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close this bookThe Courier N 159 - Sept - Oct 1996 - Dossier: Investing in People - Country Reports: Mali ; Western Samoa (EC Courier, 1996, 96 p.)
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View the documentInvesting in people
View the documentA much needed new focus for SAPs
View the documentCapacity building for management and development
View the documentThe role of international academic cooperation
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View the documentEU's investments in education and training in the ACP states

The role of international academic cooperation

Increasing demands and diminishing resources in higher education

by Professor Dumitru Chitoran

As we approach the end of the millennium, higher education world-wide finds itself in a paradoxical situation. On the one hand, it is witnessing unprecedented growth. Enrolments are on the increase and so are the expectations placed on it by society. The correlation between investment in higher education and research, and the level of social, economic and cultural development of nations is well-established and is gaining increasing ground at a time when all development has become knowledge-intensive. On the other hand, higher education is in a state of crisis in practically all countries of the world, under the pressure of serious financial constraints. It has to compete for public funds with many other sectors and very often it is among the first to undergo severe cuts. These cuts have reached a dramatic threshold in the developing countries. As a result, the gap between the developing and the developed countries with regard to higher learning and research is wider than ever and it continues to grow.

Inter-university cooperation has emerged as a major tool for the support of higher education in the developing countries and as a flexible mechanism for the rapid transfer and sharing of knowledge, channelled via university links and exchanges. As emphasised in the Policy Paper for Change and Development in Higher Education issued by UNESCO in 1995, 'the most pressing need for international cooperation in higher education is to reverse the process of decline of institutions in the developing countries, particularly in the least developed.' The internationalisation of higher education has advanced steadily, reinforced by current processes of economic and political integration and facilitated by the steady advances in information and communication technologies. But, as indicated in the UNESCO World Education Report (1993), it is increasingly subject to the competitive laws of the market. Universities have been urged to develop an entrepreneurial, commercial attitude and to regard international cooperation mainly as a source of additional income. Fees for foreign students have risen considerably in many countries. As a result, academic mobility is becoming more North-North and less South-North or South-South. The benefits of study abroad, of exchanges, networking and access to data are recognised, but the costs involved render them increasingly a privilege, restricted to those who can afford it.

An innovative programme

UNESCO's response to these trends was the UNITWIN/UNESCO Chairs Programme, launched in 1991. While serving as an instrument to foster overall inter-university cooperation, it was aimed at giving a clear direction and goal, namely to support higher education in the developing countries. It was meant to mark a return to the spirit of international academic solidarity, through twinning, networking and other linking arrangements among universities. The programme was also designed as an innovative form for the rapid transfer of knowledge, and for institutional development in higher education, including the establishment of transnational centres for advanced studies and research, as a means of redressing the widening knowledge gap between industrially developed and developing countries. One other aim of the Programme was to alleviate the negative effects of the brain drain.

The UNITWIN/UNESCO Chairs Programme has seen steady and dynamic development from the very beginning, and has emerged as the major thrust of UNESCO's action in the field of higher education. The favoured institutional framework for carrying out activities is a UNESCO Chair. The programme's activities are extremely diverse. They include the appointment of visiting professors, provision of scholarships and fellowships, facilitating of staff and student exchanges and undertaking of joint research. The 'chairs' are typical of basic units of research and training, with a strong international dimension, since either the chairholder, or some of the professors or researchers associated with its programme come from abroad. Other projects involve complex inter university networks, varying in size from three to more than 50 institutions. Within networks, certain institutions serve as focal points, responsible for initiating activities and securing broad participation in their execution. Also included are cooperation programmes established by UNESCO with major university associations and networks in order to carry out UNITWIN-related activities.

At present, there are 163 established UNESCO Chairs (a further 84 are under consideration) and 34 largescale networks (18 more are being developed). A total of over 750 teachers, researchers and other support staff are involved in their activities. It is estimated that 350 courses (mainly at the graduate level), attended by more than 7500 students, were organised by the established UNESCO Chairs during the 1992-1996 period. Also, 120 seminars, training workshops, symposia and colloquia were staged over the same period, attended by more than 6000 participants. Some 580 academics from developing countries spent short periods of time at partner universities in the developed countries to upgrade their training. In addition, 355 scholarships have been granted to students and young academics from developing nations within the framework of the Programme. Research has been encouraged through 240 projects (mainly joint ones) resulting, according to progress reports received so far, in the publication of 55 volumes, some 100 published articles and over 150 monographs and progress reports.

The ACPs in the programme

A large number of these projects (UNESCO Chairs and networks) concern ACP countries. Africa has been given top priority. Over 30 of the established Chairs are located there and 18 more are under consideration for subSaharan Africa, in order to reinforce the contribution of the programme to the development of higher education in this region. In addition, certain projects located at institutions in Europe and North America carry on activities which are designed to support African universities. A few examples illustrate this. Starting from its bilateral links with several African universities, the University of Utrecht proposed developing these into a broader, multilateral project under the umbrella of UNITWIN. For this purpose, it joined forces with three other European institutions: the University of Lund in Sweden, the Ruhr University in Bochum, Germany and the University of Porto in Portugal. The result was the establishment of the Utrecht/Southern Africa/UNITWIN (USU) network. It includes, at its southern pole, the universities of Harare, Maputo, Namibia, and Western Cape, where UNESCO Chairs have been established in different fields. The aim is to develop each of them into (sub)regional centres of advanced study and research. This is well under way in the case of the UNESCO Chair in Mathematics and Science Education at Western Cape University in South Africa. A first step was to link its activities to those of the MESA (Mathematics Education in South Africa) project, a cooperation project between the Utrecht-Freundenthal Institute for Mathematics Education and the University of the Western Cape. A school for Science and Maths Education is to be established at the University of Western Cape.

Another large scale project is the Network of African Teacher Training Institutions, built around a UNESCO Chair at the Ecole Normale Superieure in Dakar. This is designed to serve as a regional centre for postgraduate training and research in the field of education. After several years preparation, activities were launched in 1995. The strength of networking is illustrated by a number of other linking arrangements in support of African higher education institutions. These include the network initiated by the NATURA Group of European universities in the field of agriculture, the ORBICOM Network in the field of Communication, which is a global network but pays particular attention to the needs of African universities, and the UNESCO/John Hopkins University Networking and Partnership in Adolescent Youth Health and Development. The last-mentioned focuses on HlV/AIDS-related research, and includes institutions such as Addis Ababa and Makerere Universities.

The agreement signed by UNESCO with the Association of African Universities (AAU) within the framework of UNITWIN provides for support of the latter's staff development and management programme. A UNESCO Chair in Educational Management and Administration is to be established. It will function on a rotating basis at several universities in South Africa, Botswana and Malawi. There are also a number of 'tailor-made' chairs which respond to more specific needs of institutions, notably to develop training and research capabilities in areas such as human rights, democray and peace (at the Universities of Namibia, Addis Ababa and Fianarantsoa in Madagascar), or in the field of Water Resources and Water Culture (at the Universities of Malawi and Omdurman in Sudan). In the latter field, an interesting example is the UNESCO Chair established at the University of Nice, which, although located in France, carries out its activities in Mauritania and has produced the most comprehensive study so far on water resource management in that country.

The programme has also made a good start in the Pacific and the Caribbean, even if achievements there are on a more modest scale. There are already 22 established chairs with 14 more under consideration. They cover a wide spectrum of priority fields, including the sustainable use of rain forest resources at the University of Guyana, higher education management and information technology at the University of Havana in Cuba, educational sciences in Fiji, and the use of drugs in Chulalongkorn University in Thailand.

UNESCO works closely with the University of the South Pacific and the University of the West Indies, with which it has established four UNESCO Chairs. Moreover, it has signed a cooperation agreement, in the framework of UNITWIN, with the Commonwealth Secretariat and the Association of Commonwealth Universities for activities in both regions. There is great potential for the further development of the Chairs programme in the Pacific and Caribbean, given the existence of the two regional universities mentioned above and the strong interest of universities in a number of developed countries (such as Australia, Canada, Japan and Spain) in supporting the programme. It appears to be particularly well suited for the systems of higher education in the two regions.


The cost of international cooperation in higher education has risen steadily and this is currently one of the major obstacles preventing the full use of the potential of academic links. New information and communication technologies help reduce costs, but universities in the least-developed countries would first need considerable investment in order to procure and maintain the necessary equipment. That is why UNESCO has based the Chairs programme on funding principles aimed at lowering costs and sharing them in a genuine spirit of academic solidarity.

At the outset, UNESCO made it very clear that, since it was not a funding agency, it could not, by itself, assume the financial burden of such an ambitious programme, involving several hundred institutions and thousands of university teachers, researchers and students. However, it decided to make a commitment by providing some initial funds. Rough estimates indicate that, over the 1992-1995 period, UNESCO has contributed some $2.5 million (from its Regular and Participation Programmes, Fellowship Bank and Funds-in-Trust) to the UNITWIN/UNESCO Chairs Programme. At the same time, it has pressed for increased international development aid for higher education, particularly from the developed countries, and from international organisations, including the UN specialised agencies. A strong case is made for the benefit of pooling resources and for involving directly the higher education institutions themselves

UNITWIN-based projects, including UNESCO Chairs, are usually initiated through the direct contributions of UNESCO (the range is generally between $15 000 and $25 000 per individual project). This is meant to help prepare and launch projects and to secure further funding from other sources. The institutions themselves must include allocations for the respective projects in their own budgets and request their appropriate national authorities to make contributions. This applies equally to universities in the developing countries, however poor their resources may be. It serves to indicate that the project in question is indeed seen as a priority by them and by their national authorities.

Experience of the UNITWIN funding formula so far gives cause for cautious optimism. Many projects have been able to secure funds by having recourse to the various sources mentioned above. Thus, the Utrecht/ Southern Africa/UNITWIN Project received a first UNESCO allocation of $50 000 in 1993, in order to launch its activities. The fact that it concerned a large-scale project (a network of eight universities, with four chairs established at four African universities and one at the University of Utrecht) explains the larger UNESCO allocation. This was followed by a second allocation of $70 000 in 1994 for the actual implementation of activities in Africa. The UNESCO seed money led to additional funding-$600 000 annually, for the 1992-1995 period, from various Dutch donors (mainly the Ministry of Development Cooperation, through NUFFIC) and from the European Union, and $450 000 from the University of Utrecht budget, including the total cost for the functioning of the UNESCO Chair on African Studies established at that university. The other three European universities participating in the network (Bochum, Lund and Porto) have also made contributions and are now looking for donor funding in their countries. It is important to mention that the four African universities belonging to the network have also allocated funds from their own budgets to the UNITWIN projects and are actively seeking additional resources from aid and development programmes established for their countries by various donor agencies.

It can be fairly argued that in terms of cost-effectiveness, efficiency and the ability to generate funding from various sources, UNITWIN compares favourably with existing cooperation schemes in higher education and research. But it is still too early to conclude that the Chairs Programme can continue and develop further on the basis of the present funding arrangements. The needs are arguably too big for the institutions and individuals involved, who may find themselves in a perpetual search for funds. An evaluation of the programme is under way and this will be submitted to the Member States for their decision. UNESCO is hoping that its efforts to revive academic solidarity, and its campaign in favour of higher education in the developing countries will receive the support of the international community. More than ever before, these countries need to develop their capacity for advanced training and research in order to achieve self sustainable development. The academic community has already indicated its willingness to join forces with UNESCO in this undertaking.