Vartan Gregorian statement for African Higher Education Summit, March 2015
This speech was read by Kofi Annan at the Summit
Esteemed dignitaries, fellow educators, and colleagues, Since I am, unfortunately, unable to join this momentous event in person, I have asked my dear friend and former trustee of Carnegie Corporation of New York, His Excellency Kofi Annan, to share with you my brief remarks. I cannot think of anyone better suited to convey Carnegie Corporation’s and my personal message to all of you on this important occasion.
Close to two decades ago, it was then-Secretary General of the United Nations Kofi Annan who inspired me to turn the Corporation’s attention to higher education in Africa. The Corporation has a long-standing history of engagement with the African continent. It began with agricultural education in Kenya and public libraries in South Africa in the mid-1920s and continued through the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, followed by an emphasis on academic communities, libraries, and women in higher education. Throughout our engagement in Africa, the Corporation has especially prized its relationships with African universities and scholars.
At the encouragement of Kofi Annan, in 2000, a handful of U.S. foundations formed the Partnership for Higher Education in Africa, which eventually included seven members: Carnegie Corporation and the Ford, Hewlett, Kresge, MacArthur, Mellon and Rockefeller Foundations.
The Partnership aimed to draw attention to the innovative actions being taken by African universities to revitalize themselves and the higher education sector, putting foundation support behind these “universities on the move.” Collectively, the foundations invested some $500 million in higher education over ten years. Key accomplishments of the Partnership included: increasing the capacity of universities to negotiate the digital world; improving capacity for higher education research; and drawing attention to university leaders’ concern for the future of the African professoriate.
Since the end of the 10-year partnership, the Corporation has continued its investments in African higher education by focusing on the next generation of African academics. This has included the funding of hundreds of fellowships in the humanities through the American Council of Learned Societies. Along with many African university leaders, the Corporation believes that the humanities are central to preserving Africa’s heritage and legacy, and that the continent’s history should be written in Africa, by Africans. In addition, the Corporation has helped increase access to libraries on the continent, including the renovation of two national libraries in South Africa and of the learning commons at several universities. Today, I am delighted that the Corporation’s support over the past 15 years has contributed to the rise and vitality of African higher education. However, much remains to be done. This is the spirit that has led to this week’s extraordinary gathering. We, along with many African educators, believe that universities are essential tools for the renewal of Africa’s culture, economy, and institutions. We are immensely pleased that the key outcome of the Summit will be the formulation and adoption of an African Higher Education Declaration, a framework for the transformation of the sector in the next 50 years. Carnegie Corporation takes pride in being a co-sponsor of this gathering, and we thank the Government of Senegal for hosting it, along with TrustAfrica and the Summit’s nine other organizing partners. Finally, I want to thank all of you for making this Summit a platform for launching a new agenda for higher education in Africa. We are all grateful to you and proud of your continued commitment to Africa’s progress.