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Chronicle of Higher Education: Nine Problems That Hinder Partnerships in Africa

Authors: John D. Holm, and Leapetsewe Malete
August 13, 2010

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In this comment, directors at the University of Botswana explain some of the difficulties in developing partnerships between African academics and their peers in the developed world.

African higher education faces a crisis. The quality of university teaching and research has declined drastically as institutions across the continent contend with budget cuts, growing enrollments, repeated strikes, a crumbling infrastructure, and a migration of the most talented professors to developed countries.

In response, universities from America and Europe, government aid agencies, and charitable foundations have started major efforts to help rebuild higher education in Africa. While those projects have dedicated substantial funds and human resources to the cause, they so far have produced mixed results. The problem is that representatives of universities from developed countries and other well-intentioned people come to Africa with basic assumptions that undermine their work.

Those assumptions about how to assist the region are not always explicit. They are manifested in subtle ways in the behavior and speech of higher-education officials who come to Africa. What's more, the officials often fail to examine their own assumptions, some of which are obviously unrealistic. To be sure, not all Europeans and North Americans make such mistakes. But as the former and current directors of the Office of International Education and Partnerships at the University of Botswana, over the past four years we have seen such assumptions ruin potentially promising endeavors.

While many factors lead to the failure of partnerships, we have identified nine problems that hinder outside aid to Africa's universities and several ways to improve the interaction between African academics and their peers.

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