A note on possible synergies between the Erasmus Mundus programme and NUFU Johan Helland Senior Researcher The Chr. Michelsen Institute (CMI)
A note on possible synergies between the Erasmus Mundus programme and NUFU Prepared for the Norwegian Centre for International Cooperation in Higher Education
Final Report June 2005
Background The Norwegian Centre for International Cooperation in Higher Education (SIU) is charged with the management of academic cooperation programmes in highly diverse international contexts. These programmes are implemented by various institutions of higher learning in Norway. There seem to be noteworthy differences, however, with regard to the significance and relevance the various programmes hold for the Norwegian academic community. A number of these programmes fit easily into the central concerns of Norwegian academic institutions, while others are more marginal to the issues that occupy them on a daily basis. On the one hand SIU devotes a lot of attention to cooperation with European partners, including programmes addressing cooperation at the level of the Nordic countries, within the European Union and with the countries of the Central and Eastern Europe. Inter-European cooperation is crucially important to all institutions and individuals involved in higher education in Norway. Programmes to promote inter-European academic exchange and cooperation have grown rapidly in scope as well as in significance. The so-called Bologna Process, which is the most far-reaching and determined policy effort yet within this field, has already generated far-reaching policy reforms within the academic sector. The consolidation of the European Higher Education Area that is the main objective of the Bologna process will continue to affect all Norwegian institutions of higher learning in the years to come. No Norwegian institution of higher learning can afford to ignore the significance of the Bologna Process and institutions are prepared to invest a lot of time, effort and material resources to take part in the programmes engendered. At the other end of the spectrum of international cooperation, SIU is also charged with the management of Norwegian academic cooperation with institutions in developing countries, under the NUFU1 programme. Although the NUFU programme emphasises equity between partners and argues strongly for the mutual benefits to be drawn from a programme of research cooperation, there is a significant aspect of development assistance built into the NUFU programme. This in turn often generates a more noticeable impact, in practical as well as in academic terms, at the partner institutions in the developing countries than within the Norwegian universities. In many cases, NUFU cooperation programmes are far more important to the developing country institutions than they are in Norway, where they play a marginal role in the international cooperation portfolio of Norwegian universities. There can be little doubt that the cooperation within the European Union with the aim of developing a European Higher Education Area by 2010 and the domestic policy measures for higher education that have arisen out of this international commitment already have had a significant impact on all Norwegian academic institutions. The farreaching Quality Reform, for instance, involving the restructuring of all academic programmes at Norwegian universities, was introduced in 2003 on the basis of the policy initiatives of the Bologna Process. The Bologna Process defines 10 specific 1
This curious acronym derives from the historical roots of this programme, which was started in 1991 by the Norwegian Council of Universities and managed by a committee known as â€˜Norsk utvalg for Utviklingsrelatert Forskning og Undervisningâ€™ (Norwegian committee for development-related research and education), created by the Council in 1986. 1
policy objectives, which partly overlap and depend on each other, but which all may be pursued in their own right, and that individually and jointly will contribute to the consolidation of the European Higher Education Area. The Bologna Process does not aim at a single, unified European policy for research and education but seeks to promote greater interaction, mobility and inter-institutional cooperation through gradual reform. Initiatives to homologise the degree structure at European universities are central to the process, as are the creation and acceptance of a credit transfer system and a peer review system for quality assurance across institutional and national boundaries. SIU programmes relating to the Bologna Process are highly significant and highly interesting to Norwegian academic institutions, which can hardly afford to neglect the opportunities for inter-European cooperation that they offer, at the level of institutions as well as instructors and students. There is not the same kind overwhelming political pressure and forceful dynamism involved in the NUFU programmes, where opportunities are more restricted and the rewards are more narrowly defined. The interest generated within the Norwegian academic community by the NUFU programme is to a large extent a reflection of Norwegian research interests in development issues or issues relating specifically to the situation of developing countries. Within these parameters the NUFU programme has worked well and has received good reviews, particularly in terms of the contributions it makes to institutions and scholarship in the developing countries. None the less, Norwegian development research, even in its broadest definition, is not a dominant feature in the Norwegian academic landscape. Some universities and individual university departments maintain quite strong interests in the subject matter, but measured for instance by the proportion of grants from the Research Council of Norway, development research forms a miniscule part (1-2%) of the overall research portfolio at Norwegian academic institutions. This note will discuss the possible points of contact between these two spheres of international cooperation, particularly in terms of how the newly created Erasmus Mundus programme may make a positive contribution to the academic institutions of the developing countries.
The Erasmus programme The main instrument available to SIU to promote activities relating to European academic cooperation within higher education has been the Erasmus programme, which is one of several programmes under Socrates, the general EU programme for education. Norway has taken part in the Erasmus programme since 1992. This programme supports activities that primarily are intended to increase mobility of students as well as instructors and to promote exchange between European institutions of higher learning. Every year some 100.000 students and 17.000 instructors across Europe receive support for exchange visits and participation in academic programmes at foreign institutions. Additionally, the Erasmus programme has supported a number of ancillary activities, such as intensive short courses within highly specialised subjects, curriculum development projects, the establishment of a large number of thematic networks and, most importantly, the development of the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS).
The general and widespread acceptance of the ECTS is a fundamental prerequisite for student mobility between universities and the different European systems of higher education that still maintain highly diversified profiles. One particularly interesting project supported by Erasmus concerns the development of Joint Master Degrees. The European Universities Association, with funding from Socrates, selected 11 separate networks with a total of 73 participating institutions to develop structures for Joint Master Degrees within their respective themes. This project attached a lot of importance to the evolutionary process and the gradual emergence of mutual understanding, trust and respect between the many diverse institutions in the different European partner countries. This process took several years to unfold, but has laid down some of the basic foundations for the Erasmus Mundus programme.
Erasmus Mundus Erasmus Mundus is a newly established programme (since 2004) which in strictly formal terms is independent of the Erasmus programme. It is intended to promote the idea of a European Higher Education Area as a well-integrated and functional concept by supporting high-quality joint mastersâ€™ courses within a number of fields. It clearly depends on activities previously supported by the Erasmus programme, such as support to the thematic networks and curriculum development efforts. The most important preconditions for the Erasmus Mundus programme include the development of the European Credit Transfer System and the experiences from the work with Joint Master Degrees. Erasmus Mundus takes many of the policies and ideas of the Erasmus programme a step further and it fundamentally distinguishes itself from the Erasmus programme by expanding the programme catchment area to include nonEuropean individuals and institutions. The basic idea underlying the new programme is that a number of Joint Masters programmes will be recognised as Erasmus Mundus Master Courses and will be eligible for support from any of the four actions that make up the Erasmus Mundus programme. The number of student places in each course is limited (partly because staff to student ratios are good indicators of quality) and while European students may apply to join the programmes either as regular Erasmus students, or on terms set by the respective national systems, the Erasmus Mundus programme will provide scholarships for a number of students from outside Europe. The rationale and the driving force of the Erasmus Mundus programme clearly must be seen in terms of the Bologna process and the overarching objective of developing the European Higher Education Area. There is, however, also a certain element of global competitiveness involved, in that the Erasmus Mundus courses no doubt should present themselves as high-quality alternatives in the education offered on the global market and where the main competition is expected to come from the US educational establishments. Erasmus Mundus, which will cost some 230 million euro over the next 5 years, is organised into 4 distinct sub-programmes (known as â€˜actionsâ€™) involving the following:
Erasmus Mundus Masters Courses The programme will support approximately 100 courses of outstanding academic quality across the full range of academic subjects. The courses must be offered by consortia of a minimum of 3 European universities and must be organised as integrated courses in the sense that students will study at a minimum of two different universities during the course period. The courses should lead to a joint degree, but since there still are a number of formal and legal obstacles to overcome, double or multiple diplomas may be offered in an initial period. The courses are usually based on the experiences gained under the regular Erasmus programme and may be seen as the end product of the support provided to the Joint Masters Degrees. The universities taking part in the consortia must in addition provide practical assistance to facilitate student mobility (involving travel, accommodation, language training and social networks) and must offer mutual recognition of courses and credits through the European Credit Transfer System. Erasmus Mundus scholarships The programme will allocate between 10 and 30 scholarships to each consortium for students from countries outside Europe, to allow highly qualified graduate students from all over the world to benefit from the masters’ courses. The scholarships are quite generous (€ 21.000/year) and it is expected that this will encourage competition and attract the best students. The scholarship regulations further aim at diversity in the student population, by setting limits for each course of maximum 25% of the students from the same country and maximum 10% from the same institution. Each consortium may also apply for between 3 and 5 positions for visiting scholars from countries outside Europe. These will be short-term (3 months) arrangements for non-European scholars who will be involved in research within the substantive field of the masters’ course and who will enrich the course by participating in research activities, supervision of research students or other forms of training during their period of stay with a European host institution. Partnerships Action 3 of the Erasmus Mundus programme is intended to promote partnerships between the European consortia and various academic institutions outside Europe. Each European consortium may enter into partnership agreements with up to three non-European institutions. The main thrust of this action will involve increasing the mobility of European staff and students by allowing them to take part in the academic activities of the partner institution. The programme will provide travel grants for up to five European students and up to three instructors per consortium, to visit partner institutions in non-European countries. Expenses incurred by the host institution will be partly offset by a modest partnership grant (€5.000 per institution) from the programme. Promotion The 4th action under the Erasmus Mundus programme involves a range of activities that promote a global interest in the Erasmus Mundus programme and in the European Higher Education Area. In addition to supporting activities that improve the profile and visibility of European higher education (through e.g. seminars, conferences, publications) this action also will also work on improving accessibility of non-
European students to European institutions of higher learning, for instance by promoting mutual recognition of the qualifications from universities in non-European countries. It is expected that the Erasmus Mundus programme over the next five years (20042008) will provide grants to some 5.000 post-graduate students from non-European countries to attend the approved Erasmus Mundus Masters Courses and will accommodate some 1.000 academic staff from non-European countries as visiting scholars at European institutions. A similar number of European academics will visit non-European partner institutions, as will more than 4.000 European post-graduate students. It is expected that the Erasmus Mundus programme will result in over a 100 partnerships between European and non-European institutions of higher learning.
Norwegian participation in Erasmus Mundus Norwegian universities are partners in 3 of the 19 European consortia whose joint Master’s courses were recognised (out of 128 applicants) as Erasmus Mundus courses in the first round in late 2004. These include: • •
the University of Oslo, taking part in offering a European Masters Degree in Higher Education (coordinated by the University of Oslo) the University of Bergen, taking part in tropEd - European Master of Science Programme in International Health (coordinated by the Charité University Medical School in Berlin)
the University of Bergen taking part in European Joint Master in Water and Coastal Management (coordinated by the University of Algarve)
As indicated above, these courses have grown out of previous co-operative efforts organised under the regular Erasmus programme and would not have been possible without some of the facilities (in particular the European Credit Transfer System) resulting from that programme. The thematic networks, which have been active for several years, facilitated a process of gradual familiarisation and the building of mutual trust within the networks. The thematic networks were also important to the exchange of ideas and mutual influence on the contents of courses and academic programmes. One of the most important outputs, however, was the gradual acceptance of a peer review mechanism to facilitate quality assurance across national boundaries. The mutual acceptance of rigorous quality standards, and a mechanism to actually uphold these standards, has been very important to the establishment of Erasmus Mundus programmes. The standards are being upheld by mutual consent within the consortia operating the Erasmus Mundus courses, where each participating institution has one vote. The Erasmus Mundus courses have only recently started and it is far too early to draw any conclusions with regard to their success. There are still a number of issues that have yet to be resolved, particularly with regard to the formalities involve in awarding joint degrees. There are also in several countries delays in implementing the structural changes in national education systems that are implied in the Bologna Process, which will create difficulties with regard to full participation in the Erasmus Mundus 5
programme. But none the less, it is important to note that the Erasmus Mundus programme is the outcome of a long process in which a large number of academic institutions have been given the time required for mutual familiarity and trust to grow, leading towards voluntary acceptance of stringent quality control mechanisms across countries and institutions. The incentives put in place by the Erasmus Mundus programme are apparently attractive enough for a large number of institutions across Europe to make the additional efforts required to accommodate the demands set by the programme. Furthermore, there are mechanisms in place to allow the solution of many of the remaining problems, e.g. the temporary (which in some cases can be quite long-lasting) use of Diploma Supplements to overcome formal difficulties of granting joint degrees.
Erasmus Mundus in the wider context The Erasmus Mundus programme is a direct result of the Bologna Process and the evolution of a European Higher Education Area. Its primary purpose is to boost interEuropean cooperation by enhancing the quality and attractiveness of education programmes offered in Europe. As such it may be perceived as an inward-looking programme with Europe and the reputation of European higher education as its main frame of reference. None the less, the programme derives a large part of its rationale from the emphasis given to cooperation and exchange with third country institutions. Most of the funding for programme activities, for instance, is reserved for scholarships for postgraduate students from non-European countries, including students from developing countries. One should note, however, that the Erasmus Mundus programme is not exclusively directed at the developing countries. Partnerships may be established and students may be accepted from the whole range on non-European countries, including industrialised countries like Canada and Australia. Even so, fears have been voiced that the Erasmus Mundus programme may contribute to widening rather than closing the gap between scholarship in the North (America and Europe) and the South (the developing world) 2. The main argument underlying this fear is that the Erasmus Mundus programme will siphon off the best academic resources from the institutions in the developing countries, increasing the ‘brain drain’ from the South to the North and contribute to the continued marginalisation of research and higher education in the developing world. Since the programme is quite new, there is little experience to go by with regard to the origin of students accepted into the Erasmus Mundus courses, for instance with regard to the distribution between students from developing countries and other nonEuropean countries. Table 1 shows the distribution of the country of origin of the 140 Erasmus Mundus scholarships granted in 20043:
see for instance ’Fearing Fortress Bologna: Interview with Akilagpa Sawyerr’ in Global Knowledge, No.P5 (2004) published by SIU 3 I am grateful to prof. Peter Maasen, University of Oslo for this information.
Erasmus Mundus scholarships were granted to students from 53 different countries, out of which 8 countries are among the Least Developed Countries (LDCs)4 Out of the 140 Erasmus Mundus scholarships, 12 were won by students from LDCs
This distribution should not be taken as very significant, particularly not since it only covers one year, and the first year as well, of a new programme. But one should perhaps note that given the strong emphasis on quality (only 19 out of 128 applicants were recognised as Erasmus Mundus courses) and the incentives represented by the generous Erasmus Mundus scholarships, there seems to be little scope for affirmative action arrangements for students from developing countries. Students from these countries will have to compete with students from other non-European countries, irrespective of their disadvantaged background. But students from developing countries have in other contexts shown that they are perfectly capable of competing on intellectual and academic terms, even if they sometimes need additional time to prepare for particular requirements. There is no reason to believe that they will be completely marginalised in the context of Erasmus Mundus courses. It is far too early to draw any conclusions at all with regard to any systematic bias in the selection of students. The scholarship component of the programme will no doubt offer exciting education opportunities for a number of students and in general terms contribute to increase to pool of well-qualified academics from developing countries.
Table 1: Origin of students, Erasmus Mundus scholarships 2004-2005: EM Course
Europäischen Rechtspraxis Law and Economics
1 Argentina 1 Peru 1 Mexico
1 China 1 India 2 Israel 1 Philippines 1 Nepal 1 Vietnam
1 Burkina Faso 1 Cameroon 1 Kenya
1 Argentina 1 Chile
1 Algeria 1 Ethiopia 1 Morocco 1 Zambia 1 Libya
2 Brazil 1 Mexico
1 Russia 2 Ukraine
1 Bangladesh 1 India 1 Indonesia 1 Iran 1 Japan 1 China 1 Indonesia 1 Pakistan 2 China 1 India 1 Indonesia 2 Pakistan
LDC refers to the 50 poorest countries of the world, as defined by the UN
2 Belarus 1 Ukraine
North America Australia
1 USA 1 Australia
Arts in Media
1 China 1 Indonesia 1 Thailand 1 China 2 Indonesia 1 Turkey 1 Vietnam 1 Indonesia 1 Japan 1 Singapore 2 China 1 Pakistan
1 Morocco 1 South Africa
Computationa l Logic
1 Colombia 1 Nicaragua 1 Venezuela 2 Argentina 1 Mexico
Quaternary and Prehistory
1 Algeria 1 Senegal
Water & Coastal Management
1 Indonesia 1 Jordan 1 Philippines 1 Turkey 1 Bangladesh 1 Jordan 1 Nepal 1 UAE 1 Tajikistan 3 China 1 Indonesia 1 Vietnam 1 Bangladesh 1 China 2 India 1 Pakistan
Number of Scholarships
1 Brazil 1 Colombia 1Venezuela 2 Brazil 1 Mexico 1Venezuela 1 Argentina 2 Brazil
North America Australia
1 Russia 1 Serbia & Montenegr o 1 Chad 1 Ethiopia 1 Ghana 1 Cote dâ€™Ivoire
1 Ethiopia 1 Ghana 1 Nigeria
1 Albania 1 Belarus
1 Canada 2 USA
2 Kenya 1 Namibia 1 Tanzania
The Erasmus Mundus programme places a lot of emphasis on promoting partnership relations with institutions in non-European countries. Again, there are no experiences available yet to indicate the exact nature of these partnerships. The regulations published so far, however, seem to assume that the partnerships primarily should benefit the Erasmus Mundus courses, and it is not quite clear what the partner institutions will get in return, except perhaps the opportunity to place some of their students on the courses. Quality considerations may make it difficult for developing country institutions to present themselves as very attractive partners in this context. Few institutions in the developing countries have the background or resources to become very useful partners to the consortia that manage the Erasmus Mundus courses in terms of boosting the quality of the courses. Some of them may, however, be well placed in relation to specific research topics or control specific resources, such as access to attractive research sites. There may also be individual researchers and teachers at 3rd country institutions that can offer significant contributions on the basis of experience from settings outside Europe. The arrangements under Action 2 for inviting instructors from 3rd country institutions offer a mechanism whereby the Erasmus Mundus courses can tap into resources like that. The main issue, however, is to what extent the
partnership component as a whole will exclusively benefit the Erasmus Mundus courses and to what extent 3rd country host institutions also will gain. Institutions that have earlier taken part in the Erasmus networks may have a number of bilateral partnerships that have been developed outside the current framework of the Erasmus Mundus consortia, for a large diversity of purposes and with different sources of funding. All three Norwegian institutions taking part in Erasmus Mundus are part of the NUFU programme as well. In some cases these non-European institutions will no doubt be interesting partners also in the context of Erasmus Mundus, but it is important to note that European universities joining a consortium for the purpose of offering a joint degree cannot expect to bring former partnerships with them into the consortium. The partnership arrangement under Erasmus Mundus will have to be established on a fresh footing by the new consortium. More importantly, however, it is still not quite clear what a partnership arrangement under Action 3 of Erasmus Mundus actually will entail. The main thrust of this action is to support students and their instructors from members of the European consortium for visits and study tours at the partnership institution in question. A small grant is indicated to compensate the host institution for extraordinary costs and efforts relating to these visits, but there seem to be no resources set aside for other needs at the host institution. Although there may be few costs directly related to the visits the idea of partnership seems to involve at least a notion of equity. The partnership arrangements as they stand now seem to clearly favour the institutions taking part in the Erasmus Mundus consortium. There will no doubt be significant differences between partnerships involving institutions in developing countries and those involving a relationship with institutions in the industrialised non-European countries. In the latter case there may be a mutually beneficial partnership between institutions on an equal footing, but partnerships with institutions in developing countries could easily become exploitative in the sense that all the benefits go to the European consortium. Although Erasmus Mundus is not a programme aimed at the support and development of academic institutions in non-European countries, the whole idea of partnership becomes very difficult if the disparities between the partners are too large. In the case of a large number of institutions from developing countries these disparities are in fact very large and there is a danger that they actually can undermine the notion of partnership. An alternative danger is that the Erasmus Mundus consortia systematically may avoid the most disadvantaged institutions, precisely to counter the equity issues, thus marginalising them even further.
Synergies with NUFU As far as SIU is concerned, there is an interest in examining the opportunities for synergies between a programme like Erasmus Mundus and the NUFU programme. There are some obvious points of contact, the most apparent being the Erasmus Mundus ideas of partnership and the scholarship programme.
One should keep in mind that NUFU cooperation is primarily directed at research cooperation and the institutional development and establishment of viable research environments, preferably within fields that have a direct relevance to the development problems facing the country in question. Part of this undertaking is organised in support to teaching of research-based post-graduate courses (at both Masters and Ph.D. level), but NUFU does not contain a large scholarship component as such. There are a number of training fellowships attached to NUFU projects, particularly for Ph.D. level research projects, but so far NUFU direct support to Mastersâ€™ courses at partner institutions abroad is restricted to involvement in teaching. The research fellowships are usually quite closely tied to the research objectives of each specific NUFU project. The Erasmus Mundus scholarship programme is open to applicants from developing countries, including universities that are involved in NUFU cooperation programmes. The acceptance of students from NUFU cooperation partners into Erasmus Mundus courses could obviously been seen a sign of quality and an indication that the NUFU cooperation has succeeded in creating higher education institutions of high standing. In a long-term perspective it is also possible to see that graduates from the Erasmus Mundus programmes will, if the graduates return, enhance research capacity at the sending institution and thus increase potential benefits to NUFU activities as well. On the other hand, it is necessary to distinguish between the individual orientation of the Erasmus Mundus scholarships and the institutionally argued objectives of the NUFU programme. NUFU projects depend on an active research cooperation link between a Norwegian institution and a partner institution from one of the eligible developing countries. This means that activities will be take place within fields where there is an active Norwegian research interest. If such interests cannot be identified with a Norwegian institution, there is no foundation for a NUFU cooperation project, irrespective of the needs of the developing country in question. Although NUFU policies emphasise that programme activities are guided by priorities reached by developing country universities, the menu from which these universities can chose is made up of Norwegian research interests. This follows from the structure of the programme, which will only pay for the added costs of cooperation, on the assumption that fundamental research costs like staff emoluments are covered by the partner institutions involved. The NUFU programme is not therefore directed at the general development of the research sector in the developing country in question, nor will it aim at the overall improvement of partner institutions. Within the limits set by NUFU policies, however, the programme by all accounts seems to have contributed significantly to the improvement and consolidation of academic programmes and institutions in the cases and instances where it has been involved. In addition to funding direct research costs, the NUFU projects have also been able to support the developing country partner institutions within such fields as staff development and training, course design and curriculum development, as well as simple infrastructure. In addition to enhancing the qualifications and skills of individuals, NUFU programmes have an important institutional objective and have in fact in many cases contributed to the creation of functional university departments.
Unfortunately, these institutional results cannot be achieved once and for all, but must be maintained and protected, primarily by supporting on-going research and teaching but also through budget facilities for maintenance, renovation and replacement. NUFU can by its own regulations only provide support to an on-going project for 2x5 years, after which time the developing country institution alone will be responsible for upholding the achievements of the NUFU project. There is little systematic information available on how well developing country institutions have been able to protect and further develop the academic investments of NUFU projects, partly because NUFU is only into its third 5-year period of operation. But it seems somewhat optimistic to expect that NUFU achievements will continue for a very long time into the future, unless there are mechanisms in place specifically designed to maintain them. The Erasmus Mundus programme does not seem to offer many opportunities for the consolidation of academic institutions in developing countries. The facilities offered under the various actions of the programme are primarily put in place for the benefit of the Joint Master Degree courses. It should be emphasised that there will be individual opportunities, both for students and instructors, within the framework offered by Erasmus Mundus, but the issue of how these individual opportunities can contribute constructively to the situation of 3rd country academic institutions is not addressed.
The challenge The situation at many developing country academic institutions, particularly in Africa, is very difficult. A recent overview states5 that higher education in Africa only now has regained recognition as a key sector to the development of the continent, after decades of neglect by both national governments and international agencies. Most countries have failed to expand access adequately, from the very limited admission rates during colonial times, and now struggle with meeting rapidly rising demands for higher education with limited resources. Africa has the lowest enrolment rate in the world for higher education, with less than 3% of the eligible age cohort enrolled. Paradoxically, a major threat currently is the process of â€˜massificationâ€™ that many African universities are undergoing. Understaffed and under-resourced teaching departments struggle with growing student intakes. Even before this phase of rapid expansion, the higher education systems in most African countries faced serious financial problems and many of them are now in deep crisis. Shortages of books and journals, lack of basic teaching resources, absence of basic equipment and supplies, poor communications, restricted access to the international community, miniscule budgets for operations and poor terms of service are important aspects of these institutions that now are becoming increasingly marginalised in the world system of knowledge. They have been characterised as academic peripheries that play constantly diminishing roles in the international community of research and scholarship. The marginal position of African universities is most clearly revealed when it comes to research. An increasing proportion of research, estimated across the continent at 5
Damtew Teferra & P.G.Altbach: Trends and Perspectives in African Higher Education in Teferra & Altbach (eds) African Higher Education; An International Reference Handbook, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 2003 11
between 70 and 90%, is funded by external donors and aid agencies. A decreasing proportion of university staff members get the opportunity to engage in research as an increasing proportion of higher education institutions concentrate their resources on teaching. Although academic promotion also at African universities still depends on academic publication records, the resources for research and publication are dwindling, with grave consequences for academic career development, staff morale and staff commitment. Resource problems are compounded by problems of governance, where authoritarian African governments see the universities, particularly the student population, as part of an undefined opposition that must be kept under control. No wonder then, that the infamous ‘brain drain’ has reasserted itself as a major feature of the situation of African universities. Poor working conditions, low salaries, societal unrest, repression and restrictions on academic freedom drive the exodus of African academics. There is a now a global market for academic talent and African universities are increasingly left with those who fail to get a job elsewhere rather than those who have struggled to gain the highest honours of the academic system. Africa is not alone in losing academic talent, but suffers perhaps more than any other part of the world the consequences of international migration of academics. None the less, there is still a high need for research in African universities, to understand, record and interpret African conditions, to adapt and develop available knowledge to Africa’s problems and to bring new insight and values to the full range of African political, social and economic institutions. There should be at least one research-based university in each African country, not the least to maintain links with the international community and facilitate participation in the mainstream of science and scholarship. Without this minimum facility, African countries will risk total delinking from sources of innovation, increasing isolation and increasing dependence on the research effort of others. The Erasmus Mundus programme is specifically set up to encourage mobility of staff as well as students. While scholarship programmes offer opportunities at the individual level, it should be recognised that they can easily contribute to the ‘brain drain’. One effect of globalisation is the international labour market for academic talent. It is estimated that 1.5 million students world-wide study outside their home country and a large proportion of those will not return6. There is little doubt that the internationalisation of higher education has caused problems for African universities, including the ‘brain drain’. There does not seem any best way of countering this, except recognising that the basically unequal relationship between Africa and the rest of the world will continue also for some considerable time into the future. All programmes and linkages involving African institutions must be aware of the challenges this poses and seek remedies. The situation currently characterising the vast majority of African higher education institutions is not, however, caused by the ‘brain drain’ alone. Stopping the ‘brain drain’ would not be a sufficient condition (but perhaps a necessary one) for improvement. At present the situation at most African academic institutions may be characterised (somewhat facetiously) as ‘brains down the drain’ and that may be an 6
Altbach,P.G: African Higher Education and the World in Damtew Teferra & P.G.Altbach (eds.): African Higher Education; An International Reference Handbook, Indiana U.P. Bloomington 2003. 12
even more challenging problem. Very few African universities can afford (or are interested in providing) the facilities, equipment and conditions required for the academic staff to make use of academic talent and academic qualifications won through great individual effort and hardship. The poor state of affairs at African universities actively drive their best talent away and those that remain struggle to keep routine activities going. Any solution to this dismal state of affairs will require the long-term determination and effort of national governments. International cooperation can certainly play a role but the long-term sustainability of academic programmes, even those that concentrate on teaching and largely forego research, will depend on the determined effort of national government. The issue of sustainability partly involves public funding of higher education and research but also the long-term maintenance of academic competence and the capacity for research and innovation that is the hallmark of a good university. The NUFU projects at least recognise these problems and have been able to address at least some of the issues in bilateral projects of cooperation between Norwegian institutions and partners in developing countries. While a number of important achievements have resulted form this cooperation, the long-term issues of sustainability cannot be solved through these small-scale and restricted cooperation projects.
A tentative conclusion The main lesson that can be drawn from the European experience prior to and including the Erasmus Mundus programme, is the importance of networking. Wellorganised networks promote mutual cooperation for particular purposes, by focusing efforts on particular common tasks and allowing the strengths of some partners to compensate for the weakness of others. The thematic networks organised under Erasmus have demonstrated the value of a gradual approach, to allow mutual recognition and trust to build over time, before efforts are formalised. Mechanisms like the ECTS and the academic quality peer review depend on a high level of mutual trust, that can best be generated by cooperating on specific tasks.
Networks These positive experiences of the European thematic networks are in fact borne out by the experiences of the African Economic Research Consortium, a network to promote higher education and research within economics in Anglophone Africa. In addition to facilitating research funding and organising research meetings (workshops, conferences etc.) the AERC supports a common MA programme in economics. This effort comprises a common curriculum, common quality standards, a joint process of curriculum development and a number of joint elective courses. There are 21 member universities across Africa taking part in the network, but only 7 of these have been selected by the AERC to offer MA courses in economics. These so-called Category B universities must meet certain standards with regard to quality of teachers, teaching facilities, and adherence to the common curriculum for the bulk of the MA course. The AERC itself organises joint elective courses for students drawn from all Category B universities, bringing them together in an annual summer school, which in addition to academic exchange also facilitates personal relations and personal networks between young professionals. This structure, where some universities are entrusted to look after particular issues that are important to the network as a whole, has been 13
developed even further to allow the AERC structure to offer Ph.D. programmes at universities recognised by AERC as degree-awarding universities for this particular purpose.. The AERC network seems to work partly because the member universities have come to accept mutual inspection and mutual review of programmes, as well as acceptance of common criteria for academic quality that are used to promote or demote universities in the coveted Category B. In other words, the AERC seems to work because it is organised in relation to task and issues that all members believe are important, providing a service that all members want and secondly, because AERC is prepared to use sanctions to uphold quality standards that all members accept. AERC also receives significant funding from development assistance donors, but assistance is tied to the performance criteria set by AERC itself. NUFU would probably be well placed to develop the current bilateral research cooperation model, which has demonstrated a number of strengths, but which also has some known weaknesses, into a networking model. So far NUFU has only limited experience with supporting networking models, but these approaches to the development and operation of joint academic programmes have been demonstrated to be effective and efficient models for academic cooperation. But it is a time-consuming approach that depends on many small steps rather than a few sweeping moves. It has been emphasised by Norwegian institutions taking part in the Erasmus Mundus programme that also the evolution of this programme depended on a gradualist approach, with ample time for the participating institutions to develop mutual familiarity and trust. Also the Erasmus Mundus programme, and the Erasmus Joint Masters’ courses that preceded it, offer some important lessons, that networks and cooperation must have a substantive content, i.e. that institutions must work together to achieve something they want and see as valuable, and that there must be sanctions in place to uphold quality standards. In many African situations, where the academic institutions are under a lot of strain and live in a hand-to-mouth existence, there are few opportunities and few incentives for active promotion of international cooperation. It has been pointed out above that most African universities struggle to meet their teaching obligations and that they are totally dependent on foreign funding for research, to the extent that this takes place at all. Foreign assistance is certainly necessary, but some care should be exercised with respect to how it is offered. With the globalisation of education and research foreign assistance has inadvertently contributed to weaken African university by siphoning off their best resources. At the individual level the ‘brain drain’ is of course perfectly understandable and it is hard to do anything effective to counter it. The experiences of the AERC are therefore quite refreshing. AERC has deliberately set out to create programmes that are relevant to the situation the member countries, but which also maintains the highest professional standards, and which pursues the specific objective of retaining in the region the professionals trained by AERC. Increased support to these kinds of networking approaches seems to offer greater promise of relevance and capacity building than the reliance of African universities on European or American programmes for post-graduate training. The conclusion to these observations on the relationship between the new Erasmus Mundus programme and the needs of NUFU’s partner institutions is that while
Erasmus Mundus may offer excellent opportunities for individuals from universities in the developing countries, it could easily contribute to the range of well-known institutional problems in the South. Additional NUFU resources will most likely be far better spent on specific networking programmes in the South, with the specific aim offering high-quality training and retaining human resources in the institutions in question. The example of AERC is of course highly encouraging and the experiences of the AERC programmes should inspire new initiatives in supporting professional training networks in the South.
Published on May 4, 2010