Lessons from ADEA’s 3rd High-Level Policy Dialogue Forum on Higher Education and Scientific Research

On 10th March 2022, ADEA hosted its 3rd High-Level Policy Dialogue Forum on “Higher Education and Scientific Research in light of Digitalization and the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) organised in collaboration with the African Development Bank (AfDB) and other partners.

The event attracted more than 200 participants including government ministers and senior officials, development partners, civil society organizations and the academia. This was the last of the three consecutive forums under the overall theme "Rethinking the Role of Skills Development in Future Work and Lifelong Learning in Light of Digitalization and the 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR)".

The forum covered three important topics, among others:

  1. Prioritizing a digital environment to boost the higher education system; 
  2. Placing research and innovation at the center of national response to economic and environmental challenges; and 
  3. Access to quality education and improving quality assurance approaches.

Opening, presentations and policy discussions in plenary

Dr. Beth Dunford, AfDB’s Vice President for Agriculture, Human and Social Development stated that the Bank plans to mobilize USD 700 million over the next five years to expand demand driven skills development, infrastructure and have teamed up with the African Union and the regional member countries to mobilize USD 300 million to boost Africa’s skills development, research and innovation. She noted that the COVID-19 pandemic presents a huge strain on resources and called for greater leveraging of partnerships to mobilize the required financing to enable Africa to step up its investment in higher education and scientific research, as well as in technology, innovation, entrepreneurship.

Prof. Amadou Abdoul Sow, representing the Minister of Higher Education, Research and Innovation of Senegal, stated that the Government of Senegal, under the leadership of the Head of State, H.E. Macky Sall who is the current Chairman of the African Union, will continue to support ADEA in the realization of the vision "The Africa we want", through the Ministry, in accordance with the Continental Education Strategy for Africa 2016-2025 (CESA 16-25), Africa’s Agenda 2063, and the global 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals. 

Two universities from Africa (United States International University-Africa, USIU-A and Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, KNUST) shared their experience on the impact of digitalisation in their institutions and their role in research and innovation. Dr. Philip Machoka, eLearning Director from USIU-A shared an initiative on training and knowledge mobilization that benefitted 10 universities in 8 countries, with 135 faculty members. In addition to building a community of practice, the initiative impacted 600,000 students and 135 eLearning champions. It encountered challenges related to internet connectivity, electricity, access, capacity gap, resource gap, and competing obligations for faculty and students.

Prof. Eric Appau Asante, Director of eLearning Centre from KNUST shared that some infrastructure and support system were already in place before the COVID-19 pandemic and teaching and learning took place remotely. Owing to the pandemic, KNUST had to scale up their resource to cater for the over 84,000 students and the over 95 department that runs different programs in the university. He stated that KNUST is currently in the process of completing a state-of-the-art studio that would cater for pre-recordings and live sessions by the end of April 2022.

Participants benefited from policy-level experience sharing in the roundtable discussions involving H.E. Mr Adama Diawara, the Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research of Cote d’Ivoire, Ms. Lydie Hakizimana, the CEO of AIMS - Next Einstein, and Mr. Joseph Nsengimana, the Director of Mastercard Foundation’s Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning in ICT. Fielding questions from Ms. Julie Gichuru, Chief Public Affairs and Communications Officer at the Mastercard Foundation, the discussions touched on how digitization impacted changes in higher education in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and whether this was a short-term wave or a long-term shift. The panel also provided insights, based on the lessons from the pandemic, on how to contextualize and entrench digitization to be an effective enabler and accelerator in providing quality higher education and research to better respond to and meet the practical needs facing Africa's communities. Key ingredient for enhancing the ongoing efforts include greater involvement of the private sector for impact funding, building sustainability, and making a difference in job opportunities.

The three breakout sessions that ensued provided opportunities for various stakeholders to engage in a deep dive for peer learning, experience sharing, and knowledge exchange.

Breakout session 1: Prioritizing a digital environment to boost the higher education system:

Dr. Huba Boshoff from the Dutch organisation for internalisation for education (NUFFIC) shared the research findings from a study on “Early Career Researchers and Digitalization: Insights from Ghana, Kenya, and South Africa.” The study aimed at establishing the needs of early career researchers (ECRs) concerning digitalization of research, digital access, and perceptions in higher education. It mainly focused on how digital transformations can be utilized to support early career researchers and looked at the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on ECRs and how digitalization can support them even in times of crisis.  

Dr. Minu Ipe from Arizona State University, a partner to the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program, followed with lessons from the eLearning Initiative addressing the disruption to learning because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The project strengthened the ability of the 10 selected universities (African Institute for Mathematical Sciences, American University of Beirut, Ashesi University, EARTH University, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Makerere University, United States International University – Africa, University of Abomey-Calavi, the University of Gondar and the University of Rwanda) to deliver high-quality and inclusive online instruction and provide virtual support to all students. It also supported the development of a community of practice in eLearning. 

Moderated by NUFFIC’s Mr. Mark Vlek de Coningh, the session offered key lessons that countries and partners can consider in reforming this sub-sector, also based on the COVID-19 experience. Investing in long-term, multi-level and multi-stakeholder partnerships is key. Faculty and students must also change their mindsets on digital transformation to better understand the potential of eLearning. This is in addition to establishing more eLearning management teams and having more eLearning champions within African universities. Since few members of the faculty in most universities have formal training in online teaching, local eLearning and training centers or hubs can be established where faculty and students’ capacity would be strengthened in instructional design and online pedagogy on a regular basis.

On financing higher education systems, there is need to break out of the traditional funding models and reach out to philanthropies and the private sector. Other creative ways include leveraging alumni engagement, engaging with strategic partners, and establishing innovation hubs within universities as part of involving communities in the institutions. Additionally, universities need to leverage the power of networks to share resources and strengthen inter-university linkages.

To sustain the human resource capacity building efforts in higher education institutions, a training of trainer approach is necessary. This calls for greater linkages with existing initiatives, supporting early career researchers and institutionalizing training to covers the university workforce. Lobbying for access to resources should be national in scope and not specific to individual universities. Additionally, institutions need to build local resource centers to undertake ongoing monitoring and continuous coaching, as part of addressing the issues and scaling the solutions.

Finally, embracing a systems-level approach is needed to achieve all these while harnessing the energy and momentum generated and enhancing collaborating at all levels between universities and with policymakers and the private sector. Solutions should be developed in a thoughtful manner, with sustainability at the center.

Breakout session 2: Placing research and innovation at the center of national response to economic and environmental challenges 

Ms. Roberta Malee Basett, from the World Bank, stated that they seek to improve education, training and applied research at the post-graduate level in key priority fields such as STEM. She mentioned that this can be achieved by: (1) providing learning resources to all STEM based institutions as well as short courses for industry professionals; (2) carrying out innovations and collaborations with the private sector; and (3) focusing more on applied research. She said that funds have already been disbursed to ministries of education across Africa to support African Centres of Excellence established in 2014. 

The World Bank presentation was then followed by Ms. Lucy Heady, from the Education of Sub-Saharan Africa (ESSA), who shared the impacts of COVID-19 on higher education institutions. She highlighted the lack of national and international mobility; a huge reduction in career progression; limited networking; and the issue of financial strain in institutions which has greatly limited the expansion of higher education institutions. Some of the interventions include providing scholarships to enhance access to university education among the youth, addressing issues of transition to tertiary education, and building the knowledge ecosystem for education. 

Moderated by Ms. Unami Mpofu from AUDA NEPAD, the session highlighted several innovative ways to support governments in appreciating and investing in research and development. One of these is by focusing support on improving education, training, and applied research at the post-graduate level in key priority fields such as STEM. This can be done through provision of learning resources to STEM based institutions as well as short courses for industry professionals. Stakeholders could also support governments in providing a conducive policy and regulatory environment to catalyze greater private sector involvement in the co-creation of innovations, and to focus more on applied research. 

It is also important to identify alternative financing options that can be used to expand higher-level teaching and learning mechanisms.  Partner involvement in this endeavor is key. Such involvement can be in the form of resource provision in support of institutions such as African Centres of Excellence to address the identified need on lack of trained academic staff and weak linkages to industry. Furthermore, developing or reforming appropriate policies that promote national research can be informed by the experiences of situations like the COVID-19 pandemic that negatively impacted higher education institutions.

Breakout session 3: Access to quality education and improving quality assurance approaches 

Ms. Jahou Fall, Secretary General of Africa Association of Technical Universities and Polytechnics in Africa (ATUPA SIFA) shared a case study on Youth Employability Skills Training in Africa. The recurring challenge their institution is responding to is the difficulty for youth to find employment due to the lack of relevant employability skills. ATUPA SIFA developed an online skills training program targeting 500,000 youth with the introduction to relevant employability skills needed for the current and future labour market. 

In her presentation, Ms. Anjusha Durbarry from the Higher Education Commission in Mauritius illustrated the current higher education landscape and new quality assurance mechanisms used, including face to face learning and hybrid learning. The evidence revealed that there is a widening of the digital divide that will deepen fractures in higher education, and stakes for digital transformation have increased dramatically. Higher education in the future will continue to rely on digital technology, especially for those in vulnerable communities.

Mr. Jewette Masinja from the University of Zambia then shared a benchmarking strategy, developed in partnership with AfDB, used with global universities with similar world class programs to evaluate and monitor the quality of programs offered. It was stated that various quality approaches mechanisms are used, and consistent reviews are made to track the quality, and adjust accordingly. AfDB provides support in capacity building, as well as internships and analytical work training for students across the country. It is important to note that there was almost an equal number of both male and female who benefitted from practical hands-on training and received qualifications. 

Mr. Boubacar Ndiaye from ANAQ-Sup, a state agency in Senegal under the supervision of the Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Innovation, shared a number of evaluation tools the institution put in place for distance learning and training during the pandemic. He noted the importance of institutions designing and implementing quality assurance mechanisms consistent with the goals and requirements of higher education, research and innovation of their country or region. ANAQ-Sup’s achievements include initiating a quality assurance culture, where they provided support and gave advice in more than 100 meetings held with higher education institutions and stakeholders around the continent. Some of the key success factors that contributed to improving the quality of higher education are having the (1) political support from the country; (2) the credibility of the procedures and tools and their conformity to global best practices; (3) compliance with quality assurance ethical and professional standards; and (4) the sustainability of funding.

Finally, this session, moderated by Dr. Keiko Takei, Chief Education Analyst at the African Development Bank ended with some key takeaways. Countries need to have digital strategies, tools and policies to implement a quality assurance system and re-balance the digital divide. Key technologies like Artificial Intelligence, blended and hybrid courses, learning analytics, and open education resources have emerged within the higher education system, and this helps countries make more informed and better decisions for learners and stakeholders in the higher education landscape. In the advent of online education and the disparity of technological equipment available to the wealthy as compared to the poor students, instruction delivery will be inconsistent and unfair. Educational institutions need to take on a proactive approach and a long-term perspective when seeking solutions to these technological disparities to promote inclusive and equitable opportunities for youth in higher education.


In his closing remarks, Mr. Albert Nsengiyumva, the ADEA Executive Secretary, pointed out that although many issues have been observed during the COVID-19 pandemic, it has also been an opportunity for innovation and creation of partnerships. Creating a community of practice and a learning opportunity for all universities and research centers through such events is therefore profitable for Africa. He thanked all the participants, including the journalists present, for the valuable insights.