Between the 17th and the 19th of January OBREAL hosted, in the University of Barcelona and in the framework of the HAQAA Initiative, a dialogue between representatives of governments, organizations and Higher Education Institutions from Africa and the European Higher Education Area. Around 70 people attended the different conferences and keynotes in which we discussed the recognition of micro credentials and lifelong learning as well as the quality assurance systems and the role that African and European universities and agencies should play out.
The importance of recognition
The main topic of the dialogue has been recognition, a relevant topic when we talk about Higher Education since it is what makes it possible for degrees to be valid and acknowledged in other systems.
It is important to state, though, 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.”
In order to have an understanding of other education systems, dialogues and conferences such as the one that OBREAL organized this January are key. Because, as said by Albert Nsengiyumva, Executive Secretary of the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA), 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. Because they are the ones that, all in all, benefit from it. The Secretary-General of the All-Africa Students Union (AASU) Peter Kwasi Kodijie considers recognition as vital for students as, he states, “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 African and European Higher Education Sectors
The relationship that Europe has with the African Continent as a whole and with the African countries particularly is incredibly important, states Jenneke Lokhoff, Senior Policy Officer at The Dutch organisation forr internationalisation in education (Nuffic). It is so because of a variety of reasons, in which she includes trade and economic ties, historical connections, and cultural and political relations.
And cooperation In the Higher Education sector, she says, plays a fundamental role in areas of shared interest. In this line of thought, she explains that The Netherlands, as a founding member of the Bologna Process in 1999, brings knowledge and expertise to the table that can be interesting 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”
In the field of quality assurance between these two continents, a lot of development has been achieved in the last years. Anna Gover from ENQA says that, under the context of the HAQAA Initiative and through this relationship between Europe and Africa, an African framework for quality assurance has been built with the development of standards and guidelines. But these, while aligned and built on the same principles, reflect the specificities of the African context.
Peter Kwasi Kodije says that “thanks, in part, to all these cooperation projects and partnerships under Erasmus+, we have achieved a 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 still need to be addressed.
The challenges in African Higher Education
Africa is, at the moment, in need of critical and advanced skills to drive technological advancement and development, according to Albert Nsengiyumva, Secretary General of ADEA, who also points out “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: access, quality, relevance, and a mismatch between HE graduates and job market integration according to Nsengiyumva. From his side, the 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 that he deems crucial. In this sense, he acknowledges the job that OBREAL is doing, which he rates highly.
OBREAL as a channel for generating synergies
Indeed, OBREAL’s role has been central in the dialogue. Not only as hosts and organizers but also as a channel to promote interregional dialogue and synergies between different countries and sectors. All in all, a very important event for the organization, as stated by OBREAL’s Director of International Projects, Elizabeth Colucci, who explains that this event is 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 stated how excited the University of Barcelona is to be a part of this conversation between Africa and Europe.