Thursday, October 31, 2013

Methodist Theological Education in Africa

Last month, leaders of African Methodist colleges and universities met in Kenya for a first-ever summit specifically for Methodist higher education in Africa, as reported by UMC Connections.  The meeting, termed the First International Conference for Educational Leadership of Methodist Universities and Institutions of Higher Education in Africa, included participants from 15 schools in 10 countries from both United Methodist and autonomous Methodist traditions.  Participants shared information and best practices, especially around the issue of fundraising.

This meeting proved to be well timed, coming as it did on the heels of the release of the Global Survey on Theological Education.  This survey of Christian theological education across traditions and around the world revealed some interesting facts about the state of theological education, including results specific to Africa.  While only a portion of the Methodist higher education provided in Africa is theological education, and while the survey included many more traditions than Methodism, it is nonetheless interesting to compare the survey's results with the conversations of the conference.

The survey found that, while there has been substantial growth in the availability of theological education in Africa, there is still an insufficient supply.  58% of African respondents to the survey indicated that there were either "not enough" or "far too few" schools for theological education.  The report projects a nearly 50% growth in the number of theological schools in Africa between 2010 and 2025.  Many African institutes of theological education are on shaky financial ground.  Just over 50% of African respondents indicated that theological education in Africa was "financially unstable," while an additional nearly 30% said it was in a state of "financial crisis."  Despite the financial woes, nearly two thirds of African respondents indicated that theological education in Africa was at least somewhat stable, showing a state of promise.

These findings for theological education across all denominations in Africa mirror well the discussions from the conference about higher education for Methodist denominations in Africa.  One of the highlights of the conference was a celebration of the growth of Methodist higher education in Africa since the founding of Africa University 21 years ago.  One may expect that growth trend to continue as the demand for higher education of all types continues to grow in Africa.  Despite the flourishing of the number of schools, these Methodist colleges and universities are conscious of the funding challenges and therefore are taking steps to ensure that they will be financially stable, as evidenced by the focus on fundraising at the conference.  The attention to fundraising can also be seen in such recent stories as the Upper New York Conference campaign to create eight endowed scholarships at Africa University, an initiative that reflect the promise of Methodist higher education in Africa.

Both the report on theological education and the recent conference for Methodist schools of higher education seem to reflect a similar moment for higher education in Africa: one with great potential and great opportunities for growth, constrained somewhat by the need to ensure adequate funding.  Despite the financial constraints, though, the next decade or two should be an exciting time for higher education in Africa, and it is exciting to know that United Methodists will be among those involved.

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