Reinventing higher education for an inclusive world

On 14 February 2022, the African and European unions announced an AU-EU Innovation Agenda which has, as its core mandate, the strengthening of research capacity in Africa.

The announcement was quickly followed by the African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA) and the Guild of European Research-Intensive Universities releasing a joint statement expressing support for the agenda and, in particular, for the development and strengthening of clusters of excellence, the strengthening of world-class research and innovation infrastructures and the promotion of joint African-European masters and doctoral degree programmes.

It is rare for there to be such a quick transcontinental university affirmation and support for a development partnership between two regional political unions.

Yet, it is perfectly understandable, given the fact that the initiative is a game changer and likely to transform the developmental space in significant ways.

First, it is a long-term investment in addressing the structural inequalities in the global academy.

Second, it fundamentally re-writes the rules of global university partnerships, directing these to institutional cooperation and collaboration while simultaneously addressing the resource inequities that bedevil such partnerships.

Third, it explicitly advocates for the development of joint, cross-continental teaching and learning on the grounds that this could assist in stemming the brain drain and enable scientific and technological capacity to remain on the African continent.

These measures are fundamentally important, for they speak to the greatest historical challenge of our time: how to develop institutional capacities and build human capabilities across the world to address our transnational challenges.

And make no mistake; this is not charity. It is critical to our collective survival. All our challenges – pandemics, climate change, inequality, social and political polarisation – extend beyond national borders and require global solutions.

Without this, none of us are safe. As a human community, we must learn to swim together or we will collectively sink as planetary destruction or some other crisis results in the extinction of the human species.

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