AfCFTA to offer a wealth of higher education benefits

Source: AfCFTA to offer a wealth of higher education benefits | The Herald July 31, 2019

AfCFTA to offer a wealth of higher education benefitsThe AfCFTA is a trade agreement between the AU member states aimed at creating a single continental market for goods and services as well as a customs union with free movement of capital and persons

Christabel Ligami Correspondent
The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is likely to yield significant benefits for higher education and professional labour mobility on the continent once it takes effect, according to a new Assessing Regional Integration in Africa (ARIA IX) report.

A mismatch between available skills and the needs of Africa’s labour markets has slowed the continent’s economic integration and overall development, according to the report.

But a deepening of regional cooperation in education, including the implementation of Africa’s higher education harmonisation strategy — a recommendation under AfCFTA — can help.

The report, titled “Next Steps for the African Continental Free Trade Area”, was released in Niamey, Niger on July 7 during the launch of the “operational phase” of AfCFTA at an African Union Summit attended by heads of state and representatives of the African Union (AU).

The ARIA IX report was jointly published by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the African Union and the African Development Bank.

It indicates that non-recognition, non-compatibility and non-comparability of skills, educational qualifications and experiences in Africa have impeded labour mobility.

Movement of people

The AfCFTA is a trade agreement between the AU member states aimed at creating a single continental market for goods and services as well as a customs union with free movement of capital and persons.

The agreement was signed in Kigali, Rwanda in March and entered into force on May 30, 2019.

It became operational this month (July). Only Benin and Eritrea are yet to sign.

Samuel Nyandemo, an economics lecturer at the University of Nairobi in Kenya, told University World News that AfCFTA will lead to greater professional and educational mobility and upskilling of Africa’s workforce.

“If AfCFTA is well implemented, it will be easy to transfer credits of students from one university to another,” said Nyandemo.

“Once African countries open up their borders, it will help to ensure Africa’s youth with professional qualifications are given the opportunities they deserve to work anywhere on the continent.”

However, Nyandemo said that this might take time and might also not be possible if governments fail to implement the agreement, as is the case with other economic bloc agreements.

“It will require governments to harmonise training programmes, exercise political will, and improve the physical infrastructure in universities and interlinkages between programmes,” he said.

Four instruments

The report highlights four instruments for higher education cooperation that are already in place.

The first is the Arusha Convention, adopted in 1981 to lay the legal foundation for cooperation in higher education and formed the basis for the African Higher Education Harmonisation Strategy adopted by the Conference of Ministers of Education of the African Union in 2007.

The second is the African Quality Rating Mechanism, established by the African Union Commission in 2012, which facilitates benchmarking of quality development in higher education and research.

The third is the Pan-African postgraduate training and research network of university nodes within the framework of the Pan African University, established by a 2010 AU Executive Council decision.

And the fourth is “programme tuning”, which means programme-level harmonisation through specific                                               curriculum integration methods, credit accumulation mechanisms and transfer systems.

The AU has also issued a 10-year Continental Education Strategy for Africa 2016-2025, which seeks to establish a system of educating and training human resources capable of achieving the AU’s vision.

Common language

Mike Kuria, deputy executive secretary of the Inter-University Council for East Africa, said the continental free trade area, like the East African Common Market Protocol, should allow free flow of goods and services, including human resources.

He said higher education should contribute to the free flow of human resources.

However, this requires institutions to speak to each other and learn a common language.

“African countries will need to understand and recognise each other’s qualification,” he said.

“The challenge here is diversity. Some are running Francophone systems, while others are Anglophone.”

He said harmonisation is hampered by the fact that not all countries have national councils and commissions for higher education which can take responsibility for harmonisation, although efforts had already begun with the AU-led Harmonisation of  African Higher Education Quality Assurance and Accreditationinitiative.

“The idea behind this initiative needs to be made to work.

“Greater stakeholder involvement is required.

“As of now, it’s probably just a nice document,” he said. — University World News