By Wagdy Sawahel
The African Union’s new High Level Panel on Science, Technology and Innovation has recommended actions to support higher education and research, and to move the continent from resource-based to knowledge-based economies.
The recommendations were announced following the panel’s first meeting held in the Library of Alexandria in Egypt.
The panel was established on 3 August, with eight members representing Africa’s regions and the international community, to advise the African Union (AU) on a review of Africa’s Science and Technology Consolidated Plan of Action, which was adopted by ministers in 2005 and endorsed by AU heads of state in 2006.
The panel is co-chaired by Kenyan scientist Calestous Juma, director of the science, technology and globalisation project at Harvard University, and Egyptian scientist Ismail Serageldin, director of the Library of Alexandria.
Other African members are Botlhale Tema of South Africa, Rispah Oduwo of Kenya, Jean-de Dieu Nzila of Congo and François Lompo of Burkina Faso. International members are Karim M Maredia of Michigan State University and Pascal Kossivi Adjamagbo of University Paris 6.
The panel is supported by a working group comprising representatives of the African Union Commission, its agency the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, the African Development Bank, the African Academy of sciences, and international organisations.
To promote science and technology in African universities, research institutions and countries, the panel issued the following recommended actions:
• Urgent transformation of vision into reality. Member states and regional economic communities should take full advantage of available political support and translate it into practical action.
• Think and act strategically around the role of science, technology and innovation, and create research and advisory institutions to support implementation.
• Upgrade the continent’s human resource base and infrastructure, and add value to natural resources as part of the transition toward knowledge-based economies.
• Boost the critical role that African universities and research institutions can play as engines of economic transformation, and review experiences around the world that could inform action in Africa including links with business and industry, business incubation and expanded entrepreneurial activity.
• Lay the foundations for building long-term research and development capacity through public-private collaborations and use of global knowledge.
• Focus on harnessing existing technologies to address specific socio-economic problems.
• Transition towards knowledge economies will entail complementary institutional innovation at the national, regional and continental levels.
• Take into account the social dimensions of innovation and the importance of the co-evolution of technology and institutions.
• To facilitate the Consolidated Plan of Action review process, states and other actors should provide more detailed information on national, regional and continental activities inspired in the past seven years by the plan.
• In implementing science, technology and innovation strategies, countries and regional bodies should design creative approaches and provide incentives for action and the mobilisation of financial resources.
Co-chair of the panel Calestous Juma said: “African universities are at the early stages of defining themselves as agents of innovation.
“We are starting to see a new generation of universities that focus on product development and commercialisation. One example is Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology. This trend is going to continue, but it needs to be supported by enabling legislation and financial incentives.”
Juma added: “The main barrier is that the policies under which universities were created emphasise classical training models that consider the public sector as the main source of employment. This needs to change through new policies and laws that stress the role of entrepreneurship and private sector activities.”
Asked about how African universities could become engines of economic transformation, Juma said much of the change would need to come from universities’ leaders. “But leadership is not enough without the right enabling environment supported by policy and law.”
There was considerable diversity in models around the world, he added, and so African universities could learn from examples such as Babson College and MIT in the United States, EARTH University in Costa Rica, and the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
“There are also African examples, such as Kenyatta, Kumasi University of Science and Technology (Ghana) and the African Rural University for Women (Uganda).
“The focus on universities as agents of economic growth will also require changes in the curriculum to focus on practical fields such as engineering and entrepreneurship,” Juma concluded.
The next meeting of the panel will be held in October in South Africa. Its first report will be presented at the next African Ministerial Conference on Science and Technology – AMCOST – meeting, to be held in November in Congo Brazzaville, and a strategy for science, technology and innovation will be presented to the AU Summit of July 2013 for approval.
(Source: University World News)