Education in Africa

In the context of the New England-Africa Conference the practices of education are viewed in accordance with the notion of "internationalizing business education" in the United States especially in view of the fact that businesses and citizens are more interlinked globally than ever before, as Rishi Kumar notes in the Foreword to A Field Guide to Internationalizing Business Education (2000), our move toward a world without borders continues to progress at an astounding rate "in a fiercely competitive business environment where customers' expectations are barely met by manufacturing capabilities, and suggests an immediate future where today's excellence will be a minimal requirement to stay in the game."

Here we will mention three broad considerations that are central to any effort to bring about internationalizing of business education, namely (a) the need for the student of international business to have basic knowledge of the physical and social environment of the country of his interest, (b) the utilization of the political and economic climate that enhances his effective engagement in business with a specific area of the world, such as Africa, and (c) appreciation of the importance and effectiveness of internationalized education in coping with the challenging demands of the global marketplace.

General Facts about Africa

Regarding geography, Africa is indeed a very large continent, the world's second largest, after Asia. Its land area is 11.6 million square miles. Encompassing a landmass three times larger than the continental United States, Africa is comprised of fifty-three sovereign countries.

From a historical standpoint the Africa continent, as Professor Peter J. Schraeder points out in African Politics and Society (2000), "is the cradle of humankind. Archeological findings have confirmed the emergence of modern Homo Sapiens along the East African Coast as early as 150,000 to 100,00 years ago". In terms of government Sub-Sahara Africa, which is our main interest, has been independent, except between 1884-85 and early 1960s when most of Africa was under colonial rule (a period of about 80 years).

The U.S. supported the independence movements that arose in different parts of Africa, especially through generous offering of scholarships to students who came to study in the United States and became the first post-independence generation of African leaders. Eventually Africa attained freedom from colonial domination.

During the period of African struggle for freedom from colonialism and after independence, United States was engaged in Cold War with the former Soviet Union which, like the United States, sought the political support of the independent African countries. During the Cold War the American policy toward Africa was largely political in the sense that it aimed at containing Soviet communism in Africa.

The new political and economic climate in U.S. in relation to Africa

The end of the Cold war has dramatically changed the American policy toward Africa. Like the other Great Powers, American policies increasingly are being driven by the same factor: economic self-interest. As Schraeder notes in African Politics and Society "the transformation of foreign policy interest in the post-Cold War era has contributed to the rise of Great Power economic competition throughout Africa, , particularly in the highly lucrative petroleum, telecommunications, and transport industries".

The change in American policy toward Africa was further re-affirmed on May 18, 2000, through the U.S. Congress' enactment of the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) with subtitle: "Trade Policy for Sub-Sahara Africa". However, at present, most U.S. business school graduates and faculty and U.S. businesses are not aware of the new law or the vast business opportunities and potential of Africa. According to a recent World Bank report entitled Overview of the World Bank's Work in Sub-Sahara Africa (1998), Sub-Saharan Africa will be the most important development challenge of the 21st century. Echoing the observation of the World Bank, the Act states unequivocally that "Sub-Saharan Africa represents a region of enormous potential and of enduring political significance to the United States (Section 102 of Public Law 106-200).

This Act (AGOA) offers new opportunities to New England and other American businessmen who are now encouraged to effect "increased trade and investment between the United States and Sub-Saharan Africa" and to be cognizant of the Congress' support for "reducing tariff and non-tariff barriers and other obstacles to Sub-Sahara Africa and United States trade"(Section 105 (b) of AGOA, 2000).

Internationalizing Business Education

Furthermore, the Congressional enactment in favor of increased business with Africa has given the concept of "internationalizing business education" a special impetus as manifested in the support, through sponsorship, that the internationalizing business education project at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute has gratefully received from the U.S. Department of Education (US/ED) Business and International Education BIE) Program which has also sponsored this New England-Africa Business Conference.

Indeed, as Sarah Beaton points out in A Field Guide to Internationalizing Business Education (2000) "since 1983 the BIE program has supported over 300 U.S. institutions of higher education with approximately $35 million. The program's goals are two-dimensional: (1) to improve the academic teaching of the international business curriculum and (2) to conduct outreach activities to local businesses that assist them in the marketplace". Beaton also statistically shows the increasing momentum in educating students for international business from the early 1980s when only thirty-six bachelor degree programs in international business existed in the United States compared to 1997 when there were 195 bachelor degree programs in international business, a fivefold increase over 1983, and 352 business schools had received the accreditation of the International Association for Management Education.

In light of the foregoing considerations, this New England-Africa Business Conference will offer an opportunity to the American entrepreneurs to appreciate and enhance the concept of internationalization of business within the American educational system and thus ensure that business links with Africa continue to grow with every American generation.

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Last modified: October 11, 2007 15:23:26