by Thierry Claudien Uhawenimana
An ancient Chinese proverb says that when planning for a year, there`s nothing better than planting grain, when planning for ten years, there's nothing better than planting trees, and when planning for a lifetime, there's nothing better than training and educating people. A number of countries in Asia Pacific have seen their economies boom after investing heavily in education.
Even without a wealth of natural resources, Malaysia, South Korea, Japan and Singapore have registered impressive economic and technological development in all sectors. Countries in Africa and Asia Pacific still struggling to overcome the scourges of poverty, disease, conflict, corruption, bad governance and high levels of maternal mortality will do well to emulate these more successful states if they want to see economic growth and social stability.
The best way for a country to achieve economic success is to build a strong education system at primary, secondary and tertiary levels -- education underpinned by creativity and innovation, and strengthened by links with stakeholders, including the private, public and non-governmental sectors. Having built strong links, universities can then spread their wings to form partnerships regionally and internationally, thus placing themselves at the vanguard of revamping and stabilising their country’s development. African and Asia Pacific countries can learn from one another while cultivating educational cooperation initiatives and other shared development projects to utilise existing resources and opportunities.
Forging partnerships aimed at boosting one another is a step universities in Africa and Asia Pacific can take towards building strong knowledge continents. Cooperation agreements may include offering degrees and other academic programmes, developing joint research projects and collaborating in a variety of ways. Branch campuses, offshore academic programmes and franchising arrangements for academic degrees may be the building blocks for the internationalisation of higher education for economic development. Competitions with financial rewards for winning institutions have in the past contributed greatly to improving the welfare of citizens through the uptake of research and community outreach activities.
Partnerships have already been established between African universities and others globally. Some universities in Africa and Asia Pacific are already collaborating on degree programmes and other academic activities as well as the development of research projects. In Rwanda, for instance, such partnerships have produced significant uptake of research in the ICT, education and tourism sectors.
The MSc in Social and Educational Research Methods was the first to be offered at the Kigali Institute of Education (KIE) in 2007. The Institute, in collaboration with four Indian Universities and the University of South Africa, is registering and graduating an increasing number of candidates in varying academic disciplines in programmes ranging from certificates to PhDs. Tele-Education of the Pan-African e-Network Project alone has hosted more than 280 postgraduate students since February 2009. Nine postgraduate programmes, among these the MBA in International Business; MSc in Information Technology; MBA in Human Resources and Marketing; Master of Tourism Management; and Master of Education Management and Leadership are offered at KIE in collaboration with Amity University and Indira Gandhi University. With the help of the Australian government, the Institute also runs the Master of Social Sciences in Gender, Culture and Development.
It is not only KIE that has established educational partnerships in the Asia Pacific region. The Integrated Polytechnic Regional Centre (IPRC Kigali), commonly known as Kicukiro College of Technology, has a good working relationship with South Korea and Japan in the development of vocational training and technology in the general sciences. The college recently signed a letter of intent to form a partnership with the Korea Aerospace University. This partnership aims to establish academic collaboration between the two institutions to improve the quality and standard of technical education by way of exchanging teaching opportunities, providing training opportunities for IPRC Kigali staff, and providing training in the aerospace field for students from Rwanda Air Force who have graduated from IPRC Kigali.
Universities in Rwanda also host academic staff from countries in Asia Pacific and have formed partnerships geared towards revamping technical and vocational training through South Korea and Japan, but can yet go further in forging partnerships with other advanced countries in the region, such as Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines, Australia, China, India and Malaysia. Such partnerships can only bolster the country’s economic development.
Other African countries can similarly benefit by sharing the journey with some Asian and Pacific developing countries that intend to or are already in the process of advancing towards high technology and knowledge-intensive manufacturing, by developing indigenous research and development capability. This is no easy task, since it requires the expansion of tertiary education and, more importantly, training more human resources in the fields of science and technology.
The role of higher education is paramount in utilising the economic resources of a country, to form a strong new-world economy. This aspiration cannot be achieved if countries do not gear their tertiary education and research activities towards the successful uptake of research and, by extension, innovative economic development. Countries need to establish investment-driven, innovation-driven and wealth-driven universities and higher learning and research institutions to achieve the desired outcomes in their economic systems. The education and level of skills of a country’s workforce is a key competitive weapon in determining its economic future. And strong transboundary economic blocs can be built if clusters of countries strive towards the same goal.
Thierry Claudien Uhawenimana is the Public Relations and Communications Officer at the Kigali Health Institute in Rwanda