The European Union (EU) and the African Union (AU) have made official the intention of much more extensive cooperation in the fields of research and innovation. The announcement came at the end of the sixth EU-AU summit, held recently in Brussels, which produced a new ‘Innovation Agenda’ that will see universities as the true gateway between the two continents, putting science at the heart of development and creating a new paradigm of collaboration based on equal partnerships.
The summit gave the green light to an investment package of at least €150 billion ($170 billion) and proposed a series of cooperation actions in four priority areas: public health, green transition, innovation and technology, and scientific skills.
With regard to the last area, the common intention is to intensify support for scientific cooperation between European and African researchers in order to jointly develop new knowledge and skills, as well as sharing technology. Exchanges of young citizens, volunteers and students will also be encouraged through an expansion of the Erasmus+ academic mobility programme, which has a budget of €350 million and will see Africa among the priority destinations for European students. There will also be partnerships between individual universities in order to increase mutual knowledge and promote their respective excellence.
The European and African Unions have thus given a gratifying response to the call on the eve of the summit by university networks in Africa and Europe – the African Research Universities Alliance and the Guild of European Research-Intensive Universities (GILDA) – which had urged their counterparts to prioritise investment in research and innovation (R&I) in Africa by encouraging the development of centres of research excellence.
Jan Palmowski, secretary general of the GILDA university network, said the identification of universities as a “gateway” between Europe and Africa “gives universities the responsibility to use future investments in a collaborative way that benefits society”. And he called for new teamwork between scientists, students and institutions. “Universities have had an enormous opportunity to address new scientific, social and economic challenges through genuine collaboration. We should use this opportunity wisely.“
Last October, during a meeting between European and African foreign ministers in Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, the need to address the impact of the pandemic on the African continent by supporting research and innovation through education was highlighted. This common intention has not only remained on paper, but is now being translated into resources to be invested in the immediate future.
“The growing importance of science and innovation for the AU-EU relationship has already become evident in practice,” Palmowski assured, reiterating that the Innovation Agenda “is based on a growing momentum for science and is a truly innovative document, also in the tone and approaches used in its drafting“. The approach of the agenda is indeed long-term, and pays particular attention to, among other things, never before sufficiently considered objectives, such as curbing the brain drain of African scientists through concrete support for new research infrastructures directly in the countries of interest.
The AU-EU Innovation Agenda, which was agreed by the respective officials on 27 January and published on 14 February, will now be finalised and officially approved by both unions. In the hope that it will represent a real change of gear towards social inclusion and the fight against poverty.