The 13th General Conference of the Association of African Universities, or AAU, held in Libreville, Gabon last week, staked out the AAU’s path for the next four years. There is the promise of a 25% increase in project funding, a new composition of the board and presidencies and – perhaps most significantly – a strong push to strengthen the position of the association in Francophone Africa.
Starting with the latter, the trend was already set last year, when Etienne Ehile of Côte d’Ivoire was installed as the association’s new secretary general after Olugbemiro Jegede. The choice of Gabon as the venue for the 13th assembly underlined these aspirations too. On Friday Olusola Oyewole, vice-chancellor of the Federal University of Agriculture in Abeokuta, Nigeria, was elected president of the association. He takes over from George Albert Magoha, vice chancellor of the University of Nairobi in Kenya, who is the current acting president.
A Francophone mission
AAU Secretary General Etienne Ehile is serious about his Francophone mission.
“The AAU has long been viewed as a rather Anglophone association. I am trying to change that,” he told University World News in Gabon.
“The participation from Francophone countries has been very good here and I hope that this will increase the association’s visibility in this part of Africa.”
Ehile will not stop there though. He is also making short work of securing support in the last region that the AAU needs fully onboard to be truly pan-African and that has traditionally been a weak part of its membership base: North Africa.
“This is on my agenda too. I started with attending a round table in Morocco last month to convince the Maghreb countries to become more involved. But that was only the beginning!”
All of this is not just part of a push to broaden the foundation of the AAU. It should also help to improve the financial situation of the association, which has experienced persistent difficulty collecting financial commitments from its members.
A proposal to increase the budget for projects to a total of US$26.8 million in the next four years will make it necessary to secure the AAU’s financial basis. The increase excludes the upcoming World Bank-supported African Centres of Excellence project. The theme of this year’s conference was “Transforming African Higher Education for Graduate Employability and Socio-economic Development”.
In a keynote speech read on his behalf at the conference, Gabon’s President Ali Bongo Ondimba urged higher education institutions to train graduates to suit the job market, in an effort to control ever- increasing graduate unemployment rates in many African countries. According to the AAU’s quality assurance coordinator, Jonathan Mba, the focal points for new AAU programmes in the years ahead will be policy-relevant research, university-industry relationships and further support provided to various forms of ICT development.
The new president
Asked about his priorities in the years ahead, new AAU President Olusola Oyewole told University World News: “First of all, to make our universities relevant for development in Africa.
“For our graduates, we should make sure that they have the skills and competences that not only make them employable, but also able to create jobs.”
On the board of the AAU, one new vice-president was elected from the host country of the assembly. Marc-Louis Ropivia of the Université Omar Bongo will take over from Bruno Bekolo Ebe of the Université de Douala in Cameroon.
Two current vice-presidents stay on. They are Russel Botman of Stellenbosch University in South Africa, and Karrar Ahmed Bashir Elabbadi of Omdurman Ahlia University in Sudan.
Oyewole obtained his bachelor degree from Obafemi Awolowo University in Ile Ife in Nigeria, and masters and PhD degrees from the University of Ibadan.
While his research interest is in food microbiology – he has produced more than 80 publications in this area – over the years Oyewole developed an interest in higher education. According to his website , his areas of focus include quality assurance, leadership and management in African higher education, and research systems.
Before becoming a vice-chancellor last year, Oyewole served as a senior expert in quality assurance, mobility and scholarships for the African Union Commission in Ethiopia.
There, he was charged with coordinating the Mwalimu Nyerere Scheme, whose programmes include the African Quality Rating Mechanisms initiative, the Mwalimu Nyerere Scholarship programme, and the African-EU-ACP mobility scheme.
From 2007-09 he was coordinator of the British-sponsored project,
“Mobilisation of Regional Initiatives for the Revitalisation of Higher Education in Africa”, at the AAU and was involved in promoting and managing continental research networks and programmes.
Oyewole also headed the World Bank’s project on “Quality Assurance for African Higher Education systems” at the AAU from 2006-09.
He is currently a member of the advisory group of the OECD Programme on Innovation, Higher Education and Research for Development, and the Tuning Africa quality assurance project, and was previously a moderator of the African Union discussion forum on harmonisation and ratings of higher education in Africa.
Oyewole has led several European and African Union-supported continental research programmes and served as a consultant to the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations, among numerous other positions. He has won research awards, including from DANIDA and the International Foundation for Science.
With wide-ranging experience working in African higher education, including with the African Union and the AAU, Oyewole is well equipped with knowledge and networks that will facilitate strong leadership of the African university body over the next four years.
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