African Finance and Education Ministers Conference Ends in Tunis

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The African finance and education ministers’ conference that opened on Wednesday, July 15, in Tunis ended on Friday July 17, 2009 with participants calling for greater cooperation among education sector stakeholders and better leadership on the part of African countries to ensure the sector weathers the storm it is currently going through, especially within the framework of the current global financial crisis. Speaking during the last day of the conference, PAGL Executive Secretary, Mamadou Ndoye, said that the continent’s education initiatives had hardly attained their objectives due to the lack of resources and capacity. He also pointed to the lack of commitment on the part of African governments and their failure to make the most of the fruits of regional cooperation such as the sharing of best practices that could result in better quality.

The former chair of the Association of African Universities, Prof. Njabulo Ndebele, for his part, made a presentation on the theme: “Strengthening African Tertiary Education through Regional Collaboration: Successes, Challenges,  and Options for the Way Forward” in which he pointed out that collaboration was key to the development of higher education on the continent. He called for greater inter-institutional collaboration, pointing out that a staff development partnership was already underway on the continent with the Universities of Cape Town, Dar-es-Salaam, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Nairobi, Makerere and Zambia as well as the Kenyatta University of Science and Technology participating.

He underscored that regional collaboration was potentially focused and could provide greater regional benefits. He underscored that regional collaboration could stem the tide of brain drain through opportunities distributed competitively within the regional system, adding that regional diversity could serve as a source of innovation.

Meanwhile, speaking on Thursday within the framework of the conference, Singapore’s Finance Minister, Tharman Shanmugaratnam, underscored the importance of building a knowledge-based society. He shared the East Asian experience, in general, and that of Singapore, in particular, with participants. He stressed that education had taken his country from a Third World country to a First World country through efforts by the government to build a national education system, foster mass education, create a common identity and aspirations in a multi-racial society and promote vocational and technical institutions.

He also said that it was necessary to allow universities to charge realistic fees so that they could recruit the best faculties, while government should instead provide bursary to low and middle-income students. He advised that education financing also required policies that would make it possible to attract private funding for university endowments and that meritocracy should be encouraged as it breeds social mobility. He called for the provision of quality principals and teachers in every school, including those in poor neighborhoods.  

The conference, which was held on the theme: “on the theme: “Sustaining the Education and Economic Momentum in Africa amidst the Current Global Financial Crisis”, brought together 15 finance ministers and 22 education ministers, education experts from across the globe and representatives of the civil society and the private sector. It was organized by the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA), the African Development Bank (AfDB) Group and the World Bank (WB), with the support of donor partners of the Education for All Fast Track Initiative (EFA FTI).

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