by Robert A. Scott
In the 1980s and ’90s, our international lens was on Japan. Universities and businesses studied Japanese culture and manufacturing, wanting to learn how to succeed in the burgeoning opportunities. American institutions of higher education created Japanese culture centers and partnerships with Japanese universities and corporations in the U.S. and in Japan.
In the early 2000s, all eyes turned to China. American colleges and universities set up academic programs and exchanges, established English Language Programs, and recruited students at all levels. Businesses of all types established offices in Mainland China and recruited scientists and engineers to work on-site in the U.S. Many colleges and universities created Academic Pathway programs for Chinese students.
Where will the next focus be? Some forecast that Africa is the next land of opportunity. While Africa is the poorest continent, it also is the fastest growing. By 2050, one in four people in the world will live there.
According to the Biden administration’s “U.S. Africa Strategy,” released in August, “Sub-Saharan Africa’s governments, institutions, and people will play a critical role in solving global challenges.” This is a good reason for American colleges and universities and their students to bring the African continent into focus.
Northern Africa includes Morocco, Algeria, Western Sahara, Libya, Mauritania, and Tunisia. Sub-Saharan Africa consists of the 48 countries south of the Sahara Desert. Together, these countries hold not only vast populations of people, representing rapidly growing markets for goods and services, including education, but also governance and environmental challenges and opportunities. The future of food, energy, water, and civic engagement is being forged there.
The African continent is rich with opportunities to study culture and cosmopolitanism, ecological marvels and sustainable solutions, decolonization and democracy, and traditional as well as modern healthcare.
One way for colleges and universities to prepare students for these opportunities is to partner with existing organizations such as the Council on Foreign Relations, the School for Field Studies, and the School for International Training.
Through these resources, students can:
- become immersed in Africa’s diverse cultures, languages, traditions, and histories
- gain firsthand experience with studies in global affairs, sustainable development, and social entrepreneurship
- participate in community development projects, volunteer activities, and internships
- build relationships with community members and professionals in various sectors
- enhance language skills
- explore the extensive biodiversity, from stunning savannahs and vast deserts to lush rainforests, pristine coastlines, and underwater ecosystems
From conservation efforts, climate change, and political ecology, these topics provide opportunities for both classroom and field study, civic engagement, and research. African countries provide case studies in assessing the state of governance and the condition of democracy. They provide examples of resilience beyond the Western perspectives.
The Council on Foreign Relations
The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) is an independent, nonpartisan membership organization, think tank, and publisher dedicated to being a resource for its members, government officials, business executives, journalists, educators and students, civic and religious leaders, and other interested citizens. The goal is to help them better understand the world and the foreign policy choices facing the United States and other countries. CFR programs and resources help prepare students and scholars for research and field work on world issues, including those in and involving African countries. Learn more.
The School for Field Studies
The School for Field Studies (SFS) is the United States’ largest environmental study abroad program provider for undergraduate college students, offering fully accredited semester- and summer-long academic programs in over 10 countries around the world, including Kenya. Experienced research scientists contribute to the study of critical environmental issues not just in the classroom but in the field as well. To achieve its vision, SFS trains and educates future leaders to think critically, act compassionately, and work collaboratively.
SFS creates transformative study abroad experiences through field-based learning and research. Its educational programs explore the social and ecological dimensions of the complex environmental problems faced by local partners, contributing to sustainable solutions. Learn more.
The School for International Training
The School for International Training (SIT) has the largest portfolio of education abroad programs on the African continent. SIT educates future scholars and professionals in diverse settings to address the most critical global issues in pursuit of a more sustainable, peaceful, and just world. It fulfills its mission by offering transformative reflective learning and research experiences that prepare agents of change to work across cultures and communities for the mutual benefit of all.
SIT’s mission and approach are guided by core values that unite communities, inform practices, and drive decision-making. SIT values active togetherness, reciprocity, and respect as the essential ingredients for sustainable community-building. With presence and programs, it has created a global network of learners empowered to become community builders and collaborators. With open minds, empathy, and courage, these leaders facilitate understanding of and respect for the commonalities and differences between people. SIT does this through cultural immersion and experiential learning. Learn more.
The needs and opportunities in Africa are known. The challenges are extensive, but resources and alliances are available to help those interested in preparing for educational experiences that will transform their lives and the lives of those in Africa.
Japan and China are single countries, whereas Africa is a continent of 54 nations, three dependencies, and one disputed territory. While the interest in Japan and China evolved over time due to changes in commerce and international priorities, and their own developments in higher education, the future with Africa is more complicated. There are more existential issues and opportunities. The birthplace of humanity may also be the birthplace of the future.