‘Africa should take tips from India on higher education’

Accra, May 4 (IANS) African countries should take tips from India – by establishing regional institutes of excellence for science and technology, for instance – to provide guaranteed access to higher education to those from poorer backgrounds, a new report has said, adding much was also to be learnt from the manner in which India had leveraged its diaspora.

“Good publicly-funded colleges and universities for higher and technical education are essential, with the state guaranteeing access for poorer sections of society, as in India”, says the report on Innovation, Competitiveness and Regional Integration jointly prepared by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (Uneca), the Africa Union (AU) and the African Development Bank (AfDB).

The report comes at a time when the number of private institutions of higher education are growing across the African continent.

It said the Indian Institutes of Technology, Indian Institute of Science and other similar institutes funded by the union government were the best examples of India’s public education system, adding that, given the “drawbacks of large-scale privatization of higher education, as the India experience shows, must be taken into account in formulating holistic policies for higher education”.

“Tertiary education should produce people with skills needed for conducting location-specific research, especially in agriculture. A vocational education and training system should be set up that interacts with industry,” the report said adding: “These systems need to be aligned with market needs via private participation, curriculum development, upgraded infrastructure and performance incentives.”

It said India had no consistent policy framework on innovation until it introduced its comprehensive science, technology and innovation policy in 2013. The need for innovation and a make-do orientation helped India embark on its “frugal innovations”, crafted by a few pioneering individuals rather than by the government at large, the report said.

Accordingly, the report suggested the establishment of regional institutes of excellence for higher education in science and technology to attract the best talent from across Africa with affordable fees. “Institutes of vocational education and training must be established at intra-regional and regional levels”.

“Africa’s approach to science, technology and innovation should be pragmatic. The departure point is to recognize science and technology as the centerpiece throughout, as it develops readiness for technological diffusion (critical in the earlier phases of development, when a country’s innovative capacities are still restricted),” the report added.

It also echoed the need for African countries to tap into their diaspora, stating that India has put in place frameworks to leverage the contribution of its diaspora. “An Africa-wide initiative should tap its diaspora,a adding that, the AU has has designated the African diaspora the continent’s sixth region.

On integration, the report said, regional blocs across the continent can learn from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) which, it said, provides “a model of country implementation of policies and action plans rather than regional frameworks, with realistic goals reflecting country characteristics”.

“Over the years, the association has reinforced its economic community through trade, cooperation agreements and foreign partnerships. Regionally, it encourages innovation through collaboration in such diverse areas as capital mobility, trade, education and labour mobility.”

The agreements between Asean and its external partners, the reportsaid, rarely go beyond internationally established norms or obligations for intellectual property protection as provided by the global intellectual property regime. These countries “have not established strong joint intellectual property frameworks or harmonized intellectual property institutions, but the bloc has proven that an approach based on dialogue and consensus-building works well for innovation”.

It was envisioned that intellectual property will promote efficient adoption and adaptation of more advanced technologies and continuous learning to meet ever-rising performance thresholds, the report said.

“Since the policies of different African countries have tended to look quite similar in content, there is no strong evidence to suggest that they are properly synchronized with country particularities. Indeed, to be successful, such policies should take into account the particular environment in which the interventions are undertaken, usually different from country to country,” the report said.

(Francis Kokutse can be contacted at fkokutse@gmail.com)

–IANS

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