Yesterday was the first day of the ACU Conference of University Leaders in Accra, Ghana, with more than 250 higher education experts from 35 countries gathering to discuss the theme of 'Defining the responsible university: society, impact and growth'.
Kofi Annan (Chancellor of the University of Ghana and former Secretary-General of the United Nations), The Hon Prof Dr Naana Jane Opoku-Agyemang, the Minister of Education for Ghana (former Vice-Chancellor of Cape Coast University, Ghana) and The Rt Hon Patricia Scotland QC (Secretary-General of the Commonwealth) opened the event, providing the political context to the debate over what makes a responsible university.
In his keynote address, Mr Annan spoke of the crucial role of education as a means for development, particularly to address what he called 'the democratic deficit' in many countries. 'Education is the premise of progress in every society,' he said. 'It is the basis for sustainable economic growth and a fundamental building block for healthy, democratic societies.'
Mr Annan then called upon university leaders 'to ensure that higher education helps foster a better understanding of democracy, its benefits and responsibilities'.
He was thanked in a passionate speech by Herine Otieno-Menya, a Commonwealth Scholar originally from Kenya and currently studying a PhD at Sheffield Hallam University in the UK.
Mrs Otieno-Menya made a heartfelt plea to senior political figures. 'My wish has always been that eminent speakers would openly, consistently, and strategically champion the cause for higher education, research, and related disciplines. My wish is that every African child – from the youngest age – would hear about the value of these disciplines not only from their teachers, but also from national leaders and role models.'
Hosted in partnership with Vice Chancellors' Ghana, this conference forms part of the ACU's biennial series for international leaders in higher education. It is one of the highest-profile higher education events taking place in Africa this year – with distinguished speakers coming from more than 20 countries – and the ACU's first event in west Africa since 1971.
Prof John Wood, the ACU's Secretary General, welcomed delegates alongside Prof Jan Thomas, Chair of the ACU Council and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Southern Queensland, Australia, and Prof Domwini Kuupole, Chair of the conference Local Organising Committee and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cape Coast, Ghana.
Following the keynote speech, delegates then broke off into their preferred concurrent sessions, with topics throughout the day covering staff management, employability, funding, scholarships, developing the next generation, and social responsibilities.
Plenary One at the end of the day explored the idea of universities' responsibilities in different national and regional contexts. University leaders from India, South Africa, and the United Kingdom shared and discussed how the concept of a university's responsibility applies in their national and regional contexts.