Four Foundations Launch $100 Million Initiative in Support of Higher Education in African Countries

Susan King, Carnegie Corporation
Ray Boyer, MacArthur Foundation
312-726-8000, x243
Thea Lurie, Ford Foundation
George Soule, Rockefeller Foundation

Carnegie Corporation logo, Ford Foundation logo, MacArthur Foundation logo

Higher education is seen as key to advancing economic and social development

Recognizing the importance of higher education in efforts to reduce poverty and stimulate economic and social development in Africa, the presidents of four U.S. foundations have announced an initiative to support the improvement of higher education institutions in a number of sub-Saharan African countries.

The initiative will support efforts, many already underway, by leaders of African universities and academic associations to expand and improve the education of the next generation of African leaders in fields necessary for continued development of the region.

The Partnership to Strengthen African Universities is a collaboration of Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Rockefeller, Ford, and MacArthur foundations. In announcing the effort, the leaders of the four institutions said the decision to provide this support was based upon two important trends. First, a significant number of nations are implementing democratic and economic reforms, and second, despite very difficult circumstances, many higher education institutions in those nations are responding in creative ways to these reforms and to the pressing needs of their countries. It is anticipated that the foundations will provide more than $100 million in support over the next five years through projects related to this partnership.

"While the challenges facing African countries are daunting, Africans determined to address them are increasingly focused on the crucial task of strengthening their universities. They recognize that their societies need a new generation of well-educated leaders trained in many fields, and that to develop them, their higher education institutions must expand and diversify," said Vartan Gregorian, president of Carnegie Corporation. "We believe that the graduates of these universities can contribute enormously to helping their countries move forward and that this is a particularly promising moment in the history of Africa to support those efforts."

Under the partnership, each foundation will provide support for higher education institutions in the way that it chooses and in the country or countries in which it has traditionally focused. While the nature of the activities to be supported will vary, an important potential element of the initiative will be establishing regional and inter-country education leadership links. Support may also be provided to foster the growth of continent-wide learning networks and opportunities to collaborate in selected fields.

Criteria for selecting universities to receive support through the new initiative include:

  • Being located in a country undergoing systemic public policy reform
  • Supporting innovation, particularly through use of new technologies, to better position the institutions to meet the specific needs of their countries.
  • Engaging in a strategic planning process in which a key element is a commitment to helping build national capacity for social and economic development.
  • Having creative, broad-based institutional leadership.

Planning grants have been made to some institutions where work already underway reflects the spirit of the partnership. Makerere University in Uganda, for example, is undertaking a strategic plan concerning both functioning and financing of the university as well as capacity building for the decentralization process underway in Uganda. At that institution, enrollment has doubled over the past six years and degree programs have been expanded to include business administration, nursing, biomedical lab technology and tourism. The University of Dar es Salaam, in Tanzania, has undertaken a strategic planning process that is completely re-defining the university, proposing a new legislative framework and new management structures. Dar has established a state of the art computer center that has already put into place a business plan that will make the center self-sufficient. In Mozambique’s Eduardo Mondlane University, the quality of the faculty has been greatly improved over the past ten years, and one of Africa’s first Internet service providers was established.

The foundation leaders said this new partnership can only be a small part of the platform of support upon which substantial and long-term gains can be made by Africa’s higher education institutions and will work together to encourage other organizations to make African higher education an important part of their funding strategies.

"Strong African universities can play a role in protecting basic freedoms, enhancing intellectual life, and informing policy making," said Susan V. Berresford, president of the Ford Foundation. "This is clearly the right moment to have a ‘bias for hope’ and to increase support for their leaders."

"This process of change in African higher education is being aided by broadened recognition on the part of governments of the multi-faceted contributions that universities can make in national development and poverty alleviation," said Gordon Conway, president of the Rockefeller Foundation. "Modern technology will be key among those tools that universities can harness to help turn the process of globalization to Africa’s advantage."

Conway and his colleagues stressed that the change and innovation that will emerge from this effort will be the result of work done by the universities themselves, within the context of their own countries. Each of the foundations already supports work in Africa, and each will continue to focus upon settings and institutions where they can be of greatest value. The Ford Foundation, for example, makes grants throughout Africa from offices in Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa; while the Rockefeller Foundation has worked in eastern and southern Africa; Carnegie Corporation in former commonwealth countries, and the MacArthur Foundation primarily in Nigeria and the Great Lakes region.

"This partnership will be flexible and approaches will differ," said Jonathan Fanton, president of MacArthur. "But we are united in the belief that strong universities and intellectual freedom are indispensable preconditions in developing and sustaining healthy democratic societies."

Webcast will be available later through partner foundation websites. Photos available online Monday afternoon

Carnegie Corporation of New York

Ford Foundation

John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Rockefeller Foundation