Discussion Paper - Science, Technology, and Globalization Project, Belfer Center

Education, Research, and Innovation in Africa: Forging Strategic Linkages for Economic Transformation

| February 2016

Africa is a youthful continent: nearly 41% of its population is under the age of 18. To address the unique challenges of this demographic structure, the African Union (AU) has adopted a 50-year Agenda 2063 to help guide the socioeconomic transformation of the continent with particular reference to the youth. One of the objectives of Agenda 2063 is to reposition the continent as a strategic player in the global economy through improved education and application of science and technology in development. The AU’s Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy for Africa, 2024 (STISA-2024) provides an initial 10-year framework for pursuing this goal.

Achieving the objectives of STISA-2024 will require aligning education, research and innovation with long-term socioeconomic objectives. This paper argues that the AU’s Specialized Technical Committee on Education, Science and Technology (STC-EST) is well-positioned to play a strategic role in guiding and fostering the reforms needed to improve the integration of education, research and innovation.

The paper proposes the creation of “Innovation Universities” that combine research, teaching, community service and commercialization in their missions and operations. They would depart from the common practice where teaching is carried out in universities that do little research, and where research is done in national research institutes that do not undertake teaching. Under this model, there is little connection with productive sectors. The idea therefore is not just to create linkages between those activities but to pursue them in a coordinated way under the same university structure. Innovation universities can be created in diverse fields such as agriculture, health, industry, services, and environment to advance sustainable development and inclusive growth.

There are two strategies for pursuing innovation universities. The first is to strengthen research, community service, and commercialization in existing teaching universities. The second is to set up new innovation universities in line ministries, public corporations, private enterprises, and development agencies. This paper focuses on the second strategy, given that the first one is being pursued already. The ministries or agencies responsible for higher education will need to be creative and flexible enough to foster the creation of such universities while granting the autonomy necessary for them to advance their specialized innovation objectives.

Creating such innovation universities will have two important budgetary implications. First, it will broaden the base for funding innovation by enabling specialized actors to design and operate new universities using their own budgets. Second, this will reduce the need to rely on funding from ministries of education. It will help to reduce the potential competition for funds between tertiary education and lower levels of education.

Creating innovation universities will require high-level coordination because of the increase in number of governmental and nongovernmental actors. High-level coordination of these activities must be strengthened within the offices of presidents and prime ministers. To support heads of state and government in coordination, it is strongly recommended that an Office of Science and Innovation Advice be created in every country, taking into account the prevailing constitutional order.

Such offices should be created by law with clear mandates to focus on advisory functions and not operational activities, which should reside in the line ministries. Such offices would be analogous to offices of chief economists who support heads of state and government by giving advice while leaving operational activities in line ministries.

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For Academic Citation: Juma, Calestous. “Education, Research, and Innovation in Africa: Forging Strategic Linkages for Economic Transformation.” Discussion Paper, 2016-01, Science, Technology, and Globalization Project, Belfer Center, February 2016.

The Author

Calestous Juma