Philanthropy and Higher Education in Africa

(l-r) Naomi Moland, Teboho Moja, Fabrice Jaumont at the Albertine

Over the years, I’ve gotten to know and admire Fabrice Jaumont, the education attaché at the French Cultural Services who’s done so much for dual-language French-English programs in NYC public schools.  Fabrice recently published Unequal Partners: American Foundations and Higher Education Development in Africa, and the Albertine book store hosted a discussion between Fabrice and South African educator and author Teboho Moja,    which was moderated by Naomi Moland.  Below are the highlights of that conversation.

Private philanthropy has helped fuel the growth of higher education in Africa – as of 2014, there were 1639 higher education institutions throughout the 54 countries of the continent (as compared to only 31 in 1944).  While many are state-run, private institutions are also springing up to meet growing demand – as in the rest of the world, higher education is seen as a driver of development and income growth.  Over 300 U.S. foundations are investing in Africa, with the big foundations – Carnegie, Rockefeller, Ford, Mellon – trying to transform education on the continent. Of the $4 billion that was invested between 2003 and 2013, most has been in English speaking countries, especially South Africa, with very little going to French or Portuguese speaking schools.  Funding from non-US sources tends to  come from governments, and follows the old colonial paths.  While funding for building both capacity and buildings has made higher education more accessible, there is often a mismatch between the priorities of foundations and the recipients – the people on the ground know what is needed, but the donors have the money and so determine priorities.  The speakers cited the example of a foundation that wanted to fund classes in women’s studies, but the university would have preferred to spend the money on upgrading Internet access; this clearly highlighted the need for the relationship between the donor and recipient to be negotiated, so the donors can be involved in setting agenda. Funding by private foundations raises several larger questions:  Who owns development? What is the African model of education? Should countries follow US model?  The speakers noted that the African Union takes a regional approach to higher education that cuts across colonial lines (in it’s Development Plan 2063, NEPAD has placed higher education in the center of its strategy).

They also mentioned initiatives that seek to address these issues, such as as the one by the Carnegie Foundation which sends diaspora members to Africa to work with schools. Carnegie is also working with a group of about eight universities to help them strategically transform themselves into more research-oriented institutions, to enable their students to better compete in the knowledge economy.

While the speakers concluded that philanthropy and foundation funding are necessary for the continued growth in higher education in Africa, they did ask the question  of what happens when the funding stops – will Africa be able to do it on its own, or will the continent look to another source, such as China, to grow its education sector?

All in all, a conversation that gave me a lot to chew on, and made me want to read Unequal Partners.  You can watch a video of the talk here.