How to get Africa 1 million PhDs?

Mamadou Sarr and Connie Nshemereirwe were part of the panel that discussed the issues about higher education during the YASE meeting in Toulouse ©Rémy Gabalda/Afriscitech

The continent lacks teacher and university professors, and it is urgent, du to the current demographic boom. And the quality of their training must not be sacrificed.

“Africa needs a million new PhDs, just to get on par with the rest of the world,” says Connie Nshemereirwe, an independent education scientist in Uganda and co-chair of the Global Young Academy.

Speaking at the at the Young African Scientists in Europe (YASE 2018) conference 6th July 2018, she said Africa has to catch up to the global average of researchers per country if it is to compete in the global knowledge economy.

Quantity with quality

“We have gaps in training, health, tech and politics, ” said Nshemereirwe, who is involved in higher education policy-making in Africa.

She and her fellow YASE panellists discussed how to boost the quantity of PhDs without sacrificing quality.

Institutional buy-in for better training

To achieve one million PhDs, institutions need to get on board, and the continent’s researchers need better training to excel in all aspects of their careers.

The panel shared a few regional initiatives already making a difference, including the Pan-African University project, introduced by Kedidja Allia of the Houari Boumediene University of Science and Technology in Algeria.

Improvement of teaching skills

This project, aligned with the African Union’s strategic research goals as defined in Agenda 2063, aims to help researchers gain the broad range of skills needed to be a capable researcher in the 21st century.

It looks at past research and theoretical skills to include things like researcher training, capacity building, researcher mobility, and developing new and more relevant graduate programmes across Africa. The Pan-African University is based in four institutes at African universities, in Kenya, Cameroon, Nigeria and Algeria, with a fifth institute planned.

Teachers training needed

Allia identified a major problem faced across Africa right now: there are not enough qualified teachers at postgraduate level for the numbers of students. “We need more, and more effective, teacher training to meet the demands of students across Africa,” she said.

Another institute making a difference is the the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS), based at six centers currently with other planned to open across Africa.

Links with private companies

“Multidisciplinary training is essential,” said Aissa Wade, Director of AIMS-Senegal. The institute prepares researchers for life after postgraduate research: it runs a cooperative programme where mathematics postgraduates get placed in internships at private companies, which provides critical skills and ensures an extremely good job placement record afterwards.

“We also try to get close to communities where we are, to explain why mathematics is important for social and economic development,” says Wade. AIMS has plans for up to 15 future centres, built in partnership and cooperation with local governments.

Set and keep high standards for higher education

Another roadblock to high-quality PhDs in Africa is that there are few organisations setting and monitoring standards in African countries, says Mamadou Sarr. His organisation, the African Network for the Quality of Higher Education in West Africa (RAQUES/AO), is responsible for standardising higher education qualifications across the region.

“We are lacking regional centres of excellence,” he says. “We’re at the early stages in West Africa. We need to establish local and international networks, we need indicators to monitor and evaluate higher education institutions, and we need researcher buy-in.”

He says that this will lead to sustainable, high quality research qualifications in the region. The panellists concluded that regional and international networks would help drive the quality and quantity of PhDs coming out of Africa.

Paul Kennedy, ScienceLink


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