Africa Knows conference: discussing the future of knowledge collaboration

From December till the end of February, we co-hosted a series of webinars titled ‘Africa Knows!’.

In the spirit of partnership, conference organiser Leiden African Studies Assembly chose to set up the online event as a joint effort by African, Dutch, and other European knowledge organisations. We joined in with the applied sciences, think-tanks, and NGOs, as well as traditional research universities, to discuss the consequences of ‘Western’ models of knowledge development in Africa and how Europe-Africa relations can grow into genuine partnership and ‘co-creation’.

In recent years, Africa’s universities, research institutions and other knowledge agencies have undergone tremendous change. Growing demand for scientific forms of knowledge and for higher education has pushed many of them to expand rapidly.

New knowledge organisations have also been established, for example, with ties to religious groups or to the private sector. There are discussions about ‘decolonising the academy’, eurocentrism is increasingly questioned, while calls for ‘looking East’ and ‘looking inside Africa’ are gaining momentum.

This debate is going on in international knowledge cooperation initiatives as well. NGOs, civil society, knowledge institutions and policy makers alike are all asking different versions of the same question: what could the future of knowledge cooperation between Europe and Africa look like? To discuss this theme, we joined the many international panels and hosted a couple of the events of the Africa Knows! conference series.

Rethinking the education ecosystem

We kicked off the conference in December with a keynote address by our director Freddy Weima on Rethinking the education ecosystem. Together with the Association of African Universities, DAAD and the International Association of Universities, we hosted a round table on leaving no knowledge behind, with NABC’s Marina Diboma as moderator.

Switching from the policy debates to the very practical reality of Agricultural Technical and Vocational Education and Training (A-TVET), Nuffic was co-chair of a panel on policy reforms for ATVET in Africa and integration of A-TVET into broader systems of agricultural knowledge, skills and innovation. Together with RuForum, Wageningen University & Research and Food & Business Knowledge Platform (now NFP), we researched and showcased A-TVET best practices and valuable experiences.

During the sessions it became clear that among others creating better perspectives to enable students to move up and into the sector needs more attention. As well as provision and availability of equipment for trainees, and accessibility of private ATVET for poorer people.

What does the future hold for European-African knowledge cooperation?

Linking up the ‘islands’

The importance of a holistic approach in the education system was stressed, meaning that we need to look at several levels of education and find common ground. For sharing infrastructure, to develop curricula which include competence-based education, and for training and building teacher capacity.

Part of building continental momentum for (A)TVET is to look at how we can get the many little TVET ‘islands’ of success, which can be found all over Africa, to speak to each other and to share experiences to build momentum and vibrancy for this vital (A)TVET sector.

Deficit of employable skills

For TVET: Bridging the gap between Africa and the Netherlands, we teamed up with Abiola Makinwa of the Hague University of Applied Sciences. Recent studies demonstrate the deficit of employable skills in a large percentage of young African graduates.

The historical legacy of grammar-type schools in many African countries has led to a large numbers of graduates with theory-based knowledge, lacking the competences and skills urgently needed by the African economy. Several African governments are taking steps to redress this educational gap. In the Netherlands, Universities of Applied Sciences (UAS) provide TVET driven by the competences and skills needed by the professional labour market. We explored which best practices of institutional collaborations between Europe and Africa might serve as steppingstones to increase TVET impact.

What is needed in terms of education, stakeholder engagement, policy, and business planning? We noted that market-driven evidence-based TVET curricula would seem to be an evident choice, the ‘how’ to actualise this remains a challenge.

'It is time to acknowledge that old lenses are challenged by new realities'

Migration of ideas

Moving from TVET to higher education and migration policies as a wider theme, we joined the Institute of Social Studies on a panel on International knowledge migration, where over a dozen research papers were presented. Amongst others, we started with a presentation by dr. Thomas Yeboah (KNUST) on how the European Union’s migration policies undermine intraregional mobility and socio-economic development in West-Africa.

Border management policies in place severely affect people’s ability for transregional movement, regardless of their intention (as either refugees or moving on their own volition for other reasons). The migration of not only people, but also ideas came to the forefront in the presentation by dr. Otieno Ongayo (International Institute for Social Studies), who made a case for a shift in the ‘brain drain/brain gain/brain circulation’ discussion to include digitalisation and its ramifications in the discourse. Or as he said: it is time to acknowledge that old lenses are challenged by new realities.

In the final presentation, clinical psychologist and researcher Adolf Awuku Bekoe (University of Ghana) put these very ideas into practice, by using the example of a WhatsApp group for mental health professionals. As technology advances the mental health profession and advocacy initiatives, irrespective of geographical location even, new issues arise that need to be addressed still, such as the need for FAIR data and ethical questions on ownership.

Youth engagement

We concluded our contribution to ‘Africa Knows’ on Thursday 25 February by hosting a closing event on Leading from the south, with Cornelius Hacking (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands). As an education specialist Mr. Hacking shed a light on decolonising the mind from a policy perspective. International NGOVSO Kenya shared experiences from a practical point of view, and Doussouba Konaté from Accountability Lab tied policy and practice together with a lens firmly pointed on youth engagement.

We thank Leiden African Studies Assembly for organising this interesting series of events. For more information, please visit the Africa Knows website and make sure check out the panel recordings, blogs and research papers.