Harmonization of Higher Education in Africa or Why We Need to Hang in There Together

Benjamin Franklin had once said that, “We must indeed all hang together, or most assuredly we shall hang separately”. Emerging from a colonial history, African leaders have felt the need to hang together or to collaborate for greater strength and confidence in African systems, structures and institutions. Among these structures, Higher Education (HE) has long been seen as a driver for development: it is the incubator for research, knowledge generation and data management as well as capacity development. The need for collaboration also arises among HE institutions. Harmonization implies the agreement, synchronization and coordination of education systems to strategically develop and strengthen the capacity of HE institutions to respond simultaneously to the educational and employability needs of populations. 21 out of 54 African leaders have shown their willingness for such collaboration by signing and ratifying the Arusha Convention (1981), that delineates guidelines for harmonizing HE through the mutual recognition of qualifications as well as inter-country collaboration.

For many reasons however, harmonization of HE in Africa has remained elusive. The globalized world, which is characterized by an increasingly mobile intellectual and labor force, has shown that growing attention must be paid to quality assurance of HE in Africa. Building on existing efforts for harmonization and informed by global developments in this area, this policy brief explores the pitfalls of a harmonization deficit, stresses the urgency to align continental HE agendas within a framework of sustainable development and recommends African policymakers to reenergize the Arusha Convention towards the development of an African Higher Education and Research Space (AHERS). It also proposes a roadmap for action through existing mechanisms to open up opportunities for development in Africa.