President Paul Kagame joins Africa’s experts brainstorming on strategies to improve tertiary education and research

President Paul Kagame said on Wednesday that Africa still grapples with low numbers of graduates in tertiary education and research, and calls for heavy investment into the sector.

“Africa’s Gross Enrollment Ratio in tertiary education is about a quarter of the world average,” Kagame said, adding that more children are attending school but Africa needs more graduates with knowledge and skills to “grow our economies and shape the continent’s future.”

“Young Africans are willing and able to learn so we must give them that opportunity. We need more sustainable effort to help education in Africa,” he said.

Africa’s experts in different fields have converged in Rwanda’s capital Kigali to seek concrete solutions and strategies to improve tertiary education and research, under the Sustainable Development Goal Center for Africa (SDGC/A).

The conference is organised under the theme – ‘Mobilizing African Intellectuals towards Quality Tertiary Education.’

Kagame said it is the responsibility of both governments and private sector to improve tertiary education.

“Our responsibility is to create the right conditions for delivering the 21st century education that African youth deserve,” he said.

Seven out of the 10 world’s fastest growing economies are in Africa, with nearly 50% of the continent’s 1.2 billion population under the age of 15.

President Kagame said that such a young population needs to go to school, but governments alone may not help them get quality education without support from the private sector.

“Governments alone cannot sustain the momentum needed. We have to find innovative ways of attracting resources from the private sector. Education requires heavy investment and returns are long term not immediate. But there is no way around this,” Kagame said.

Rwanda allocates 20% of national budget to education sector . Last year alone, 20% of Rwanda’s $2.47 billion national budget (approximately $494 million) went into education projects.

Going by market needs, Kagame said, “Businesses have vested interest in quality of graduates and skills they bring to the market,” and Africa has to work hard to stimulate demand for education.

Kagame, however,  acknowledged that there has been much progress in the education sector in recent years.

“In particular, access to education has greatly improved. This is important to acknowledge that we can do it.”

Hiroshi Kato, Vice President of Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) which supports most of Africa’s education projects said, “University education needs to be more practical and geared towards the need of the private sector.”

For Kato, “Instead of telling African students to work for large companies we must encourage them to be creative entrepreneurs.”

Prof. Jeffrey David Sachs, an American economist and director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University who is also a co-founder of the SDGC/A, said: “Africa needs to take a leadership role in the world.”

For Prof. Sachs, “Ranking is going to change but access to education is what we need to create.”

President Kagame is a founding chair of the Sustainable Development Goal Center for Africa (SDGC/A). The Centre has its headquarters in Rwanda.