Expanding Our Vision: Strengthening Pan-African and Pan-Arab Institutions

Makerere_University,_Main_Administration_Block(main_building).jpgMakerere University in Uganda is the location of one of the pilots the Mellon Foundation initiated in 2017 to enhance research and graduate education and produce a new generation of scholars. Photo courtesy of Eric Lubega and Elias Tuheretze.

American higher education, the humanities, and the arts have always benefitted from exposure to ideas from around the world. Although the bulk of the Mellon Foundation’s grantmaking activity is focused in the United States, we have engaged in international grantmaking since our inception in 1969. We recognize that developing the arts humanities scholarship, and higher education require mutually respectful and reciprocal international collaboration to be successful. That’s why we are excited about our new phase of one of our most important international initiatives.

Where Mellon Has Been

The South Africa program is the Mellon Foundation’s longest-running international initiative. In 1988, when it appeared that there were good prospects that apartheid could end in South Africa, the Mellon Foundation — led by then-president William Bowen –inspired a new generation of American engagement in the country. Stuart Saunders, the former Vice- Chancellor of the University of Cape Town, helped to expand Mellon’s programming among universities, arts and culture, and civil society. The initiative inaugurated by Bowen has led to thirty years of engagement with South Africa. The Foundation has contributed to higher education development and change there. Key achievements have been sustained support for research and scholarship; cultivation of new generations of scholars, with faculty development awards to 1,208 emerging and established scholars, and scholarship support for 2,724 graduate students and 366 postdoctoral fellows; enhancing ‘race’ and gender diversity and inclusion among faculty and graduate students and, in the early years, strengthening library resources and regional consortia among universities, building digital collections, and facilitating information and communication technology facilities. 

The South Africa program held — and continues to hold — the seeds of even greater promise. Although South Africa’s opportunity to play a leadership role on the continent is not without political complications, we have supported the country’s universities as they slowly began to pursue a larger leadership role. The leading South African research universities, for example, now regularly train PhDs from other African countries, with the explicit intention of having them return to faculty positions at leading universities in their countries of origin.

An Expanded Vision

African countries are among the fastest-growing in the world by measures of population and projected development of manufacturing, transportation, and retail commerce. The continent’s future will depend on its universities’ ability to support research and innovation and produce graduates with knowledge, expertise, and skills to support its massive population, expected to double to more than two billion by 2050.

In 2014, the Foundation leveraged its 27 years of experience and relationships to expand the South Africa program into the program for International Higher Education and Strategic Projects (IHESP). The expansion coincided with the arrival of Saleem Badat, the then Vice-Chancellor of Rhodes University and chairperson of Universities South Africa.

Under Badat’s stewardship, IHESP is executing a three-fold strategy for grant making in Africa.

  1. IHESP will continue to make grants that help South African institutions to enhance arts and humanities scholarship, transform graduate education, diversify the faculty and put it more fully at the service of social change and democracy in the country.
  2. Building upon historical Mellon investments in South Africa, IHESP will knit together investments in the rest of Africa with the Foundation’s historic support for the American University of Beirut and the American University in Cairo.
  3. IHESP will support initiatives across Africa and the Middle East to develop scholarly networks, particularly among centers of arts and humanities scholarship. These collaborative networks include a new association of research universities in Africa and humanities consortiums of African universities and Arab universities.
Students_makerere.jpgStudents at Makere University partaking in Mellon’s pilot are being educated as a new generation of scholars, educated in the arts and humanities. Photo courtesy of Musinguzi Jamil.

What’s Next?

In 2017, Mellon initiated a pilot in Uganda and Ghana. The pilot aims to enhance research and graduate education and produce a new generation of scholars, educated in the arts and humanities, to service the two countries and others across the continent. The partnerships with Makerere University in Uganda and the University of Ghana-Legon augment longstanding work with seven research South African universities. To further enhance this work, we moved our ongoing involvement with the American University in Cairo and the American University of Beirut from the Higher Education and Scholarship in the Humanities (HESH) program area to IHESP. At the same time, we made new grants to the Arab Council for the Social Sciences (ACSS), the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA), and the African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA).

In years ahead, the focus will be to build institutional capacities and individual capabilities at eleven universities in Africa and the Middle East, and strengthen key Pan-African and Pan-Arab institutions involved in higher education capacity building.

We have deliberatively started to steer universities toward working together, tackling national and international questions collaboratively. In South Africa, we have helped to create a forum of deans of humanities to discuss challenges, to define collective priorities, and to monitor and review grant programs.             

Beyond the university, we have met with ministers of higher education and science and technology, regularly meet with officials from relevant national ministries, with key arts and humanities bodies and actors, with research funding agencies, and with officials from the bodies that provide advice to the government on higher education.                          

IHESP is building upon Mellon’s 30 years of experience in South Africa to deepen our current relationships and broaden our scope and ambition, all the while honoring our core commitment to the arts, humanities, and higher education. Over time, we will continue the Foundation’s goal of building durable universities characterized by outstanding teaching, learning, and scholarship. We’ll also support universities and institutions in Africa and the Middle East participate in global networks of research and culture, ensuring that benefits extend far beyond the university.