This page holds suggestions of specific donor or U.S. legislative actions, sorted by cost, that would help African universities (or would help put higher education to use in stimulating the economy, which in turn allows the expansion of education). Most suggestions to date come from people born in and working in Africa. Some suggested actions could be scaled down and applied to a single university, country, or region at lower cost. Not all are separable. Online resources are of little use without internet connections, for example. Training a scientist abroad and requiring return to Africa is of little use if there are no jobs to return to.
The motivating principle behind all suggestions is that they are short-term actions that can produce a long-term change for education in Africa. The scale and cost of tertiary education in Africa ($10 billion/year even at current enrollment levels) and of communications infrastructure are such that donor organizations must choose their actions carefully to be effective. They cannot afford to take over the combined functions of private individuals, businesses, and governments. And because demand for higher education by Africans is a larger force than individual donor actions,
donor programs that stifle local initiatives and walk away can do more harm than good. There are plenty of areas, however, where donor or legislative actions can provide great leverage. We have listed some possibilities below.
This is a draft list and we welcome comments and further contributions. Send suggestions to
$0 or small
- Reintroduce and pass the U.S.
Federal Research Public Access Act of 2006 to open research archives.
- Hold Congressional hearings on telecommunications in Africa and urge major U.S. telecom and technology firms to send representatives to the "Connect Africa" summit
To be held in Kigali, Rwanda, October 2007, sponsored by Rwanda and the United Nations ITU (International Telecommunication Union). African ISPs urgently want meetings with providers of both infrastructure and services (e.g. Skype).
- Direct and fund a feasibility study outlining a student loan program to allow doubling of university enrollment in Africa.
- Pass legislation making issuance of a work permit to immigrants conditional on employers' assuming their student loan obligations.
Ideally this would be further extended to require "educational rebates" to the universities of emigrants with publicly funded educations. The cost these measures impose on employers is small compared to U.S. salaries over time: an African undergraduate education costs some $10-15,000, and a medical degree some $40-50,000.
Impose guidelines that all U.S.-funded aid projects must include a training component. Pressure the U.N. to establish the same guidelines.
Institute a special "African scholars" visa category to expedite visits by students and professors.
The goal is to stimulate universities and companies to set up internships and academic exchanges.
- Support development of open-source textbooks and curriculum material
and workshops to introduce them to African professors and teachers.
Reach out to organizations of African expatriates (who tend to be well-educated, well-organized, and well-off) and help them work with home country universities.
(See the IOM's "Migration for Development in Africa" initiative).
$10s of millions
- Donate computers.
$30 million would buy 300,000 OLPC laptops, one for every 10 university students in sub-Saharan Africa, which can serve as e-books, as conduits for information both to and from Africa, as programming workstations, as data analysis tools, as encouragement to write and share information.
- Fund teacher and student exchanges.
$30 million would pay for 500 U.S. professors to teach for one year each at sub-Saharan universities. $30 million would pay for 1000 African students or researchers to do 1-year exchanges/internships in the U.S. (Note the leverage of online learning: 1000 is a lot less than 300,000).
- Set up a regional venture capital fund for locally-owned small businesses and startups
$25 million is the size of the Origins VC fund proposal for East, West, or Southern Africa.
- Set up a regional or national venture capital fund for optical fiber infrastructure in particular
African ISPs suggest VC as the most effective means of stimulating construction of national optical fiber backbones, better than donor-directed construction. The total cost of land-based fiber for all of sub-Saharan Africa is of course large, estimated at $1 billion + land acquisition cost, but smaller funds can be useful in targeted areas.
$100s of millions
- Run a submarine optical fiber cable down the E. coast of Africa.
A $200 million investment in a non-profit corporation, much of which would be recovered in revenues. This cable would transform E. African communications.
Run a smiliar cable overland from Cairo through the Sudan to Kenya and Tanzania.
An overland cable is less secure than a submarine one, but the construction of the cable trench also serves as a jobs program employing thousands or tens of thousands in Southern Sudan and helping keep peace there.
Set up a Sallie Mae for Africa to underwrite student loans.
This action has a much smaller net cost than $100s of millions. Careful management could make losses relatively small.
- Fund and endow an African Institute of Science and Technology (as described here).
The proposed Arusha campus is one candidate for external funding. Tanzania is stable, democratic, resource-poor but forward-thinking about internet issues, and with a history of university support. Slow internet connections in E. Africa can be partly compensated for with
local digital archives of research material. The Arusha area is also beautiful, which is irrelevant for students but useful in luring U.S. and European academics to make extended teaching visits.
- Run a submarine optical fiber cable around the entire African continent.
This idea has a history as the "Africa-ONE" proposal; cost estimates were slightly over $1 billion. Countries would be permitted to create landing points and connect to the cable as they chose, provided that bandwidth would be freely sold to all at a fixed and fair price.