For information only - not an official document.
Press Release No:  UNIS/SG/2550
Release Date:  25 April 2000
 Secretary-General, at Launch of Initiative to Strengthen African Universities,
Says Education Surest Investment in Current ‘Globalizing’ Age

NEW YORK, 24 April (UN Headquarters) -- Following are the remarks of Secretary-General Kofi Annan to launch the Partnership to Strengthen African Universities at the Carnegie Corporation in New York on 24 April:

Thank you, Vartan Gregorian, for your remarks.  I am glad to start the week among such trusted friends and true partners of the United Nations and friends of Africa.  I am excited about this initiative to strengthen universities in Africa.  If the most valuable resource in our globalizing age is knowledge, then education is the surest investment. 

Beginning with primary school, education is becoming key to the new global economy.  It is central to development, social progress and human freedom.  In many developing countries, educational levels have climbed dramatically over the past half-century.  Indeed, East Asia's rapid reduction of poverty has had a great deal to do with its investments in education.  But we still have a long way to go. 

In two days' time, I will open the World Education Forum in Dakar, Senegal, where we will review progress in the goal of Education for All which was set at the Jomtien conference 10 years ago.  Obviously, we are still far from achieving the goal of basic education for all.  More than 110 million school-age children worldwide are not in school -- and two thirds of those are girls.  We must do better. 

I will use the Dakar platform to launch a new United Nations initiative for girls' education.  Our goal is to ensure that by 2015, all children everywhere -- boys and girls alike -- will be able to complete primary schooling.  Educating girls is about more than achieving universal school enrolment, however.  It is also a development strategy with immediate benefits in health, nutrition and income. 

Universities provide the logical extension to basic education for all.  The university is equally a development tool for Africa, as Vartan has indicated.  It holds the key to something we all want and need:  African answers to African problems; the capacity to address the most pressing issues both at the theoretical and practical levels. 

We look to universities to develop African expertise; to enhance the analysis of African problems; to strengthen domestic institutions; to serve as a model environment for the practice of good governance, conflict resolution and respect for human rights; and to enable African academics to play an active role in the global community of scholars. 

Key to this is bridging the digital divide.  At present, less than half a per cent of all Africans have used the Internet.  This lack of access to new technology leads to exclusion from the global economy as well.  The digital revolution has created new opportunities for growth in every field and industry. Since the most valued resource in this revolution is intellectual capital, it is possible for developing world countries to overcome the constraint of lacking finance capital and to leapfrog long and painful stages of the road to development that others had to go through.

In the academic world, information technology must be more than a vehicle for long-distance learning and degrees.  At its best, information technology will support, not supplant, Africa's own research and academic development.  It should be a tool that:  provides access to materials and enhances libraries; makes affordable periodicals and journals that would otherwise be prohibitively expensive; facilitates links within Africa and among African institutions as well as with the rest of the world; and finally, enables African scholars to contribute their research to the global bank of knowledge. 

In other words, we should replace the digital divide with digital bridges. 

But in the end, there is no substitute for good teachers, a good curriculum and good teaching materials, developed by, for and with the African communities they are intended to serve. 

We must strive to renew the faculty of African universities.  This is a real problem, as my friends from African universities will attest.  The old generation is retiring, and many of the young generation are opting to go into business where they get the big bucks or remain abroad after their studies.  We must devise strategies to attract young faculty, and build up exchange programmes with universities outside Africa, particularly those with Africans on their faculties. 

As we assist Africa to develop its own bank of knowledge, we must also draw on it.  African universities already play a direct role in poverty reduction programmes.  Experts in economics, sociology and anthropology are training those who manage districts and projects on the ground.  Others are assisting in the expansion of small- and medium-scale enterprises. The international community must make use of this valuable store of local expertise and experience. 

For all these reasons, this partnership to strengthen African universities is a unique opportunity to make a real difference.  But it will only work if the necessary resources are mobilized.  I hope you will also make use of UNITeS, the United Nations' new corps of high-tech volunteers designed to train groups in developing countries in the uses and opportunities of information technology. 

This is a moment in history that we should seize.  By working together, we can succeed.

* * * * *