The Importance of Promoting Applied Sciences in Africa
By admin May 3, 2017

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Photo by: Sergey Zolkin

More than half or Africa’s population is under the age of 30, making it the youngest population in the world. With one billion people spread across 50 countries, Africa only counts 2,000 colleges and universities. As a comparison, the United States’ population is of 320 million people and it counts over 4,000 colleges or universities. Right now, seven percent of Africans have college degrees compared to 30 percent of Americans. And although a majority of young people studying abroad come from Africa, unfortunately only very few of them come back after graduating.

One of the possible solutions to this issue is developing Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) education programs, or at least not neglecting them. Indeed, because education in technical fields is more costly than social sciences, STEM education programs are underdeveloped in Africa despite the continent’s urgent need for engineers and technology skills, according to Alvaro Sobrinho, Chair at the Planet Earth Institute.

Evidence shows that developing education programs in applied sciences has long-lasting positive effects on economic development. Indeed, in the 1960’s, South Korea and Ghana were similarly undeveloped but South Korea invested in its education system, notably in applied sciences, and is now the leading nation in STEM education, which has developed its industry and made it competitive at an international level (i.e. Samsung, LG, or Hyundai).

The Partnership for Skills in the Applied Sciences, Engineering and Technology (PASET) was created in 2013 in an attempt to respond to this issue. Its fourth Forum took place last month, in Nairobi. PASET’s goal is to develop higher education in scientific research. The PASET board includes government ministers from Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, and Senegal and representatives from the World Bank to facilitate partnerships. Over 200 people attended this year’s Forum, including 19 African Ministries. China, Malaysia, South Korea, Brazil, India, and Germany were also represented, as these countries have been very involved in PASET since the beginning by sharing knowledge, providing technical assistance and organizing exchange programs with their African counterparts. International firms such as Intel, Microsoft, or State Grid China (the world’s largest power company) were also present at this Forum. This was therefore a unique opportunity for tech companies and African institutions to network and showcase their innovations.

In an attempt to increase the number of scientific researchers in Africa, the governments of several African countries such as Senegal, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Kenya, along with the private sector created the Regional Scholarship and Innovation Fund in 2015. This year, these countries jointly committed $10 million towards this Fund. This is one of PASET’s key initiatives as Africa counts for a little over 13 percent of the world’s population but “contributes barely 1.1 percent of scientific researchers in the world.”

Ethiopia is one of the continents best examples of a government shifting the focus on higher education and adapting it to local needs. The University of Jimma is a great example of how local policies for public universities in the country have rebalanced the focus between the different subjects and promoted studies in sciences and technology. Indeed, since opening a science and engineering department in 2013, it has become one of the top research schools in the sub-Saharan region.

China and the World Bank have invited over 60 African university chancellors and directors of centers of excellence to the Africa Forum on Science and Technology in Higher Education that will take place in Beijing next July.



Read More:

World Bank: PASET April 2017

Africa Times: PASET wraps up in Nairobi

The Guardian: Africa’s time to rise: ending academic isolation

The Guardian: 15 Steps to quality education in Africa

Times Higher Education: The Harvard of Africa?

World Bank: What is PASET?

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