devel­op­ment. “Ed­u­ca­tion is a key ex­plana­tory fac­tor of China’s suc­cess,” said Sachs.

The univer­sity sec­tor had a “cru­cial and unique role to play” in achiev­ing SDGs and re­sul­tant growth, as the chal­lenges lay be­yond ca­pac­ity, and of­ten be­yond the in­ter­ests of a govern­ment limited to look­ing to a five-year elec­tion cy­cle.

As for the cri­sis sur­round­ing #FeesMustFall protests at South African uni­ver­si­ties, he said he re­alised it was an “ex­tremely dif­fi­cult mo­ment in uni­ver­si­ties right now, but some­times a cri­sis is an op­por­tu­nity to say, ‘Here’s what we can and should do in the fu­ture’, and plan a new way for­ward”.

Phak­eng said uni­ver­si­ties wel­comed dis­rup­tions that “push us to re­think who we are, what we do as a col­lec­tive and the im­pli­ca­tions that has for the fu­ture of our world”.

“We wel­come chal­lenges,” she said, “but we’d like some new chal­lenges now, not the same as 2015 and 2016.”

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