The higher education sector must produce more science, engineering and technology graduates, science and maths secondary school teachers, as well as early childhood development professionals if South Africa is to produce the kind of skills needed to encourage inclusive development.
Kenya has been left smarting from a reputation nightmare after ethnicity reared its ugly head in one of the top universities, as educationists warn of a growing rot across institutions.
“You have to have chutzpah” to be a professional in the field of HIV-AIDS, quips Linda-Gail Bekker, a professor of medicine at the University of Cape Town and chief operating officer of the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation. Bekker is about to become the first female president from Africa of the International AIDS Society.
Egypt’s universities have failed to provide graduates with high-level, job market-related skills to fill more than 600,000 vacancies in the private sector, contributing to high levels of educated youth unemployment – and in some cases ‘wilful’ joblessness – according to the African Development Bank.
UNESCO and the Commonwealth of Learning have produced a guide to raise MOOC – massive open online course – awareness in developing nations, and to advise on how policy-makers can build new routes to higher education and lifelong learning to benefit increasing numbers of people.
Mathematics is “vital” for achieving a thriving science, technology, engineering and mathematics workforce in Africa, according to experts. Yet it faces critical challenges: low university funding, a brain drain, and reduced intake of undergraduate students in maths.
Is a crisis of identity emerging among African academics in the diaspora as to whether they are an offshoot of Pan-Africanism or a breed of emigrant elites, the Afropolitans? Therese Assie-Lumumba, professor of African studies at Cornell University, says there is growing interest in the concept of Afropolitanism – a school of thought loosely embedded in elements of geography, territoriality and location.
While most stakeholders agree that South Africa’s higher education sector needs more transformation, what form transformation should take is still up for debate – as is the thorny question of university autonomy: how far government should be able to go to compel universities to transform.
African higher education must increase its interaction with the informal sector if it is to drive the continent’s innovation agenda and respond to development challenges, said Professor Berhanu Abegaz, executive director of the African Academy of Sciences, at a gathering of 420 African innovators held to set the research agenda for Grand Challenges Africa.
South Africa, Egypt and Tunisia are the only three African countries among the top 50 globally that are leading in science and engineering publication, according to the American National Science Foundation’s ranking index that is topped by the United States and China.
There has been extraordinary expansion of higher education in Ethiopia, with the number of public universities increasing from two in 2000 to 35 today. But the burgeoning sector might not deliver quick economic growth because universities do not have the capacity to drive the development agenda or innovation, says a World Bank report.
A debate has been raging in Uganda over whether a degree improves the ability to comprehend and accurately report on parliamentary proceedings. With elections looming, parliament has barred journalists who do not have a degree and three years’ experience – even though MPs only need an advanced certificate.
Only some 4,600 students from Sub-Saharan Africa were admitted to postgraduate courses in the United States last year, according to the Council of Graduate Schools. Students from the region comprised only 2% of 215,156 foreign students offered postgraduate places in 793 universities and colleges across America.
Research in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, fields in Sub-Saharan Africa has declined in the last 10 years in quantity and citation impact – but there has been steady progress in other sciences, especially health – according to a new World Bank report.
Eritrea has in recent months recruited foreign academics and signed international higher education agreements. It is an indication that the country may be turning a corner, putting war and destruction in the past and strengthening universities for the future.
Attempts to revitalise African higher education are being eroded because of under-funding, competing forces that try to influence who goes to university and what they should be taught, and the rise of ethnically-based institutions, according to experts.
As the Association of African Universities lamented lack of quality assurance at many of the more than 1,000 universities spread across the continent, the Economic Community of West African States – the powerful regional political grouping known as ECOWAS – was preparing to develop regional criteria for harmonising pre-university qualifications.
Revelations by a global team of researchers that a previously unknown but ancient relative of humankind had been discovered in a South African cave have generated media coverage around the world. That is not just because a new species has been added to the Homo family, but also because of the record number of fossilised bones – 1,550 – found in the cave.
Further investigation and more data are needed to develop the knowledge, management and skills needed to drive effective online learning practices at universities in Southern Africa, a meeting of higher education leaders heard last week.
The battle for funds earmarked for reducing global poverty by 2030 is expected to take centre stage during the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit 2015 in New York next month. Africans will push hard for robust support for education and science, technology and innovation.
The private sector is stepping in to provide higher education in information technology in Morocco, as the government struggles to match demand from the North African country’s growing economy with an output of highly skilled graduates.
Tanzania has made progress in expanding access to higher education in order to gear young people towards a middle-income economy by 2025, according to a World Bank report. It provides a snapshot of how the East African country is catching up with tertiary education growth trends in neighbouring states such as Kenya and Uganda.
South Africa needed 14% of gross domestic product generated by entrepreneurs to achieve the economic growth rates essential for sustainability and development – and entrepreneurship was a skill universities could be training students – the 17th annual African Renaissance conference heard in Durban recently.
Graduates of the public University of Nairobi and the private Strathmore University are by far the most preferred by employers in Kenya, according to a poll by the Nairobi recruitment firm Corporate Staffing Services. The findings reveal long-held biases among employers and are likely to spark rivalry among universities, as the battle for the best students hots up.
In three years the State University of Zanzibar has doubled its student intake, albeit from a low base – from 1,224 in 2011 to 2,489 in 2014. In so doing it has bust the myth that the small island of 1.3 million off the coast of Tanzania cannot support more than one university.