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Enabling With Education
FOCAC boosts China-Africa educational exchanges
By Zheng Yang and Xia Yuanyuan | ChinAfrica December 2015

Graduation ceremony of Tianjin University of Technology and Education's African students

Yang Guizhi, a teacher at Tianjin University of Technology and Education (TUTE) in north China, regards 2009 as a watershed in her career. In that year, she and another 11 colleagues went to Ethiopia to set up a new college there.

The Ethio-China Polytechnic College (ECPC) in Addis Ababa is the first college for higher vocational education in Ethiopia. The Chinese Government built the campus in two years with an investment of about 100 million yuan (over $14 million), and handed it over to the Ethiopian Government in 2007. China's Ministry of Education assigned TUTE to operate the college. Two years later, TUTE sent Yang and her colleagues to Addis Ababa to start operations.

"We started from scratch," Yang told ChinAfrica . Her job covered almost everything, from teaching to designing the curriculum and recruiting staff. In the first year, they received 370 students, who were later provided internship opportunities in local Chinese enterprises.

In the next two years, another two batches of TUTE faculty were sent to assist Yang. They all left in 2011 when the management and operation of the college was handed over to the Ethiopian side, which had been the ultimate goal of the project. The school, now operated completely by local faculty, has been upgraded to a graduate institute and become an important pool of trained workforce. In the near future, its student enrollment is expected to reach 3,000 per year.

The college epitomizes China-Africa educational exchanges. Started since the 1950s, this tie has been strengthened under the framework of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC).

"Remarkable achievements have been made with both sides' joint efforts," said Wu Jingsong, an official at the Ministry of Education. The establishment of FOCAC in 2000, Wu added, was a boost for cooperation in education, especially in personnel training, scholars' exchange programs, scientific research, teaching the Chinese language, and vocational education.

Africa's needs

In the Sharm el-Sheikh Action Plan (2010-12) issued at the Fourth FOCAC Ministerial Conference in November 2009, the Chinese Government proposed the 20+20 Cooperation Plan of Chinese and African Institutions of Higher Education. Under this, a new type of one-to-one inter-institutional cooperation model was adopted between 20 Chinese and 20 African universities. When the plan was officially implemented in June 2010, TUTE and ECPC were also on the list.

For the past 20 years, TUTE has been building educational cooperation with African countries through different modes. Yan Bing, Vice President of TUTE, said vocational education is being given so much importance by both China and Africa, especially after 2000, because cooperation in education should focus on the real needs of African countries.

"The lack of personnel with vocational training has become an obstacle for some African countries to seek further economic development," Yan said. "Technology can be introduced from outside and knowledge can be acquired, but high-quality workforce - the major driving force of social and economic development - must come from the locals. That's why vocational education is important in today's Africa."

In the past 30 years, millions of high-quality workers and highly skilled personnel were groomed under the Chinese vocational education system, effectively supporting the nation's economic and social development and contributing to late mover's advantage in the economic restructuring and upgrading of industrial structure.

"China's experience could be a reference for African countries," Yan told ChinAfrica . "Based on the Chinese vocational education experience, we establish suitable educational systems and structures adapted to local [African] conditions to satisfy local social and economic demands."

To give African students an advantage in international competition by teaching them Chinese, the Addis Ababa Confucius Institute was established in 2010 by TUTE and ECPC in cooperation.

The Confucius Institute is a non-profit public educational organization affiliated to China's Ministry of Education. It aims to promote the Chinese language and culture, support Chinese teaching internationally, and facilitate cultural exchanges. By the end of 2014, there were 42 Confucius Institutes in 29 African countries, and 18 Confucius Classrooms in 13 African countries.

A passage to China

Besides going to Africa, the Chinese Government is also providing opportunities for Africans to study in China. In the past decades, many Chinese universities have held short-term personnel training programs for African students, professionals and government officials in more than 20 fields. These include medical care, economics, agriculture, foreign diplomacy, journalism, environmental protection, and information technology.

Since the first FOCAC Ministerial Conference in 2000, the Chinese Government has been increasing the number of government scholarships for African students to study in China by 20 percent per year on an average. In 2012, a new plan was announced at the Fifth FOCAC Ministerial Conference to provide 18,000 government scholarships to African students by 2015.

From 2006, TUTE began to recruit African students who had won Chinese Government scholarships and more than 300 African students have graduated from its International College up to now. This year has seen 47 African students from countries such as Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Zambia and Tanzania receive their degrees from TUTE.

Habibillah ben Daoud is one of the students studying in China on Chinese Government scholarship. The young man from Comoros is in his seventh year in China. Now a doctorial candidate in international politics, he is pursuing his third degree at Peking University.

"The decision was made by my father who had come to China to study international politics," Daoud said. His father stayed in China for two years in the 1990s and liked the country so much that he decided to send one of his children to study there.

Daoud likes the academic environment in Chinese universities. So do many others. Today there are many more students from Comoros studying international politics in China than in the 1990s, but Daoud has decided to go back to his country after graduation.

"My country needs me. I want to do something to help Comoros develop its international relations," Daoud said.

Like Daoud, many African students have chosen to go back to contribute to their countries' development and Sino-African cooperation after finishing their studies in China, Ministry of Education official Wu said. Ethiopian President Mulatu Teshome, for example, studied in Beijing Language and Culture University (BLCU) and Peking University in the 1970s and 1980s. When the BLCU celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2012, Teshome sent his congratulations and expressed his wish to send his son to study in Beijing in future.

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