Review of Jaumont, F. (2016)

Jaumont, F. (2016). Unequal partners: American foundations and higher education development in Africa. New York: Springer.

Reviewed by Diana Famakinwa

Higher education is currently recognized as a means to achieve socio-economic development in Africa, but that was not always the case. In his book, Unequal Partners: American Foundations and Higher Education Development in Africa, Jaumont (2016) examines the involvement of philanthropic foundations in the development of African higher education institutions, the contexts in which grantors operate, and the inequality between philanthropic foundations and the universities they support. He draws on a mixed-methods study with data gathered through analyses of accessible Partnership for Higher Education in Africa (PHEA) documents, surveys, and over one hundred interviews of individuals currently or previously affiliated with the foundations or the universities. The introductory chapter provides an essential historical overview of the influence of US foundations in the development of higher education in the United States and in Africa. Jaumont describes philanthropic foundations as “builders of ‘knowledge societies,’ who are engaged in a “global effort to develop human capital” (p. 1). He outlines the shifts in African governments’ and foreign donors’ perception and valuation of African universities over the course of several decades. Additionally, he credits U.S. foundations with reaffirming higher education institutions in Africa as vehicles for social and economic development. U.S. grant-makers, Jaumont asserts, emphasized the significance of knowledge for development and played a crucial role in changing the perception of higher education in Africa from “a luxury that African nations could not afford” to a necessity required for development (p. 14).

The remainder of the text is divided into three parts. Part I focuses on the influence of the PHEA foundations over education in the U.S. and Africa and the foundations’ interactions with grant-receiving universities. Jaumont describes the inherently unequal relationship between U.S. foundations and their grantees as “the great dilemma of philanthropy” (p. 6). This section also highlights the ways in which PHEA foundations maneuvered and shaped the ecology of higher education in Africa. The author’s findings indicate that U.S. foundations employed a geopolitical approach and were more likely to invest in former British colonies (present-day independent Anglophone countries). He argues persuasively that Africa’s “new knowledge societies” were divided along geographic, linguistic, and ultimately, colonial lines (p. 24).

Part II centers on the institutional cultures of the various PHEA foundations, the benefits and challenges that manifested as a result of their collaboration, and the impact of foundation presidents on the Partnership. Jaumont compares the seven foundations of the PHEA in a way that is clear and useful to the reader in terms of understanding the difficulties, such as conflicting institutional bureaucracies, that collaboration posed to the Partnership foundations. Jaumont affirms that although the foundations had different institutional foci, they shared the goal of developing higher education in Africa. He contends that the Partnership was beneficial to African institutions, which received nearly $500 million between 2000 and 2010 (p. 2), and to the foundations, which benefited from knowledge transfers among themselves and gained greater legitimacy in their field. The author emphasizes the importance of partnerships in addressing development needs, which cannot be met singlehandedly. He ends this section by illustrating how a change in leadership for multiple foundations in the Partnership led to a change in institutional interests and, eventually, the termination of the PHEA at a time when the foundations seemed to have overcome obstructions to their effectiveness as a group. While the dissolution of the PHEA raised questions about the sustainability of the progress achieved by the Partnership, Jaumont applauds the foundations for increasing the prioritization of higher education in national contexts that are often discouraging. He also identifies political will as the greatest impediment to sustainable development of higher education in Africa.

In the third and final part, Jaumont explores the relationships and interactions between PHEA foundations and grant-receiving universities. He posits that “legitimacy emerges as a form of exchange between foundations and universities” (p. 82). In response to the criticism that U.S. foundations have a hegemonic influence over African universities, Jaumont states that no evidence of a hegemonic influence was found at one university, but there is no mention of the numerous other institutions supported by the Partnership. In this section, the author suggests that the dilemma of inequality between foundations and institutions was resolved by the foundations’ reliance on institutions for legitimacy, which put them on “an equal footing” (p. 133). This is an unconvincing argument since the institutions’ need for financial support seemed to outweigh the foundations’ need for legitimacy. The competition for donor funds among African universities granted donors great influence over the higher education agenda; this influence was underscored by the fact that universities sometimes adjusted their research agenda to be better aligned with the foundations’ agenda. The author does not adequately address the concern that external funding perpetuates the dependence of African higher education institutions.

Overall, Jaumont provides a well-written, in-depth analysis of the involvement of the U.S. foundations in the development of higher education systems in Africa as well as the intricacies and challenges of African higher education development. This text would be useful for researchers and practitioners in the field of African higher education development.