In the framework of the HAQAA initiative and the European Higher Education Area’s (EHEA) Global Policy Dialogue OBREAL hosted on January 17-19, an African-European dialogue among representatives of governments, organizations and Higher Education Institutions from Africa and the EHEA at the University of Barcelona. Around 70 people attended the various conferences and keynotes, during which we discussed the recognition of micro credentials and lifelong learning as well as quality assurance systems and the role that African and European universities and agencies should play.

The importance of recognition

The main topic of the dialogue was recognition, a relevant topic in Higher Education, since it is what makes it possible for degrees to be considered valid and acknowledged in other systems.

It is important to state, however, that when we talk about recognition, we are not talking about homogenizing our systems. As the director of the European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education, Anna Gover, states, “it is not about making our higher education systems the same, but about having a common understanding of the principles on which they are built.”

“Recognition is vital for students as it validates our qualifications and facilitates mobility. It ensures that the education and credentials we receive are respected and accepted internationally, which is essential for our career prospects and further education.”

Peter Kwasi Kodije, Secretary General of the AASU

In order to have an understanding of other education systems, dialogues and conferences such as the one OBREAL organized this January are key. A Albert Nsengiyumva, Executive Secretary of the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA) states, it is a great way of “establishing additional opportunities and enhancing cooperation and collaboration between and among countries.”

Ultimately, the importance of recognition lies with the students, as they are the ones who benefit from it. The Secretary-General of the All-Africa Students Union (AASU), Peter Kwasi Kodijie considers recognition to be vital for students, as“it validates our qualifications and facilitates mobility. It ensures that the education and credentials we receive are respected and accepted internationally, which is essential for our career prospects and further education.”

The relationship between the African and European higher education Sectors

Europe’s relationship with the African continent as a whole and with the individual African countries in particular, is incredibly important, notes Jenneke Lokhoff, Senior Policy Officer at the Dutch organisation forr internationalisation in education (Nuffic). This is true for a variety of reasons, including trade and economic ties, historical connections, and cultural and political relations.

Cooperation in the higher education sector, she asserts, plays a fundamental role in areas of shared interest. Accordingly, she explains that The Netherlands, as a founding member of the Bologna Process in 1999, brings knowledge and expertise to the table that could be of interest to for African countries and universities.

“The African Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance are not the same as the European framework (the ESG), but they rather reflect the specificities of the African context and the existing national and regional quality assurance frameworks. Nevertheless, they are very much aligned, and built on the same principles”

Anna Gover, Director of ENQA

In the field of quality assurance, a great deal of progress has been achieved in recent years between these two continents. Anna Gover from ENQA says that within the context of the HAQAA Initiative and through this relationship between Europe and Africa, an African framework for quality assurance has been built and standards and guidelines developed. But, while aligned and built on the same principles, these reflect the specificities of the African context.

Peter Kwasi Kodije says, “thanks, in part, to all these cooperation projects and partnerships under Erasmus+, we have achieved growth in student mobility between Africa and Europe.” Nevertheless, he acknowledges that there are still challenges related to recognition, visa issues, and financial constraints that need to be addressed.

Challenges in African Higher Education

Africa, at the moment, is in need of critical and advanced skills to drive technological advancement and development, according to Albert Nsengiyumva, Secretary General of ADEA, who also points to “the importance to fostering a relevant, quality-focused education system across Africa, since Higher Education is the platform in which these relevant skills are developed.”

But this platform, the Higher Education sector, faces many challenges in Africa, including access, quality, relevance, and a mismatch between HE graduates and job market integration, according to Nsengiyumva. On his part, Secretary General of the AASU Peter Kwasi emphasizes the need for more inclusive and equitable education systems.

Kwasi highlights the importance that international cooperation plays in addressing these challenges — a cooperation he deems crucial. In this sense, he acknowledges the work that OBREAL is doing, which he rates highly.

OBREAL as a channel for generating synergies

Indeed, OBREAL’s role has been central to the dialogue: not only as host and organizer, but also as a channel for promoting interregional dialogue and synergies between different countries and sectors. All in all, this is a very important event for the organization, as stated by OBREAL’s Director of International Projects, Elizabeth Colucci, who explains that it represents a clear synergy between policy process in Europe (referring to the Bologna Process) and a flagship project (referring to HAQAA3).

The co-organizers of the event, the University of Barcelona, also highlighted the relevance of this kind of meetings. The rector of the University, Joan Guàrdia, addressed the participants during one of the sessions, explaining the importance of generating dialogues between universities from different regions and stating how excited the University of Barcelona is to be a part of this conversation between Africa and Europe.

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