Last month I had the opportunity to attend the EducationUSA Africa Regional Forum held at the beautiful Speke Resort Munyonyo in Kampala, Uganda. It was my first EducationUSA conference experience and my first time visiting Africa, and both truly exceeded my expectations. Over 45 EducationUSA advisors were in attendance representing 34 countries. In addition, nearly 60 higher education professionals from all over the United States came to share their knowledge and to engage with one another and with local students during the College Fair.
Of particular interest was the plenary address given by Dr. Etheldreda Nakimuli-Mpungu, a Senior Lecturer, Psychiatric Epidemiologist, and MQ Fellow educated, in part, at Makerere University in Uganda. Dr. Nakimuli-Mpungu discussed the challenges faced by women in Uganda who are pursuing higher education, particularly in STEM fields. Some of those challenges are policy-related, while others are more socio-cultural in nature. The number of women interested in pursuing STEM-related careers is growing rapidly, but there is a lack of support in terms of helping women to balance their career with raising a family. Dr. Nakimuli-Mpungu sees a great need for funding to start and continue mentoring programs led by fellow African and Ugandan women. She believes this guidance from other African women will help young Ugandans understand that they, too, can have both a successful career and a family.
During the concurrent sessions the EducationUSA advisors shared updates on the state of education in their respective countries and discussed some specific challenges and opportunities that their students are facing in terms of pursuing higher education in the United States. While the United States is still a top destination for many students, other countries, including China, have experienced a surge in enrollment due to the availability of government scholarships and technology-related fields of study. The big question is, how can U.S. institutions compete for students when tuition costs are enormous and scholarship potential may be limited? The opportunities for recruitment are there; there are many students who are qualified for higher education who do not pursue opportunities for one reason or another; and the advisors are committed to working towards increasing enrollment, both at home and abroad in the United States.
There were also a number of sessions given by U.S. higher education professionals on various topics, ranging from enrollment in community colleges, to supporting student athletes, to engaging with Generation Z on campus. As a newcomer to this type of forum, it was interesting to learn about various issues impacting higher education institutions in the United States. While not always relevant to my day-to-day work in credential evaluation, exposure to a variety of topics related to international education in general allows for a more well-rounded understanding of the current atmosphere in the U.S.
I co-presented a session on the educational systems of Francophone Africa along with the EducationUSA advisors from Togo and Burkina Faso. We discussed the changes in curriculum that have come about as part of the Licence-Master-Doctorat (LMD) reform in these countries and how U.S. institutions may treat these newer credentials. We also looked in-depth at the grading practices and interpretations at both the secondary and post-secondary levels. Finally, one of the advisors covered the role of EducationUSA and the responsibilities they are committed to in terms of helping U.S. higher education professionals gain a better understanding of these systems and students.
Of course, the conference was not all work! On our last night we were treated to a fantastic cultural performance involving over 50 musicians and dancers who introduced us to traditional music and dance from various regions of Uganda.
Amy Kawa has been an Evaluator at ECE since 2016. While she works with educational systems from all around the world, she specializes primarily in Francophone and Middle Eastern credentials.