The Partnership for
Higher Education in Africa



The Partnership for Higher Education in Africa

The Partnership for Higher Education in Africa, launched in May 2000, represents a belief in the importance and viability of higher education in Africa together with a commitment to its support. Four major US foundations joined together in the establishment of this initiative—Carnegie Corporation of New York, The Ford Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation.
Among its objectives, the Partnership aims to:

  • Generate and share information about African university and higher education issues
  • Discuss strategies for supporting universities
  • Support universities seeking to transform themselves
  • Encourage networking among innovative African university leaders and higher education experts
  • Distill and share lessons learned from grantmaking
  • Advocate wider recognition of the importance of universities to African development

The Partnership has selected six African countries undergoing systemic public policy reform in which to concentrate—Ghana, Mozambique, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda. Universities in these countries now have a hospitable environment in which to innovate and to transform themselves. In short, public renewal has led to institutional renewal. Although other countries and universities in Africa meet this criterion, the six Partnership countries were also chosen because two or more of the Partnership foundations are providing support to universities in them.

ICT as the Linchpin of Excellence

Just as a linchpin keeps a wheel in place, Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) are essential to the running of universities. Early on the universities that the Partnership supports recognized the pressing need to improve their ICT infrastructure and utilization. ICT can enhance effective teaching, learning, and research in Africa, as it does elsewhere in the world. It can reduce distances, virtually if not physically, thus providing African scholars with easier access to and input into the world of international scholarship—nationally, across the continent, and internationally. ICT is not a technical fix, however. It is a tool for users and its people and needs-driven. This report therefore emphasizes people power as much as it does technology.

Each of the four Partnership foundations supports ICT for its university grantees in a number of ways. Some examples include:

Examples of ICT Support
Carnegie Corporation
  • Grants to and for Nigerian universities to include ICT components in planning grants and support to the University of Iowa (UI) to enable Nigerian university staff to participate in a technology tour and workshops at University of Iowa. (See WiderNet below.)
  • ICT support at the University of Dar es Salaam, Makerere University, and the University of Ghana, Legon.
  • Support for a partnership of universities and “technikons” (higher technical institutes) in South Africa’s Western Cape Province to research and disseminate the application of ICT to achieve quality and equity in higher education in South Africa.
  • Support for participants attending a curriculum co-design workshop at the University of Dar es Salaam, organized by Professor Pearl Robinson of Tufts University.
Ford Foundation
MacArthur Foundation
  •  MacArthur Foundation funding focuses on four universities in Nigeria—Ahmadu Bello University, Bayero University, the University of Ibadan, and the University of Port Harcourt.
  • The universities have independently determined that the bulk of their grants from the Foundation should involve support for university efforts to create ICT strategic plans, to purchase equipment, and to develop skills in the use of these technologies.
  • A grant to the WiderNet project at UI for ICT training in the US and Nigeria for Nigerian university staff and to assist universities in the development of ICT infrastructure
Rockefeller Foundation

Cognizant of the substantial opportunities that ICT can provide to African universities, the Partnership decided to organize its first thematic conference on this topic. But ICT can mean something to everyone; it cuts across every university operation—from administration and management to academic applications. We therefore narrowed down the topic and decided to focus on using ICT for effective teaching, learning, and research.

At the outset, we asked the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) whether it would like to collaborate with us on this workshop. UNECA played an early and critical role in implementing ICT on the continent—first in establishing the Pan African Development Information System (PADIS)1 and then in launching the African Information Society Initiative.


AISI was adopted and endorsed by:
  • The 22nd meeting of the UNECA Conference of Ministers in May 1996.
  • The OAU Council of Ministers Meeting in July 1996.
  • the African Regional Telecommunication Development Conference in May 1996.
  • the G8 Summit in Denver in May 1997.

UNECA launched AISI in 1996 to stimulate interest in ICT for development in Africa and to encourage the creation of national ICT policies and strategies on the continent. It had its genesis in a meeting the previous year at UNECA, which brought together computer and telecommunications experts from 38 African countries. An ICT High-Level Working Group was created at this meeting, which drafted the AISI concept. It was adopted by the Conference of Ministers the following year.

Conference Participants

Welcoming remarks by Lalla Ben Barka, Deputy Executive Secretary, UNECA
”This meeting brings together two very important and crosscutting sectors: that of education and ICTs—widely recognized as priority areas by all of us. Two significant world events have also emphasized this. In his Millenium Report, the UN Secretary General, Kofi Anan, identified pressing challenges faced by the world’s peoples and proposed a number of priorities...This led to the Millenium Development Goals, which include education and the digital revolution. Furthermore, the World Education Forum held in Dakar, Senegal in April 2000 emphasized the need to promote ICT as a means to harness Education for All goals.”

Conference participants were selected from the countries and universities in which the Partnership foundations work. We also invited two regional organizations with an interest in ICT—the AAU and the IUCEA. A few resource people, with proficiency in using ICT for distance education and for information access were invited as well. We were also fortunate to have a number of key staff from UNECA with us who provided a context to continent-wide processes. In all, participants around the table came from eight African countries—Ethiopia, Ghana, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Tanzania, South Africa, and Tanzania—the UK, and the United States.

Participants included senior administrators, ”techies,” librarians, academics, and program staff of the four foundations. Everyone wore multiple hats, which enhanced the overall quality of the meeting and our feeling of expertise. A full participants’ list is found in Appendix One.

Overview of the Agenda

The agenda included presentations and discussions on the overall status of ICT implementation nationally and at participating universities; the work of regional and pan-African associations; using ICT for distance education and academic applications; and criteria for selecting different kinds of electronic media. The large group broke into small thematic groups twice a day. We originally intended to devote the last day of the meeting to "electives," but the small group sessions were so productive that we continued them into the third day and focused on priority setting and recommendations. (The agenda will be found in Appendix two.)

1. The story of UNECA's early work on ICT and the launch of PADISnet is told by Lishan Adam and Nancy Hafkin in Rowing Upstream: Stories of the Pioneers of the Information Age in Africa.


© 2003 Carnegie Corporation of New York, The Ford Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation.

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