Posted by: Petros | September 23, 2009

The sustainability of theological education in Africa

This last year’s global financial crisis has had its impact on theological education in Africa.

In the this Bloomberg video, entitled “Faber says that US government may fail in 5 to 10 years“, Marc Faber says that there is going to be a shift of financial power to the emerging markets in Asia and away from the West.  Faber also predicts great instability in the West and a worse economic political meltdown within the next 5 to 10 years.  It is hard to argue with his logic.  The future meltdown, the financial equivalent of Armageddon, is going to be caused by the profligate irresponsibility of Western governments in attempting to solve the current credit crisis by adding even more credit to the problem.

But what does this mean for theological education in Africa?  It means that any model which depends upon continued aid from Western countries is unsustainable.  Take for example the one school that I am most familiar with, whose president has recently visited America to urge donors to help them out their mess.  They have had to lay off staff.  They have lost other key faculty and staff members.  The global crisis has been drying up the revenue stream coming in from the West which has indirectly resulted in a loss of human talent.  It is an utter disaster for the school.  The president may be able to urge donors to give and this will provide some ephemeral relief but it is no more sustainable than increasing credit in a credit crisis. But even these stop gap measures will not make it possible for him to recruit back the talent that has been lost, or for that matter, to attract new, qualified faculty and staff. Clearly a new model for theological education is necessary in Africa, which can be sustained by Africans with the occasional help from the outside.  Any model which depends upon the West to pay for the general operating expenses of a school is ultimately doomed.

So how should theological faculties use Western funds when they are available?  Capital projects, infrastructure, library resources, specialized programs and projects.  It is problematic, however, for Western monies to fund the operating costs of a school in Africa for several reasons:  (1) The infusion of foreign money encourages schools to jack up tuition beyond the reach of students and their supporting churches; (2) it makes schools dependent upon a revenue stream originating from foreign sources which makes the school’s budget far too volatile and fragile, particularly in the kind of downturns that we have recently seen–if Faber is correct, this money will suddenly stop;  (3) The foreign revenue stream creates a dependent relationship which causes resentment and the feeling of being managed and colonized by foreign donors; (4) African churches refuse to take ownership and responsibility for the faculty which in their view belongs to foreign investors.

In my opinion, if the churches in Africa can’t afford to pay the tuition of their candidates than it is too expensive. If the tuition can’t be lowered, the model itself is unsustainable.  But foreign donors have given many scholarships which forces tuition higher and has directly and ironically contributed to making the model unsustainable.  In America, we have the same circular problem with student loan programs forcing university tuition ever higher.

What other models are possible?  Well, the model that Jesus used was dynamic, relational and ultimately effective in creating a transformation of the world.  It did not cost more than what a few poor peasants, fishermen, and a carpenter could afford with the help of their friends and followers.


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