The first trip to the African subcontinent by a British Prime Minister, since 2013 was indeed a welcome event, earlier this year. In particular, it was significant that Kenya and Nigeria were key destinations, significant recipients as they are of British overseas aid. It was welcome too that the All Party Parliamentary Group on Global Education for All, the group I used to Chair in the House of Commons, chose Zambia for its latest parliamentary delegation.
On that visit Teresa May spoke aspirationally of a “ prosperous, growing, trading Africa” and how “ incredible potential will only be realised through a concerted partnership between governments, global institutions and business”. True enough, and no coincidence that Teresa May was leading a 29 strong trade delegation on her visit. That visit must be remembered more for her words than her dance skills! Brexit looms large, but so too the reality that the combined economies of Kenya and Nigeria are less than that of Greater Manchester alone. The Prime Minister was right too to sight a “ unique opportunity at a unique time for the UK.”
But economic prosperity and developing trade relationships must be grounded on firm educational foundations. The growth in the public and private university sector across the African subcontinent has been huge and requires the continued growth in the primary and secondary sectors of school education, the end of those bars to participation, based on gender, disability, poverty and discrimination which blight much of Africa. It also means training teachers adequately, valuating the profession, and striving for quality are essential building blocks of real economic progress.
Britain is striving for new economic relationships globally post Brexit. It must not lose sight of the essential role in its aid and development strategy of education. Developing greater and meaningful collaboration with the African Higher education sector should be developed as a priority, and a constant reaffirmation of the Sustainable Development Goals should be a feature of British trade policy. Education and future trade relationships are intrinsically intertwined.