In January 2010, the Partnership for Higher Education in Africa (PHEA), a financial collaboration between seven American foundations to support the growth of African colleges and universities, concluded a 10-year commitment. A year later, a comprehensive report on the partnership’s accomplishments and challenges has been published, and the results paint a portrait of the rapidly changing educational landscape in Africa.
According to the report, titled “Accomplishments of the Partnership for Higher Education in Africa, 2000-2010,” the partnership was founded to combat the conventional wisdom that higher education was of secondary importance to basic education on the African continent. The report, written by Suzanne Grant Lewis, Jonathan Friedman, and John Schoneboom, argues that “Africa’s future rests with the development of its intellectual capital through strong higher education systems, not just with the development of basic education.”
In 2000, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Ford Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation pooled resources to create the partnership, pledging to donate a combined $100 million over the next five years. By 2005, the four foundations had contributed a total $191 million. The partnership was then given a five-year, $200 million extension, and by the time work concluded, the partnership had grown to include the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and the Kresge Foundation. In 10 years, the partnership contributed $440 million dollars to the development of higher education in Africa, $140 million more than had been originally pledged.
This money was mainly distributed among nine African countries. South Africa, Nigeria, Uganda, Tanzania, Ghana, Egypt, Kenya, Mozambique, and Madagascar together received 63 percent of the PHEA’s funding, while the other 37 percent was spent on “multi-country” initiatives. The bulk of PHEA’s contributions (55 percent) went directly to African colleges and universities, with the rest split between governments, higher education councils and associations, and other organizations.
The report lists four broad PHEA accomplishments: enduring improvements in African higher education, increased resources for African universities, collectively adding value beyond what individual foundations could do, and enhanced individual foundation efforts.
More specifically, the report says PHEA funding improved technical and physical infrastructure, decreased the gender gap in higher education enrollment, and raised awareness of many important issues facing African colleges and universities. According to the report, universities backed by the partnership had greater success at securing funds from additional international sources, including the World Bank.
A related study, “Lessons from a 10-Year Funder Collaborative: A Case Study of the Partnership for Higher Education in Africa” by Susan Parker, examines many of the partnership’s same strengths while also highlighting some notable challenges. Some workers involved in the partnership expressed frustration at PHEA’s initially vague goals. The study reads, “[b]ecause of the lack of clarity, participants said they spent a lot of time, especially in the early years, trying to figure out how exactly to meet the broad goal of ‘strengthening higher education in Africa.’” Other complaints raised include the lack of a strong, central coordinating body and the need for greater technical expertise when dealing with IT issues.
The study concluded with measured but justified optimism.
“The Partnership for Higher Education in Africa represented some of the largest U.S. foundations in one of the longest-running collaboratives,” the study said. “It provides a picture of what a collaborative can achieve as well as concrete lessons learned that might help other collaboratives work even more efficiently and effectively from the start.”