If your institution is looking for international partnerships, consider the possibilities Africa offers. Demand for higher education there is growing quickly, said Doug Fountain. In 2003, there were 101 universities in the countries of Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Nigeria. Today, there are 250, he said.
“There’s incredible unmet demand,” said JoEllyn Fountain. Every year 35,000 students qualify to attend a university there but don’t find a space, she added.
Higher education is critical for training the engineers, nurses, teachers, accountants and others that the countries need to develop, Doug Fountain said. And it needs to be well designed and to meet local needs.
Doug and JoEllyn Fountain, who worked at Uganda Christian University from 2004 to 2012, observed three types of partnerships between institutions in the United States and Africa.
• Branch campus. Most attempts to open a campus under an institution’s brand, sometimes with Western rates, have not been very successful in Africa, Doug Fountain said.
• Branch program. In these arrangements, U.S. institutions offer programs through a local institution. They bring in their own standards, teaching staff, books and examinations. And sometimes they charge full Western rates. Problems with that approach include that the programs cost more than local students can pay and that the teaching style isn’t what students are used to. Rote memorization is a common way of learning in Africa, Doug Fountain said.
“You can’t just walk into a classroom and change the way people are learning,” JoEllyn Fountain added.
Plus, some online options aren’t available, Doug Fountain said. The Internet isn’t as reliable in some areas of Africa as it is at U.S. institutions.
And examples that make sense to students who grew up in the U.S. might make no sense to students in Africa, JoEllyn Fountain said.
• Collaboration with the local institution. The most effective approach is for U.S. officials to say to their African counterparts, “We are trying to work in this field and you are too. How can we work together?” Doug Fountain said.
That approach enables a collaboration that’s appropriate for the local population, JoEllyn Fountain said.
And collaborations aren’t just for large institutions. For example, Uganda Christian University and Bethel University in Minnesota worked together to offer nursing degrees in Africa.
Many successful collaborations begin through conversations at conferences or from other casual beginnings, JoEllyn Fountain said.
Explore variety of collaborations
While many collaborations focus on shared research, that’s not the only approach, JoEllyn Fountain said. Many officials from U.S. institutions talk about wanting to help with development, and the best way to do that could be by helping leaders in the local population enhance their skills.
Many institutions in Africa could benefit from the expertise U.S. administrators could share, Doug Fountain said. For example, U.S. officials could help them answer the following questions:
• How do you create an alumni association? Alumni associations are new to Africa because, until recently, all universities there were government-funded. In fact, the first private institution was accredited in 2004, JoEllyn Fountain said. The faculty and administrators working at the new private institutions attended government-funded institutions, so they don’t know what an alumni association should look like.
• What is an endowment? Those are also new since they weren’t needed when all institutions were government-funded.
• How do you integrate IT into the classrooms and administration? Institutions in Africa haven’t had access to the level of technology that is common at U.S. institutions. U.S. officials can help their African peers get up to speed on how technology can improve learning and student services.
• How do you evaluate academic staff performance? Many U.S. institutions have developed systems for doing this effectively that officials could share with their peers in Africa.
• How do you plan for the institution’s future? Officials at U.S. institutions are typically good at planning and organizing. Sharing that expertise with colleagues at another institution doesn’t require a lot of resources. “Relationships don’t have to be about money,” JoEllyn Fountain said.
• How do you create student life/student development programming? African institutions typically don’t have the level of co-curricular programming available at U.S. institutions. JoEllyn Fountain helped start a resident assistant program at the institution where she worked.
Doug Fountain and JoEllyn Fountain can be reached at email@example.com. Their book, Planning and Resource Strategy for Higher Education: A Guide for Universities in Africa, is available free from the Society for College and University Planning at www.scup.org. You can also download it free from the Fountains’ website and find additional resources at www.developinghighered.org.
Understand partner’s culture for a successful international venture
Although administrators from the United States have a lot to offer to their colleagues in Africa, they need to take time to understand the African culture. They can’t take the attitude, “We’re the American experts and we’re going to tell you how to do this,” JoEllyn Fountain said. She and Doug Fountain are the authors of a new book on partnerships with African universities.
Cultural competency issues U.S. officials face working in Africa include:
• Understanding the importance of relationships. In Africa, the ability to accomplish something is based on who you know and what relationships you have with others.
Hierarchy is important, and titles matter, said JoEllyn Fountain. Officials you work with may not be comfortable using your first name, and they won’t want you using theirs.
“Your title carries more weight than you might think,” she added. So you need to be aware that people are willing to listen to you because of it.
“You can’t expect to fly in on Sunday, design a program with faculty members by Friday, and fly out on Saturday,” Doug Fountain said.
First you have to get to know the people you are working with and show you care about them, he added.
• Ensuring that the region’s colonial history doesn’t intrude on working together. Officials from U.S. institutions need to come into the relationship with the expectation that there are strengths in the local setting that they can help to build up, Doug Fountain said.
If people from Africa came to the U.S. and offered ideas for improving the education or health care systems, Americans would be interested in their ideas but would expect them to show respect for existing practices, he said.
“Treat people with the same respect you would want them to have for you,” Doug Fountain said.
• Striking a balance between respect for the local system and confidence that you might have something to offer. The respect and confidence between the parties should be mutual, Doug Fountain said.