A continent steeped in conflicts and struggling to achieve development for its people should provide sustainable support for universities to help attain peace, says Paul Omojo Omaji, a professor of criminology and former vice-chancellor of Salem University, Lokoja in Nigeria. “Peace is priceless in any developmental equation.”
The recent licensing of eight new private universities has raised questions about the wisdom of expanding a sector already struggling to provide quality education geared towards the 21st century.
Since it was first raised three decades ago, progress towards the harmonisation of higher education quality assurance and accreditation processes has been slow and awareness of the issue and various initiatives to drive it remain frustratingly limited.
A new generation of young African entrepreneurs and innovators, keen to contribute towards the alleviation of poverty and address global development challenges, is being nurtured in a number of universities on the continent.
While the number of students in Africa continues to rise, universities often fail to equip them with skills needed for employment – and they have two to three times less chance of finding work than those who left school after primary level. This situation formed part of the backdrop for a conference that debated problems faced by higher education in Africa – and suggested some innovative solutions.
2iE – Institut International d’Ingénierie de l’Eau et de l’Environnement – in Burkina Faso is an internationally recognised engineering school. It is one of many imaginative initiatives aimed at boosting the number and quality of engineers produced by universities in Africa.
The growth of higher education and its obligation to contribute towards sustainable development in some East African countries is hampered by a myriad challenges, with inadequate funding being one of the most significant. But there are some solutions, according to higher education experts.
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.