School of Humanities and Social Sciences hosts webinar on opportunities and challenges in higher education post COVID-19

By Quin E. Awuor

The School of Humanities and Social Sciences recently hosted the Vice Chancellor, Prof. Paul Zeleza for a key note address titled "Higher Education in post-Covid-19 World: Challenges and Opportunities for African Universities”.

The webinar, which was held on Wednesday, 26 May 2021, was in celebration of World Africa Day, and was attended by the University’s Management, Vice-Chancellors from private and public universities in Kenya and in Africa, the acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor USIU-Africa, Prof. Munyae Mulinge, Deans of Schools, Chairs of Departments, Professors, faculty, staff, students, friends and partners of USIU-Africa plus many other participants from both academic and non- academic institutions.

In his welcoming remarks, the Dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Prof. Martin Njoroge thanked Prof. Zeleza for honouring the invite, noting that the Vice Chancellor was among the School’s faculty who were at the forefront of ensuring that the School of Humanities and Social Sciences and the University at large delivered its core mandates of teaching and learning.

“Professor Zeleza has held distinguished academic and administrative positions in Canada and the United States for 25 years before his appointment as Vice-Chancellor and Professor of Humanities and Social Sciences at the USIU-Africa in January 2016. He has worked as a consultant for the Ford and MacArthur foundations on their initiatives to revitalize higher education in Africa and served in more than two dozen international and national associations,” he noted.

“The distinguished professor has published more than 400 journal articles, book chapters, encyclopedia entries, reviews, short stories and online essays and authored or edited 27 books, several of which have won international awards and five short monographs. His most recent books include The Transformation of Global Higher Education, 1945-2015 (2016) Africa and the Disruptions of the 21st Century (2021),”he added.

Prof. Zeleza, dwelt on three key issues in his address; namely, the plan for African higher education set at the First African Higher Education Summit held in Dakar, Senegal, in March 2015, a review of the challenges exposed and exacerbated by the pandemic and finally, the plan for reform and transformation in four key areas: digitalization, leadership, institutional cultures, and financing.

In his presentation, Prof. Zeleza explored the COVID-19 pandemic, which has exposed and exacerbated the systemic deficiencies and inequalities in all sectors of the economy throughout the world. In his address, he noted that as a result of the pandemic, academic institutions all over the world had gone through multiple challenges, which necessitated a discussion on how universities could create transformative trajectories for themselves.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has unraveled every key sector that provides basic rights and services worldwide. The education, health and industry have been greatly affected by effects of the pandemic. This has led to death, destroyed livelihoods and caused major disruptions,” he said.

“The pandemic has exposed major gaps that exist in the education sector. For Higher Education, there are four major areas that have been highlighted during this crisis that is afflicting tertiary institutions in Africa. These key issues are finance, digitization, leadership and institutional cultures. If these four issues are addressed then, we can look to navigate the post-COVID-19 era,” he added.

According to the World Bank as of mid-last year, there were 9 million students enrolled in universities in Sub- Saharan Africa. The overall spend on tertiary education by governments at the same time was 21% compared to 43% investment on primary school education and 27% on secondary school education. Internet access was restricted to only 25% of the population and the region contributed to less than 1% of global research.

These challenges point out to the outstanding challenges tertiary institutions faced at the peak of the Coronavirus pandemic which led to institution closures and job losses.

In his presentation, Prof. Zeleza identified eight priority areas for higher education, namely: a commitment of various stakeholders to expand higher education; promotion, diversification, differentiation, and harmonization of higher education systems at the national, institutional and continental/regional levels by African countries; increasing investment in higher education to facilitate development, promote stability, enhance access and equity; develop, recruit and retain excellent academic staff and pursue cutting-edge research and provision of high quality teaching; commitment of African Higher Education institutions to the pursuit of excellence in teaching and learning, research and scholarship, public service and provision of solutions to the development challenges and opportunities facing African peoples across the continent; capacity building in Research, Science, Technology, and Innovation; pursuing national development through business, higher education and graduate employability: nation-building and democratic citizenship and mobilization of the Diaspora.

Prof. Zeleza’s presentation concluded by noting that Higher Education is too essential for Africa's future to be held captive to haphazard interventions and superficial reforms. He noted that to correct the massive disruptions as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, it would be critical for all stakeholders to commit to undertaking fundamental transformations in Higher Education, which is achievable if governments, the private sector, civil society and the universities work together to remake the future of African Higher Education.

Watch the recorded webinar via YouTube above, or read the comprehensive presentation here

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