The Future of African Higher Education Explored During NAFSA 2018

Article written by Sabra Anderson on behalf of Global Philadelphia Association

Last week, on a rainy Wednesday morning, I found myself weaving through a sea of professionals through the Pennsylvania Convention Center, at the NAFSA Conference, an acronym which I would come to understand as the “National Association of Foreign Student Advisers." 

I found it very fitting for an event of this scale to be held in Philadelphia, the United States’ first World Heritage City. Walking through the convention center, the hum of languages foreign from my own were a reminder that at NAFSA conferences, the world comes together for the sake of global education. This is precisely the message that was iterated through keynote speaker Oyewusi Ibidapo-Obe’s “Africa Forum” that I attended.

At the beginning of the Africa Forum, the audience took their seats at tables distinguished with signs naming various African countries, as to combat the widely held myth of a monolithic African continent. We were all given blue packets with a large, orange Africa on the cover and were invited to read through it as we waited for the forum to begin. A key takeaway from this packet came from Paul Tiyambe Zeleza, vice chancellor at the United states International University-Africa in Kenya. He writes of how in nearly thirty African countries, ninety percent of published articles were completed in collaboration with either the United States, France, or the United Kingdom - all historically colonizing forces. He drives home the point that, “African knowledge systems, like its economies suffer from limited regional integration and high levels of external dependency."

With Zeleza’s work in mind, the focus of the forum was to illustrate to the global audience African countries’ goals with regard to educating African students. Specifically, the necessity of food and food security education, as well as science and technology.

One slide of the presentation titled, “Strategic Alliance in Research,” laid out ten areas of focus that African countries can adopt. These being drones, gene drives, microgrid, artificial intelligence, precision agriculture, 3D printing, next generation machines, next generation batteries, synthetic biology, and water purification.

A goal for international institutions looking to work collaboratively within the African continent is to think of ways to work alongside African nations based on a shared commitment to change. The challenge then becomes, given Africa’s deep history of being victim to imperialist exploitation, how African countries can find balance between dependency on other countries in terms of research, while also benefiting from these exchanges, which has been a challenge for the continent in the past, and continues to be a challenge currently.