For the first time, The Knowledge Institute attended the HALI Access Network annual meeting for college counsellors and NGOs in Africa. Held in the beautiful West African country of Ghana, it was a thought-provoking, validating and empowering meeting of access organizations, international and African universities, schools, scholarship organizations and others whose daily lives are dedicated to helping bright students across the continent, gain access to quality higher education.
As the director of TKI, it was a trip that I was looking forward to for the impact I knew it would have on my organization. Safe to say, it did not disappoint! Here are the takeaways I took from the HALI 2019 Indaba:
- The importance of a network – only 10% of African youth have access to higher education. In Eswatini, that number sits at 6%. Therefore, attending the Indaba was immensely validating for The Knowledge Institute, as the problem we wake up to solve every day in Eswatini, is a continent wide one. I felt that I was attending the right meeting, where what I would learn would be directly relevant to TKI, would be impactful to our student population in Eswatini, and most important we could learn how we can do our work better based on lessons from other countries.
- The importance of African universities – most HALI organizations are focused on the US, mainly due to financial aid. At TKI, our focus is mostly on African and Asian opportunities due to a number of reasons, especially our national curriculum. At HALI, we were able to help start and contribute to a new conversation which looks at African and Asian universities as good destinations for HALI students. We were also able to share our knowledge of funding opportunities in these places. Lastly, we were able to have private conversations with scholarship funds in attendance to consider sponsoring African universities which are more affordable and still give students a fantastic experience.
- The importance of international curricula, especially Cambridge A levels, for accessing university admission with a scholarship – In a majority of HALI member countries, students graduate with Alevels, Form 6 or a qualification higher than O’levels. In Eswatini, O-levels are still the high school graduating exam. This means that most of our students are not able to access Mastercard scholarships for example, or apply to a majority of universities across the world. A great insight we got from HALI is that it would be beneficial to explore more A-level study opportunities in addition to tertiary opportunities for our students. I was happy to meet African Science Academy, which is a funded option that our students can apply for. Additionally, it would be a great idea to engage with the handful of A-level schools in Eswatini to expand their seats, and to be informed of the benefits of doing so by inviting them to networks and meetings like HALI. It is also an advocacy point with the government we can adopt going forward.
In short, HALI made me realise the importance of working together with other access organizations across Africa, to deepen our knowledge of study opportunities for our students, as well as gain hands on information that is idiosyncratic to the countries and regions of interest. The higher education landscape is forever changing due to politics, economics and basic population growth. Whereas our parents were almost guaranteed a seat in African universities with generous support from our governments, our children have to fight for space with increasing competition for seats that are not growing at the same pace. Especially for Eswatini where there is one main / globally recognised university, looking outside our borders to the world at large is extremely important.
My hope for future HALI indabas is to further diversify our focus. Looking at African and Asian universities is a good start, however we also have to start thinking outside the box on “knowledge” and “learning”. The truth is, not every talented and hard working African student has to go to a 4-year university in order to build a decent life for themselves and their family, and to become a change agent. I’m looking forward to HALI including coding programs, vocational programs especially in manufacturing, as well as entrepreneurship programs with a proven track record. In a continent with a 60% youthful population that is talented and hungry, we can reach more than our current 1,500 student and help to match them to opportunities for gaining learning and skills that can turn our countries around.
The Knowledge Institute
Kingdom of Eswatini