As outlined before, the economic dimension is one of the driving forces for Sino-African relations. However, there are also various other fields of engagement, and higher education is one of them. While everyone has heard of Confucius Institutes there are also a number of other initiatives.
One of the initiatives was launched by the Chinese Ministry of Education as the “20+20 Cooperation Plan” in 2009 under which 20 higher education institutions in China were twinned with 20 higher education institutions in 17 African countries. In 2011, UNESCO joined the initiative which then became the “UNESCO-China-Africa Tripartite Initiative on University Cooperation” aiming to facilitate university partnerships. What is interesting is the fact that a lot of these cooperation happen in science or engineering and less in social sciences and humanities.
In late October, the so called “2013 Focal Point Meeting” in Paris took place, during which UNESCO presented a study concerned with this China-Africa university cooperation that presents some interesting insights into this south-south higher education cooperation. For example, 6 out of 9 African universities that replied to UNESCO reported that they house a Confucius Institute on their campus, and 9 out of the 13 replying Chinese universities reported that they established African Study Centers/Institutes. On the other hand, however, only 3 Chinese and 2 African universities noted that they held joint programs awarding both Bachelor and postgraduate degrees.
The study also presents some interesting insights with regards to student exchange and mobility. Although more and more African students are studying at Chinese universities, the proportion they make to the whole student body in Chinese universities is still low, especially compared to some European countries or the EU as a whole (an interesting study on this topic can be found here). On the other hand, when it comes to Chinese students as part of the whole student body in African universities, the UNESCO study reveals that their number is almost negligible.
With regards to research cooperation, 10 out of 13 Chinese and 3 out of 9 African universities reported that they have jointly-financed research projects, 8 Chinese and 5 African universities said that they had produced jointly publications, but only 3 of them in total reported that such cooperation had led to jointly-held patents.
Furthermore, the study reveals the uneven financial support for this cooperation. In this regard all Chinese universities noted they have special finance for this initiative, and 7 of them said they had other sources of funding as well; while by contrast only 3 African universities reported they had specialized finance, and none of them said that they have other sources of money to be spent on the cooperation initiative.
Overall, this trilateral cooperation illustrates that there is more going on than just business between China and Africa and it will be interesting to see whether those engagements in the higher education sector give rise to mutually beneficial modes of cooperation, or whether they produce new asymmetries.