Working Group on Higher Education (WGHE)


At a time when investment in human resources has become the cornerstone of national development efforts,, and when the emerging globally competitive, knowledge-based economy places new responsibilities on them, African tertiary education institutions and policy-makers need opportunities to reflect on and exchange ideas, redefine their visions, develop new approaches, and prove their capacity. After more than two decades of neglect, there is renewed interest in tertiary education in Africa due to the growing recognition of its role in promoting economic growth and social development, and more specifically, the link between tertiary education and the labor market. There is also a growing appreciation of tertiary education's role in improving quality at other education levels.

Hope on the horizon for tertiary education in Africa. Some national governments have begun establishing policies to strengthen their tertiary education systems, and many institutions are engaged in creative reforms that demonstrate innovation. Even more promising have been the transformation of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) to the African Union (AU) and the formation of a New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD). Both create opportunities to strengthen the partnerships required to mobilize much-needed resources towards the revitalization of tertiary education in Africa within the framework of the Declaration of a Second Decade of Education for Africa.

What is the Working Group on Higher Education?

The Working Group on Higher Education (WGHE) was established in 1989 to strengthen collaboration among African governments, development partners, and tertiary education institutions to improve the effectiveness of development assistance. WGHE draws on its extensive knowledge of the education sector to help tertiary institutions in Africa devise creative responses to challenges and promote consensus among governments and development partners around the revitalization of policies and strategies. Participants in WGHE include African higher education institutions, African governments and Ministries of Education, and development partners supporting the revitalization of tertiary education in Africa. 

WGHE is a collaborative effort and it was structured between 2002 and 2009 as a funds-in-trust project within the Association of African Universities (AAU). 

A Steering Committee composed of representatives from key stakeholders-namely representatives from the African higher education community, technical government representatives, and development partners-lead the Group. In addition to Steering Committee meetings to review and align WGHE annual work program and share information from member institutions, the WGHE also conducts periodic internal assessments to evaluate its performance and reaffirm its mandate and strategic focus on analysis, advocacy, and capacity building on commonly identified key issues. 

What are the objectives of the Working Group?

The main goal of WGHE is to contribute to the development of diverse, dynamic, responsive and relevant tertiary education systems in sub-saharan Africa. It serves as a "broker of ideas" and a forum for knowledge sharing. More specifically, WGHE aims to advance:

  • Region-wide, free, and open exchange on key issues of tertiary education among stakeholders, including representatives of national, international, public, and private institutions, to promote increased understanding of higher education challenges and to diffuse innovative practices and awareness of needed reforms.
  • Advocacy on the important role of tertiary education in socio-economic development, the link between tertiary education and the labor market, and the important role of tertiary education in improving quality at other education levels.
  • Capacity building through funding of small-scale pilot initiatives.

What does the WGHE do?

WGHE achieves its mission through a three-prong strategy of analysis, advocacy, and capacity building. It operates by:

  • Identifying priority issues and activities and conducting research whose results are communicated in reports, online postings, and publications;
  • Funding small-scale pilot initiatives and networking with pan-African institutions at sub-regional levels to engage in advocacy and support institutional capacity building;
  • Collaborating and networking with other stakeholders and related agencies, including professional bodies and non-governmental agencies (NGOs);
  • Organizing issue-focused forums and special events to bring together representatives of African tertiary institutions, donor agencies, and government policy-making bodies to exchange perspectives and build understanding. (see box below for themes discussed at forums)

Themes of WGHE forums?

WGHE meetings have focused on a variety of themes, including:

  • Higher education policy and innovations 
  • Distance and cross-border education 
  • The role and participation of private providers 
  • Strategic planning 
  • University finance 
  • Female participation 
  • Institution management and governance 
  • Prospects for inter-university cooperation in graduate training and research.

What has WGHE achieved?

WGHE has been credited with a number of achievements, including keeping higher education on donors' agenda. It has conducted a range of studies on higher education issues, most of which have been carried out by African scholars and published in both English and French. WGHE reports are available online at the ADEA and the Association of African Universities (AAU), Among the more important studies are:

  • A survey of higher education innovations in Africa 
  • An assessment of strategic planning experiences among African universities 
  • Case studies of university reform experience in Africa during the 1990s 
  • Surveys and case studies on the challenges posed by HIV/AIDS to African tertiary institutions 
  • A survey of tertiary-level distance learning programs

WGHE meetings and Annual Work Programs have also generated a list of priorities for development partners, including:

  • Support institutional strategic planning exercises 
  • Help to establish institutional policies and awareness programs for HIV/AIDS 
  • Assist in designing integrated development plans for information and communications technologies
  • Support training of University Council members 
  • Give greater emphasis to long-term programs and institutional funding allowing for local input and capacity building 
  • Support multi-country graduate training programs, including higher education research.