The New York Times

May 27, 2007

The Big Picture in African Colleges (1 Letter)

To the Editor:

The rapidly deteriorating — even chaotic — conditions illustrated in “Africa’s Storied Colleges, Jammed and Crumbling” (front page, May 20) are one legacy of an international development agenda that continues to relegate higher education in Africa to second-class status.

To be certain, most African societies are badly in need of increased literacy and training in basic skills. But donors must not fall prey to false choices between investing in grade schools and supporting higher education. To do so would be like building a ladder only halfway to its destination.

Africans themselves are determined to break out of the cycle of poverty and instability. For them, developing better universities is an important route toward deepening democratization, reforming public policy and building civil society.

Only when Africa has entrepreneurs, scholars, scientists, educators and public officials who can grapple with its problems will the continent be securely on the road to lasting progress.

Vibrant universities engaged in innovative and often daring reform, like those supported by a partnership comprising Carnegie Corporation, the Ford, Hewlett, Kresge, MacArthur, Mellon and Rockefeller foundations, are helping to produce this new generation of leaders.

Vartan Gregorian
Carnegie Corporation of New York
New York, May 21, 2007