From a tiny sapling, a mighty tree can grow.

In the late 1980s, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) and Kenya’s Moi University began a small partnership exchanging medical faculty, focused on the challenges of establishing a Moi University (Moi) medical school.

“We had four Indiana University faculty with experience working in developing countries who were dedicated to establishing a linkage with a health sciences center in the developing world at a time when there were almost no avenues for individual academics to engage globally,” says Robert Einterz, one of the four Indiana University faculty members. “We were looking for opportunities in research, care, and training. Moi was starting its second medical school in Eldoret and they had four faculty members looking for linkages, too. They wanted help establishing their school of medicine, more teachers, and faculty collaboration opportunities. We found each other.”

The HIV/AIDS crisis helped transform the relationship. As the epidemic swept across western Kenya in the early 1990s, the collaboration dramatically scaled up and an expanded version of the partnership, the Academic Model Providing Access to Healthcare (AMPATH), was born. The priority in AMPATH’s early years was in “putting out the fire” of HIV/AIDS with every AMPATH clinic operating as a frontline resource, a classroom, and a laboratory, notes AMPATH: A Strategic Partnership in Kenya, a description of the program authored by Ian McIntosh, director of international partnerships at IUPUI, and Eunice Kamaara, a professor of religious studies at Moi.

The AMPATH collaboration has grown into a sprawling North-South, U.S.-Kenya medical partnership that provides opportunities for faculty members from both institutions in education, research, and clinical service health and social services to a wide swath of residents in western Kenya. It now includes multiple units at both institutions, as well as a consortium of 11 partners in the United States and Canada. Currently, there are more than 600,000 patients enrolled in AMPATH—of whom more than 160,000 have HIV/AIDS—who receive care at 25 Ministry of Health Centers and 46 satellite clinics, McIntosh and Kamaara note.

In so doing, AMPATH programs are able to address many of the broader dimensions of health care for the community, such as safe water, nutrition, and family preservation, and also have become engaged in related fields such as legal aid, business development, and clinical pastoral education.

“We had no idea it would become this big,” says Einterz, now an associate dean for global health at Indiana University.

Tremendous Growth, Tremendous Needs

Interuniversity partnerships are not new phenomena in Africa. But a drastic need for expansion of the tertiary sector and for dealing with national and local community and developmental challenges in many parts of the continent in the face of explosive population growth means that the need for, potential benefits, and challenges of such partnerships may be even greater than in other developing regions of the world. Making such partnerships actually flower beyond the words on a partnership document in such regions can require a degree of resources, flexibility, and patience beyond many typical partnership relationships, say many veterans of such partnerships and African education experts.

It is hard to speak of an African partnership profile per se, given the tremendous diversity that runs throughout the continent, from Arab North Africa, to the relatively pedagogically developed southernmost country in the continent—South Africa—to francophone former colonies of France, and to regional giants like Nigeria, Ethiopia, and Egypt, which have respective populations of 184 million, 90 million, and 88.5 million that exceed or equal the populations of the largest countries in Europe. Further, there is a general a dearth of data on universities and partnerships compared with other regions of the world, experts say. Still, certain common issues and challenges can be identified.

A 2014 report by the International Association of Universities, Internationalization of Higher Education: Growing Expectations, Fundamental Values, found the top-ranked benefits of internationalization for African respondents to be, in order, (1) strengthened research and knowledge production capacity, (2) enhanced international cooperation and capacity building, and (3) improved quality of teaching and learning. The regional profile for Africa was somewhat similar to that for the Middle East, and notable for its lack of an emphasis, unlike most other regions of the world, upon increasing the international awareness of students. As for the risks of internationalization to institutions, it found that topping the list for African respondents, as for most of the regions of the world, was making international opportunities available only to students with financial resources. And, like the Middle East, ranked second among risks was the risk of brain drain.

Also noteworthy was the survey’s finding that among global regions only Africa expressed as a leading concern among potential societal risks of internationalization the dominance of a ‘western’ epistemological approach, which the report noted could be influenced by the fact that the region, “perhaps more than any other, still experiences the impact of past colonial domination.” The survey found the priority internationalization activities undertaken by African institutions to be, in order, international research and collaboration, outgoing mobility opportunities for faculty and staff, and, alone among regions of the world, international development and capacity building projects.

Partnerships in Africa still to some extent reflect old colonial ties. The European Union (EU) is a very large facilitator of African-European ties and capacity building. Many former colonies of France and, to a lesser extent, the United Kingdom, have extensive partnership arrangements between these countries fed in part by educational systems that are designed around the models of those countries, which facilitates such collaborations. Relationships with higher education institutions (HEIs) in the United States are also extensive and relationships with other regions are growing.

Generally, the limited resources of states, universities, and their students on the continent present challenges to globalization and international partnerships, including, frequently, an inability to support flows of students and academics from Africa to other regions in the world, limited classroom facilities—particularly in resource-intensive fields such as the sciences—and limited capacity for research at many institutions. A host of capacity-building partnerships with regional and international bodies, as described below, aim to improve such abilities.

In addition, with respect to higher education, one challenge in the region is the disparity between a handful of long-established, flagship universities in many countries, many with strong research capabilities and relatively solid finances, and a proliferation of newer HEIs in the last two decades promoted by national governments to try to rapidly build general higher education capacity, notes James Otieno Jowi, executive director of the African Network for Internationalization of Education (ANIE), an independent, nonprofit, nongovernmental African network committed to the advancement of high quality research, capacity building, and advocacy on internationalization of higher education, with a primary focus on Africa. Many of the newer institutions suffer from a lack of resources, lack of trained academics, limited research capabilities, a less developed pedagogical structure, and, in many areas, a lack of transparency.

“Some in the West say expansion of the higher education sector has been too rapid and that there is a lack of strategy, but higher education in this continent is in a tight spot,” Jowi says. “Now is when Africa has its highest number of young people and there is still a relatively small higher education sector. There is a risk that young people will be locked out and you will have a lost generation.”

Mighty Steps in South Africa

One of the most advanced regions on the continent for higher education capacity and partnerships is South Africa. The country is notable for a large number of high-ranked HEIs. The University of Cape Town tops a 2016 Times Higher Education snapshot ranking of the best universities in Africa, while other South African institutions claim five of the top six other spots.

“Most universities in South Africa have substantial partnerships, but different universities have different strategies,” says Lavern Samuels, former president of the International Education Association of South Africa (IEASA) and director of international education and partnerships at the Durban University of Technology (DUT). “Larger universities with larger international offices, such as the University of Cape Town (UCT), Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, and Stellenbosch University, tend to have larger scale partnerships. Other universities have come in a little later or have smaller international offices, yet are often doing things that are equally creative.”

Still, educators are quick to note that even that country nonetheless has enormous economic and tertiary education challenges, many relating to trying to provide equal access both to higher education and to internationalization opportunities in a country of per capital income of only roughly $13,000 in 2015, according to International Monetary Fund data.

UCT, a continental leader, has longstanding and deep partnerships, including 149 partnerships on record, with one-third of these being with HEIs on the African continent, says Evance Kalula, a UCT professor and director of UCT’s International Academic Programmes Office. “Most partnerships were set up post-1994, when South Africa reentered the world stage at the time of the first democratic elections,” Kalula says. “However, we have many strongly rooted partnerships which predate this. The highest number of partnerships are located in the Global North, although we have a third of our partnerships with universities in other parts of Africa and are extending our partnerships in Brazil and China.”

UCT and other leading South African HEIs participate in cutting-edge research partnerships that would be the envy of any top-ranked university. In November 2015, for example, SKA South Africa and UCT, through the Inter-University Institute for Data Intensive Astronomy (IDIA), signed a Memorandum of Understanding with fellow research institutions in the Netherlands, and companies IBM and ASTRON, to collaborate on a ground-breaking research project called Precursor Regional Science Data Centres for the SKA (SKA-RSDC).

The South Africa–Dutch agreement on data science aims to establish national and regional data centers—in both countries—to tackle one of the most significant challenges presented by the Square Kilometer Array (SKA), an international effort to build the world’s largest radio telescope, with eventually more than a square kilometer (1 million square meters) of collecting area: how to manage, process, and make accessible the immense amount of data the telescope will generate. The data centers will provide astronomers around the world with access to the large-scale data infrastructures and associated high-performance computing (HPC) needed to make sense of the data.

“We assume that there will be at least two astronomy-focused sites, one each in South Africa and Netherlands,” says Russ Taylor, a UCT professor who is the IDIA founding director and joint UCT/UWC SKA research chair. The IDIA was launched in September 2015 and is a partnership between the UCT and three other South African universities—the University of the Western Cape, North-West University, and the University of Pretoria. The techniques used to extract major science value from the massive astronomical datasets are anticipated to be applicable to other fields such as big data analytics, high-performance computing, green computing, and visualization analytics, Taylor notes. UCT also participates in a number of research networks that count as members top universities worldwide.

UCT has had success with student exchange programs. UCT’s Semester Study Abroad program brings international students to UCT for a direct enrollment program that is fee generating. Most students spend one semester at UCT, and most students enroll in courses offered through the Faculty of Humanities, Kalula says. Since being launched in 1998, the program has grown to more than 1,000 students from around the world coming to study at UCT each year. “This makes up a large proportion of UCT’s international student base—we currently enroll 5,030 international students, out of a total of 27,809 students,” Kalula says. “Of the semester study abroad group, a very high percentage—between 80 and 85 percent—are from the United States.”

DUT, established in 2002, has about 70 partnerships, Samuels says. “They are varying in nature: some are broad institutional work across many institutions, while others are more institution-specific and limited to one aspect of internationalization, like research,” Samuels says. “One notable partnership is one with Georgia State University that started with visiting staff from Georgia State University. The program has broadened to mathematics, to Georgia State University students visiting DUT, and to DUT faculty visiting Georgia State University. While only 20 GSU students are visiting under the program, other programs feature larger numbers of students such as inbound German students from a variety of partnerships that average 150 to 180 students. Generally, DUT partnerships are spread throughout the world, with one area of deficiency being South America.”

Francophone Ties

The Francophone countries of Africa have been predominantly working with partners in France, Europe, and to some extent Canada, says Ahmed Legrouri, vice president of academic affairs at the International University of Grand Bassam (IUGB) in the Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast). French institutions recruit heavily from the former colonies and many Francophone African universities are modeled on the French higher education system, facilitating partnerships, notes a 2008 World Bank Working Paper on higher education in 12 African Countries, Differentiation and Articulation in Tertiary Education Systems.

IUGB is an exception as it was established as an independent institution, offering aU.S.-style curriculum in English, through a partnership between the government of Côte d’Ivoire and Georgia State University in Atlanta. The main partnership interests of the university are in faculty and staff capacity building, experience sharing, research activities, and exchange and study abroad opportunities for students, Legrouri says.

One French HEI expanding its African partnerships in recent years is La Rochelle Business School (Groupe Sup de Co La Rochelle), a member of the network of the French Grandes Écoles and a nonprofit organization linked to the La Rochelle Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

“We have 20 to 25 partnerships with African institutions, most in Francophone countries, though we are now expanding to form relationships with Anglophone countries, too,” says Joëlle E. Nisolle, director of international development at La Rochelle Business School.

Nisolle says interest in such partnerships has grown due to African national capacity-building efforts. “In several African Francophone countries, the governments around the year 2000 realized they would not be able to provide seats in all state universities so they allowed public-private partnership institutions, private schools controlled by government, to be created. There are more than 100 of these. For these institutions, having partnerships with foreign institutions is prestigious and these are mainly the institutions that we partner with. It is, in contrast, much more difficult to partner with the official public state universities—we have tried but have not yet succeeded.”

Nisolle says newer HEIs in Africa vary tremendously in academic rigor, professionalism, and approach, and that care and due diligence is required before embarking on such partnerships and even after doing so.

“After we have signed a partnership agreement, I visit the school at least two to three times a year,” Nisolle says. “We need to see that they are presenting our partnership in the right way and are not promising things that we cannot deliver.” Nisolle notes that the academic flow of students basically only involves African students; French students do not participate in programs in African institutions for academic credit because the African institutions are generally not internationally accredited, she says.

Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco (AUI),is an independent, public, not-for-profit, coeducational Moroccan university that features a globally oriented, English-language, liberal-arts curriculum based on the U.S. system. As an autonomous Moroccan public university, it has forged a wide range of partnerships with HEIs, including many in the United States, says Amy Fishburn, director of the Office of International Programs at AUI.

A remarkable AUI partnership involves George Washington University (GWU). A visit in 1999 to AUI by former GWU President Joel Trachtenberg led to a proposal that GWU and AUI each commit $1,000,000 to a joint fund, the annual proceeds of which could be used to fund a wide range of activities. Fruits of the partnership include student and faculty mobility, the shadowing of three directors of campus services, capacity building for AUI’s strategic planning process, a Human Resource Development Program master’s program collaboration, and a Global Humanities Project.

Fishburn says internationalization is part of AUI’s mission and infused throughout the institution as a process rather than as a goal. “More than 40 percent of faculty are international, with another 30 percent of Moroccan faculty with dual nationality,” Fishburn says. “Student mobility has been a key component of AUI relationships, with about 60 percent of all AUI undergraduate students studying abroad and half of those for a semester or more. While these are important inputs and activities facilitated in part by the large network of partners around the world, the real question is how well we are achieving our mission to ‘enhance Morocco and engage the world’ through our educational programs. Assessment of our ongoing investment in these internationalization undertakings is the next major effort embedded in the strategic plan alongside the mandate to build up inter-African university relationships corresponding to Morocco’s expanding economic and social engagement within the continent.”

Relationships elsewhere in the Africa have also been forged based upon common language, says Patrício Langa, an African higher education expert who is an associate professor with the Faculty of Education at the University of Western Cape, South Africa, and at Eduardo Mondlane University, in Maputo, Mozambique. “With Latin America, particularly between Brazil and the Portuguese-speaking countries in Africa, there has been a developing of new partnerships,” Langa says. “More intensively under the government of Lula da Silva, the former Brazilian president, new partnership initiatives were established, such as the University for International Integration of the Afro-Brazilian Lusophony (UNILAB) in 2010. The major goal of UNILAB was to encourage and strengthen cooperation, partnerships, and cultural, educational, and scientific exchanges between Brazil and member states of the Community of Portuguese-Speaking Countries (CPLP), Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Portugal, Sâo Tomé and Príncipe, and East Timor.”

Regional Mobility Efforts

A number of major regional efforts are aimed at providing the benefits of globalization to African HEIs.

The European Union (EU) in particular has been a primary driver of internationalization and student exchange on the continent through programs like the Erasmus Mundus Plus, Langa notes. The EU’s new Intra-Africa Academic Mobility Scheme, for example, was launched in March 2016 and supports higher education cooperation amongcountries in Africa. Established under the Pan-African Programme (Development Cooperation Instrument), the program offers funding opportunities to African higher education institutions for the organization and implementation of mobility of staff and students (master’s and doctorate) within the continent. It aims to promote sustainable development and ultimately contribute to poverty reduction by increasing the availability of trained and qualified high-level professional manpower in Africa, Langa says.

Another intra-Africa mobility program, this one established by the African Union, is the Mwalimu Nyerere program. This program, supported by EU grants and scholarships, facilitates exchanges between African universities. A related program, the Intra-ACP academic mobility scheme, builds on the Mwalimu Nyerere program for Africa, granting additional funding, and setting up a similar scheme for the Caribbean and Pacific regions, Langa says. This program is funded through the European Development Fund (EDF).

Another program is the Carnegie African Diaspora Fellowship Program (CADFP), a scholar fellowship program for educational projects at African HEIs. Offered by IIE in partnership with the United States International University-Africa (USIU-Africa), the program is funded by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York (CCNY), and is targeted at African-born academics currently living in the United States and Canada working in higher education. In the first two years of the program since its 2013 founding, the CADFP supported 110 short-term faculty fellowships for African-born academics. In October 2015 additional funding was secured from CCNY to support up to 140 fellowships. Fellows engage in educational projects and are hosted by faculty of public or private HEIs in the CCNY partner countries that include Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda.

The Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD) cooperates with 20 African countries to engage in higher education capacity-building programs. In addition, the Norwegian Centre for International Cooperation in Education in March 2016 launched a new program for cooperation with developing countries in education, the Norwegian Partnership Program for Global Academic Cooperation. Jowi says that one productive aspect of the new program approach is that for African students and scholars who receive grants, if they return to finish their schooling in their home countries there are no financial obligations. (Recipients must repay scholarships if they leave the countries.) In addition, Norwegian scholars teach in Africa and jointly develop programs with African scholars under the program, says Jowi, who is representing African institutions in the arrangements.

Jowi says such Afrocentric approaches to partnership arrangements make sense because in addition to fighting brain drain, more output from partnership activities and benefit to the African partners can often be accomplished if African students and scholars remain in place and focus on investment and activities that will develop capacity there. “For the cost of training one professional in the United States, you could have trained 10 in Africa if the higher education capacity was there,” Jowi says.

One major intra-African initiative is the USHEPiA program, a partnership initiative founded in 1996 to promote collaboration among established African researchers in the generation and dissemination of knowledge, and to build institutional and human capacity in African universities.

The USHEPiA program was launched at UCT with funding from the Rockefeller Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the Carnegie Corporation. The aim was to offer postgraduate fellowships to staff members from all eight partner universities interested in pursuing master’s and doctoral studies in the sciences, engineering, humanities and social sciences, says UCT’s Kalula. The project started with the first cohort in 1996, and has over the years produced 10 cohorts of postgraduate students. By the end of 2013 USHEPiA had produced two master’s and 53 doctoral graduates in the 17 years of its existence.

The program has also presented challenges, Kalula says. “While the USHEPiA program is undoubtedly meeting its aim of capacity building, the question of the sustainability of the research enterprise remains as a critical issue,” says Kalula. “Overall, the administration of the program demanded much more in terms of time and money than had been anticipated at its inception. In particular, efforts involved in communication, in reporting to donors (prior to 2012), and in the daily management of the fellowships required much more effort than originally envisaged.”

Another effort to promote regional higher education capacity is the Pan African University (PAU) Initiative. Launched in 2008, the program is a postgraduate training and research network of university nodes in five regions, supported by the African Union and the Association of African Universities. The Pan African University addresses five crucial thematic areas, through a network of five flagship institutes: Basic Sciences, Technology and Innovation; Life and Earth Sciences (including Health and Agriculture); Governance, Humanities and Social Sciences; Water and Energy Sciences (including Climate Change); and Space Sciences. The thematic areas are assigned to institutes hosted by existing universities of excellence across Africa’s five geographic regions. PAU Institutes are currently operational in four of Africa’s five regions (Western, Eastern, Central, and Northern regions), and negotiations are ongoing to operationalize the fifth PAU institute in Southern Africa. The first group of 55 students graduated in Kenya in November 2014, and another group graduated in November 2015 from the Life and Earth Sciences Institute in Nigeria. PAU has an existing student population of 314 with a new admissions list of 350 for the 2015–2016 academic year. “The idea was to support scholars going to study in centers of excellence, to foster the mobility of students in Africa, and to stop the brain drain,” Jowi says.

In 2014, along similar lines, the World Bank launched a new initiative to support the region in strengthening selected HEIs to deliver quality postgraduate education and build collaborative research capacity in specialized areas that are development priorities for the region. The first phase of this initiative was rolled out with an approved U.S. $150 million to finance 19 Africa Centers of Excellence (ACEs) in 18 universities from seven countries (Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, and Togo) in Western and Central Africa. In 2015, through additional financing, Cote d’Ivoire joined the network with three centers in three different universities.

In May 2016, the second phase, aimed at Eastern and Southern Africa, was approved with $148 million for 24 ACEs in 16 universities from eight countries: Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia. These competitively selected centers receive funding for advanced studies in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)-related disciplines.

Another intra-African HEI effort is the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS), a pan-African network of centers of excellence for postgraduate education, research, and outreach in mathematical sciences. AIMS South Africa, a center for education and research in Cape Town, South Africa, was established in 2003 as a partnership project of the following six universities: Cambridge, Cape Town, Oxford, Paris Sud XI, Stellenbosch, and Western Cape, says AIMS For Excellence Program Manager Dawn MacDonald, who works with Professor David Kribs, AIMS international academic adviser, and other AIMS colleagues to build partnerships with academic institutions outside Africa. AIMS centers also operate in Senegal, Ghana, Cameroon, Tanzania, and Rwanda.

“The success of the AIMS centers is heavily dependent on partnerships with institutions across the globe,” MacDonald says. “We are currently in a huge growth phase for increasing the number of partnerships that AIMS has with academic institutions globally [beyond 30 existing partnerships]. Our typical AIMS partnerships with HEIs outside Africa involve two-way academic exchange aspects. For example, partner universities sending faculty for short-term teaching visits. We are looking for funding and we are looking for the best lecturers and PhD students from partner universities to come to AIMS centers to teach and tutor. We are trying to provide AIMS students with the best possible academic exposure we can. We are looking for partnership institutions to recruit our top students and provide scholarship support when available.”

There are other African partnership initiatives with some of the emerging economies in Brazil, India, and China, Langa notes. For instance, the UNESCO-China-Africa Tripartite Initiative on University Cooperation, launched in 2011, aims to facilitate university partnerships, with the intended benefit the production of knowledge that fosters mutual understanding between China and African countries and the cultivation of top-level talents who can work effectively across borders.

Despite such efforts, in terms of intra-Africa multilateral platforms to promote partnerships, “the African continent is still somewhat slow in the process,” Langa says. “Although the continent counts with supranational organizations such as the Association of African Universities (AAU) and the African Union Commission (AUC), these institutions operate mostly as managing agencies of programs conceived and funded from Europe, USA, or Latin America. There are very few instances, if any, where the partnership initiatives or programs were conceived, funded, and implemented by Africans to Africans.

ANIE offers a variety of services to facilitate and improve partnerships, says Jowi. “We do advocacy with African leaders for universities without any partnerships and we create a platform where universities can meet, such as at our annual conference,” Jowi says. “We have a very broad board that facilitates such cooperation. We also help members develop good practices for members and for relationships between the north and the south, which aims to make such relationships more ethical and more equal.”

Jowi says some African HEIs approach partnerships with trepidation given past abuses. “Africa may be the only region in the world that identifies risks with establishing partnerships, given they involve mobility and the danger of drain brain and, historically, have involved imposition of the research dominance of the north upon the south with a resulting educational system that ends up being a Western curriculum of less use to Africa,” Jowi says.

And many challenges in partnership efforts remain. One such hole is simply tracking all the developments, partnership and otherwise, in African HEIs, Langa says. “The progress has been very slow in developing a robust dataset on African higher education to serve the continent,” Langa says. “As strange as it may sound, no one currently can claim to know exactly and with confidence how many universities there are in Africa. Notwithstanding this, the continent is being pushed for comparison in league tables and university rankings. I would argue that the scenario is even worse when considering capturing the multiple partnerships and institutional engagements of African universities with their counterparts elsewhere. There is virtually no data.”

More generally, development of a truly African higher education sector remains a work in progress, Langa says. Even areas that would theoretically be areas of strength for African HEIs, such as African studies programs, sometimes are not, Langa says.

“As odd as it may sound, there are more centers of African studies in Europe than those based on the African continent,” Langa says. “There are more European Africanist scholars in those centers than Africans. But things are changing gradually. As the number of postgraduate programs (master’s degrees and PhDs) increases in the continent, the tendency is that African academics also become independent scholars and researchers capable of setting their own research agenda. However, the source of the research funds, particularly, through the various cooperation agreements, is still critical in setting the power relations and dynamics between the African academics and their counterparts. It is common to find calls from funding agencies that intend to promote partnerships between Africa universities and their counterparts, making requirements demanding that the principal investigator should be from the donor country. ‘Who pays the piper calls the tune’ still applies considerably in the relationship between African scholars and their partners in Europe, the U.S. or Asia.”

Another related problem, Langa says, is inadequate circulation of African academics within their own continent.

NAFSA’s Role

NAFSA has supported African partnerships and capacity building. NAFSA’s Global Dialogue Fellowship Program, launched in 2014, seeks to assist university leaders in several sub-Saharan African countries to help increase their institutions’ international education capacity and bring their expertise to university leaders in the United States. One such 2015 Global Dialogue Fellowship features Anakalo Shitandi, director of research, extension, and linkages at Kisii University, Kenya, and Charles Bankart, assistant vice provost in the Office of International Programs at the University of Kansas (KU). In addition, some sessions at the NAFSA 2016 Annual Conference addressed African higher education capacity and collaboration issues, including an open meeting of African internationalization leaders moderated by AUI’s Fishburn, currently a member of NAFSA’s International Education Leadership Knowledge Community, a body of volunteers responsible for coordinating the delivery of a comprehensive set of sessions, workshops, networking opportunities, and resources for senior leaders around the world.

Bankart says that his participation in the NAFSA’s Global Dialogue Fellowship Program has been an eye-opening experience. “One of the things I’ve come to understand and appreciate is that there is very little stability at the institutional level within Kenya,” Bankart says. “Leadership changes can have dramatic implications for an institution, as infrastructure and opportunities often relate to the decisions of a single individual and leadership shifts can be destructive to priorities previously set and the groundwork undertaken. Their leadership culture does not have the same level of transparency. In some ways, however, the challenges are not that different from KU, as our particular state’s financial situation and legislative and gubernatorial changes represent real challenges to our funding. Things that we thought to be sacrosanct are being challenged and we have to think about what we can invest in and what we can no longer afford. So many of the struggles are similar.”

Shitandi says Kisii, a university with 15,000 students and 400 academic staff, has already engaged in several partnership relationships. “Kisii University has ongoing collaborations which are coordinated by the research office,” says Shitandi. “We have signed Memorandum of Agreements with the University of Minnesota in the USA, Linkoping University in Sweden, and Helsinki Metropolitan University, all of which have been developed by the group I head at Kisii University.”

Shitandi says the two-year partnership with Bankart through the Global Dialogue Fellowship Program has already proven to be fruitful from his perspective: “Charlie shared a number of documents which have proved very useful as I continue to develop a policy draft document for Kisii University on internationalization and partnerships,” Shitandi says.

Tapping the Upside of Brain Drain

The possible upside of the tremendous brain drain of African intellectuals who are now academics and HEI administrators elsewhere is that there are contacts in academia across the globe who can help facilitate the creation of partnerships. In some cases, they are in a position of power to make a difference. One is Stephen Appiah-Padi, director of the Office of International Education at Bucknell University. Appiah-Padi, a native of Ghana, helped forge a relationship between his university and the University of Cape Coast (UCC), Ghana, that began in 2013. “It’s initially about student exchange but also has room for expansion to include faculty and staff exchange, and other cooperative ventures,” Appiah-Padi says. “The partnership began with Bucknell establishing a faculty-led, semester-long study abroad program to Ghana, based at UCC. This past spring we sent the first 11 students and one faculty member. We are getting ready to send two faculty and 20 students next January. UCC has sent staff and administrators to Bucknell and is planning on sending a student next January.”

The relationship largely came about because of Appiah-Padi’s interest and background in the region, he notes. “I arrived at Bucknell in 2009,” says Appiah-Padi. “At that time, Bucknell had no relationships with African universities. The process of beginning a relationship with a university in any part of world usually involves nurturing by faculty and in a campus where there are not a lot of faculty with experience and interest in the region, it can be difficult to begin to get someone interested. In 2012 our Africana Studies department was starting to grow gradually and there was interest in forming connections with African universities. But what we have in Ghana was largely through me, working with a few faculty. I researched the possibility of a partnership and, due to my position, I was able to say we can do this and I went there, visited, and began the process.”

The Center for International Education at UCC hosts and facilitates the Bucknell program for a fee and selects UCC students to join a Bucknell faculty-taught class and specially arranged field trips, says Gladys Attah-Gyamfi, assistant registrar, at UCC’s Centre for International Education. “This arrangement allows the selected UCC students to experience the dynamics of a foreign (U.S.) liberal arts university class; students in the class also assist as peer mentors to their U.S. counterparts in understanding the Ghanaian cultural environment. In addition, UCC students can apply to study in Bucknell for a semester as a form of exchange. The U.S. students are also able to take regular UCC classes taught by Ghanaian professors. The Bucknell faculty also is available to provide some academic service to the UCC community in the form of leading seminars and advising graduate research projects of UCC students. There is room for expansion of this partnership and we are planning discussions to include a dual degree as well as a collaborative faculty research component in subsequent years.”

The Cream of the Crop

Participants in African-foreign HEI institution partnerships say that what matters is not the number of the partnerships but the depth and the energy behind them.

UCC has 76 partnerships with foreign institutions, most set up between 2010 and 2013 and mainly in the United States, Germany, Asia, the United Kingdom, and some Scandinavian countries, Attah-Gyamfi says. “Most of the partnerships are supposed to include staff, student exchange, joint academic and research, and conferences, but are skewed toward student exchanges,” Attah-Gyamfi says. “The benefits have been tremendous from the partnerships with the few partners who are really committed, and have resulted in joint conferences, developing special programs, summer programs, funding faculty, staff, and student exchanges, among many others. Going forward, we want to concentrate on relationships with the few vibrant partners.”

Some African HEIs are now at the point where they can fine-tune relationship partnership policies and separate the wheat from the chaff. ANIE’s Jowi, who is also a senior lecturer at Moi’s School of Education, notes that Moi has 120 partnerships with other universities, mainly concentrated in Europe with some in the United States and Canada and a few in Africa. “Originally, there was no strategy for collaborations because they arose from faculty and administrators at Moi and eventual partners just contacting each other. Many African universities similarly lack a strategy. At Moi University, we realized that and partnered with the International Association of Universities (IAU)’s Internationalization Strategies Advisory Service to help the university develop a strategy for internationalization,” Jowi says. A November 2011 final report by the IAU expressed some concern over Moi’s strategic plan’s intent to significantly expand national and international partnerships, noting that Moi’s success with partnerships such as AMPATH in part reflected such partnerships’ slow and deliberate approach.

Einterz says that part of what has made the AMPATH partnership so fruitful has been an extraordinary depth of commitment with respect to the amount of resources from IUPUI, an extraordinary durational time commitment, and a willingness to set aside traditional partnership models to best accommodate the needs of MOI and the community it serves.

At the onset, both sides committed to a 10-year minimum period for the relationship, a remarkably long period for an untested venture and one that Einterz says in part reflected the flexibility afforded by decentralized authority at IUPUI at the start of the partnership. Eventually, the success of the program has allowed it to obtain major philanthropic donations form organizations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. The program is now building an endowment to make the project truly self-sustaining.

Having a partnership that delivers remarkable results in Africa really does take a village, Einterz says.

“The scope of the partnership and its commitment to serving a wide range of community needs beyond strictly medical ones is a key to AMPATH’s success and one that does not come intuitively to many universities starting relationships,” says Einterz. “Leading with care to the community, rather than other aims like research or training, is so countercultural in the United States. But leading with care can enable your training and research.”

David Tobenkin is a freelance writer in the Washington, D.C., area. His last article for International Educator was “Latin American Partnerships Go Global” published in the March/April 2016 issue.

This article originally appeared in the September/October 2016 issue of International Educator magazine.