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Investment in public research universities set to continue

African universities will be critical in overcoming the financial fall-out from the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, and in building the resilience of African societies for future challenges, General Secretary of the Guild of European Research-Intensive Universities (the Guild), Jan Palmowski, has told University World News.

In addition, Palmowski said, African economies need to build on a locally developed knowledge society. “For this we need to strengthen research and innovation, and this is only scalable in Africa’s public universities.”

In an email exchange, he said the African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA) and the Guild have made a strong argument for investing in public research universities in Africa, and we will continue to push for this in the short, medium and long term.

“In the short term, universities offer critical, and in many countries the only, testing facilities, and it demonstrates that we cannot manage a crisis like this without universities,” Palmowski said.


Despite the COVID-19 crisis, the European Union (EU) contribution to Africa is not likely to be affected. Even though every state’s first response to the pandemic has been to close its borders, “we are completely interdependent – even if a country manages to defeat the virus, it will never be safe until it is defeated everywhere,” he said.

Palmowski said the EU has directed EUR3.25 billion (US$3.5 billion) towards the coronavirus response in Africa. “This is not new money, because EU budgets are set a long time in advance and the EU has limited means to change budgets within budget periods. But it is accelerating funding, also in the hope of attracting further private investment.”

Together with ARUA, he said, the Guild is working on providing help to African universities. “We are working on it and I can only urge others to find ways to make the case also, not least to their national agencies.”

In addition, the two groups have called for investment in infrastructure, doctoral schools, early-career researchers and an African Research Council. “This is not simply about African universities as such, but it is about recognising and strengthening the key impact universities have on their countries’ health, economy and society; and Europe needs a strong African neighbour.”

On the future of Horizon 2020, the biggest EU research and innovation programme with almost EUR80 billion of funding covering a seven-year period (2014-20), he said the Guild has already enabled over EUR120 million in supporting research and innovation on the coronavirus, and it is also providing platforms to bring together innovators and researchers, for instance, through hackathons.

Palmowski said the current crisis has shown that “any saving we make on research and innovation in the present will hurt us in the long run”.

Partner countries

The EU has put in place plans to address the immediate health crisis and resulting humanitarian needs in partner countries, as well as the longer term and structural impact on societies and economies in partner countries.

It said it will secure financial support to partner countries amounting to more than EUR15.6 billion from existing external action resources. “Together with our partners, we are making sure that the substantial EU funding already allocated to them is targeted to help them deal with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic,” it said in a press release.

“From the overall package of EUR15.6 billion, EUR3.25 billion is channelled to Africa, including EUR2 billion for Sub-Saharan Africa and EUR1.19 billion for the Northern African neighbourhood countries,” the EU said.

In addition, the overall package includes another EUR1.42 billion in guarantees for Africa and the neighbourhood from the European Fund for Sustainable Development.

Palmowski said there was also a strong argument for investing in Erasmus+, arguing that there was a need to think about new forms of mobility, and how they could be supported.

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