Introducing the Plenary Panel “Advancement of Science in Africa through Education – Building a pipeline into world-class higher education and research”

Welcome Address by Georg Schütte, State Secretary at the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, in Diamniadio/Senegal

Staatssekretär Schütte während seiner Rede
Staatssekretär Schütte während seiner Rede © Patrick Hoese

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The next Einstein will be an African!!!

Ladies and Gentlemen,

With this statement, I would like to address you as the leading thinkers in science, policy, industry and civil society in Africa. I am sure that all of us here at the Next Einstein Forum would like to see Africa produce the next Einstein!

Albert Einstein himself said about education in its broadest sense: “I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious”. Every single one of us is curious. Our desire to learn more and explore new things is fuelled by good education. And good education enables knowledge societies, which in turn give rise to scientific excellence, which in turn is the key driver of innovation. As the title of today’s panel says: Education is the pipeline into world-class higher education and research which can compete internationally. Education and research generate the knowledge that we need to devise solutions to local, regional and global challenges.

Africa has the highest rate of adult illiteracy in the world. 29 percent of men and 46 percent of women in Sub-Saharan Africa can neither read nor write, while only 5 percent of the population have access to tertiary education. One of the most important instruments for supporting improvements in the conditions for education in African countries is - from my perspective - international cooperation!

Looking back on 30 years of German-African research cooperation we have to realize: We must make increased use of the synergies in the “knowledge triangle” of education, research and innovation to improve quality and become more effective. This is the only way to unlock the potential for prosperity and devise the necessary solutions to societal challenges.

Today, the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research – BMBF for short – supports projects with partners from over 39 African countries. And we are currently funding projects with African partners to the tune of approximately 233 million euros.

The BMBF supports cooperation based on equal partnerships. They encourage capacity building and improvements in the educational situation in the partner countries. These partnerships also allow us to combat obstacles to development such as corruption and the uneven distribution of wealth. It is absolutely imperative to ensure equal and universal access to high-quality education at all levels. This will enable us to pave the way for secure future prospects for each and every individual.

We have therefore drafted a cooperation strategy in association with our African partners. Our Africa Strategy, which we presented to the public in 2014, is building on long years of cooperation. It rests on two pillars: Research AND Education. Good education is the key vehicle on the road to successful research and determines a country’s international competitiveness. That is why we must not look at education and research as two separate fields. Instead, we need to link both in order to make the most of the resulting synergies.

I am delighted to be here today and to be able to talk to you about three very positive examples of German-African cooperation. These programmes are being implemented under the BMBF’s Africa Strategy and unite education and research. Allow me to say that both sides have all also learnt from past experience and that these lessons will be useful for future projects.

(1) WASCAL

The “West African Science Service Center on Climate Change and Adapted Land Use”, or WASCAL for short, is my first example of the successful linking of education and research.

Germany is working with a total of ten countries in West Africa (Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote D’Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Togo) under this programme, which began in 2010. The aim of the programme is to equip both people and the environment to deal with the negative consequences of climate change by developing more resistant and adaptable land use systems. We have already achieved a great deal during the six-years since the start of this funding measure but I would like to emphasize one achievement in particular: the establishment of the WASCAL graduate schools – a total of six doctoral and four master’s schools. In addition to the West African partner universities, each programme has been allocated a German partner university to strengthen teaching capacity and help supervise the students. The WASCAL programme will soon be able to benefit from the fruits of the first generation of young West African researchers and from plans for its extension to include further ECOWAS states.

(2) AIMS

My second example is our collaboration with the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences – AIMS. It is also a good example of the successful linking of education and research.

The BMBF has been supporting the AIMS centre in Mbour, south of Dakar, since 2012, where it has established a research chair. This very successful pilot scheme has given rise to the “German Research Chairs” funding measure. Under this measure, the BMBF intends to fund another four research chairs at four further AIMS sites for 4 years each – beginning this year, first of all with Ghana and South Africa, followed by Cameroon and Tanzania, most likely in 2017.

Under the BMBF’s funding scheme, the chair holders have to actively engage in international training and research networks in order to ensure that his doctoral students are afforded world-class training. It is also particularly important that the chair holder conducts application-oriented research in line with particular local challenges.

One distinct feature of this funding measure is the linkage of education and research. As you know, selected students from all over Africa take a master’s degree course in the mathematical sciences at the AIMS centres. By working directly with the holder of the research chair they may possibly discover their interest in research and perhaps even apply for funding for a PhD.

(3) Call for Proposals for Sub-Saharan Africa

My third example today differs from the previous two as far as its structure is concerned: It is a call for proposals entitled “Partnerships for sustainable solutions with Sub-Saharan Africa: Funding measures for research and integrated postgraduate training and continuing training”. This is an innovative funding measure which links joint research with measures in the fields of post-graduate and continuing training. The call focuses on bioeconomy, sustainable urban development and resource management (raw materials). It thus addresses fields of research that are of high relevance to both continents. The deadline for applications expired at the beginning of March; we have received almost 70 project outlines. But it is likely that this successful model will be expanded and continued in the coming years.

Combined education and research programmes will continue to play a major role in the BMBF’s commitment to cooperation with its African partners in future. But - important question: What are we learning from our collaborative projects with Africa? What can we improve – on the German side as well as on the African side?

The experiences with WASCAL for example have shown, that one cannot emphasize enough the importance of a close partnership between stakeholders, policy-makers and science in the African partner countries and Germany – from the very start. And: in order to create sustainable capacities, local structures and conditions must be sufficiently open.

Our experience with WASCAL is already influencing more recent measures such as AIMS. As an example, we contact the competent ministries and seeking suitable partners for cooperation in local industry long before we establish a chair at an AIMS centre.

African ownership is a crucial point! Although my ministry offered to provide new funding for research for WASCAL until 2020 and supports a third batch of Graduate students it is important that the process has already started to hand over the responsibility of the initiative into the hands of our African partners. And this means also funding contributions from the African side. Hereby we strengthen the position and reputation of our African partners and also our long-term sustainable partnership.

As far as sustainability is concerned: All funding measures focus special attention on sustainability. The following questions must be asked – and answered – at the very start of all measures which are funded by third parties:

  • How can the measure be integrated in existing structures as best possible?
  • Does the measure set out to meet local needs?
  • What local/regional institution could take over funding when foreign funding expires?

From my point of view, the best scenario for international funding programmes in education and research is an equal partnership which benefits both sides.

We know that Africa is a continent with great potential. Africa's countries have economic growth rates averaging 5 percent. The African continent has the youngest population in the world: 41 percent are under 15. The average age in Africa is 19. The continent’s population will rise to 2 billion by 2050, with all of these people striving for secure prospects. Yet, many young Africans are unemployed, have no income and thus no prospects. Africa is also the continent that is most at risk, for example due to the effects of global climate change. Even the slightest variations in average temperatures of say 0.5 degrees can cause more mass migration to the cities and lead to millions of refugees, long periods of drought and severe famine.

We therefore bear a huge responsibility to promote and exploit existing potential in a sustainable manner. We have been aware of this responsibility for a long time, but we haven’t always acted accordingly. Partnerships in the collaborative projects with Africa must be on an equal footing. And indeed, researchers from both Germany and Africa choose their own partners for projects funded by my Ministry. This requires a sound scientific basis on both sides, which may well have been encouraged by study visits abroad, by the large number of university partnerships, exchanges of scientists, joint publications and other collaborative measures. We need even more of these! On both sides. The examples I have just given illustrate where we have successfully achieved the kind of partnership we are aiming for. We need more such examples!

I would like to end my speech by once again quoting Albert Einstein who once said “We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them”.

Along these lines we need people who are curious, who have the courage to think up new and innovative ideas for developing joint solutions to global challenges.

I am very much looking forward to hearing the panel’s contributions, ideas and discussions on the challenges that I have just mentioned.