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ARUA and The Guild call for the African Union and the European Union to act as levers for widespread and coordinated support for the African knowledge society

29th December 2021

The African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA) and The Guild emphasise the critical importance of strengthening African research universities in a wholistic way, calling to action the African Union (AU) and the European Union (EU), national governments, public science bodies, and Universities and their communities themselves.

With the AU-EU summit coming up next February, research and higher education must feature high on the agenda for a new, mutually beneficial strategic African-European partnership. There is a clear momentum developing for this already, not least the commitment of 20 rectors’ organisations across Europe representing over 1,000 universities.

ARUA and The Guild welcome the priority already afforded to African-European science collaboration. Under Horizon Europe, the new Africa Initiative earmarks €350 million for R&I collaboration with African partners in 2021-2022 alone, while the new Erasmus+ programme aims to triple the number of African students and researchers that it will support in 2020-2027. Additionally, the EU will direct more than 60% of the Global Europe Instrument’s geographic programme budget to Africa.

Now is the time to ensure that these different initiatives are integrated in such a way that they jointly strengthen the capacity of African science in a sustainable way, enabling universities to transform their capacity for producing new scientific and socio-economic knowledge, delivering high-quality education, and contributing to innovation. Building on the contributions of university presidents and vice-chancellors, researchers, research leaders and heads of non-governmental organisations to the high-level ARUA-The Guild conference on ‘Strengthening the African Knowledge Society’, organised on 22 November, and the contributions of university presidents and vice-chancellors, researchers, research leaders and heads of non-governmental organisations, we urge the EU and the AU to:

  1. Invest in Clusters of Excellence at African research universities, which will foster intra-African scientific collaborations across the continent.
  • Strengthen the African research, innovation, and higher education systems, by strengthening the links between the university sector, public authorities, and the private sector, and by establishing a sustainable financial architecture for research and innovation in the form of a pan-African research funding scheme.
  • Support the development of world-class research infrastructures in Africa, including through the EU’s Global Gateways programme, by making co-investments in research capacities in Africa and thereby strengthening the interconnectedness between African and European research systems.
  • Develop a ‘matching fund’ approach, to ensure the sustainability and the large-scale impact of capacity-building programmes, and strengthen the buy-in at the local, national, and regional levels.
  • Foster a critical debate and reflection on the colonial legacies and indebtedness of universities and science to colonialism and post-colonial structures, in order to change our research culture and our educational provision.

Ernest Aryeetey, Secretary-General of ARUA, said: “For the necessary transformation that will bring significant improvements to the lives of ordinary people in Africa, it is essential that research and innovation become a major feature of institutional development in the region. This will demand considerable commitment from governments and the people of Africa. We hope that the AU-EU cooperation agreement will provide an opportunity to enable African governments to develop a new approach to higher education, research and innovation. African universities must dedicate to a new future of effective and equitable collaboration with partners in Europe.”

Jan Palmowski, Secretary-General of The Guild, said: “Improving the capacity of African Science to contribute to addressing joint African and European societal challenges must be a critical dimension of the AU-EU strategic partnership. But for it to be truly successful all relevant actors must play a part: universities, researchers, educators and academies, as well as national governments, businesses and entrepreneurs. We call on the AU and the EU, through their support for African science and science collaboration, to act as catalysts for transformative change. And we call on Europe’s universities to support this transformation with a long-term commitment to a spirit of partnership, shared excellence, and equity informed by critical self-reflection.”\