FRANCOPHONE AFRICA: Under-funded, overcrowded

The universities of the 20 sub-Saharan French-speaking countries of Africa enrolled 400,000 students in 2005 but will have to cater for two million in 2015, said the French newspaper Le Monde. Meanwhile, at the University of Ziguinchor in Senegal, the rector warned against over-expansion of student numbers as the university, with the capacity for an intake of 700 new students, faced demands from 2,700 newly qualified school-leavers.

The Monde article questions how francophone African universities will be able to cope with student numbers that it says are set to quintuple in the next five years while lacking adequate resources. Unlike English-speaking universities, which it says are more selective and expensive, entry to French-speaking institutions is more open and traditionally student benefits and services - grants, housing and meals - are more generous.

Monde journalist Brigitte Perucca visited the University of Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso which had just reopened five months late after closure by a lecturers' strike: "With its 42,000 students (up 25% compared with 2007), its packed courses and its repeated social conflicts, the biggest campus in Burkina Faso illustrates the bad points of African higher education: an over-abundance of students who are increasingly unmanageable, poor quality of teaching and lack of job opportunities," Perucca writes.

Student numbers will rise by more than 150% in countries such as Mali, Cameroon, Benin and Senegal, and between 90% and 150% in Guinea, Togo, Gabon and Mauritania, according to Pierre-Antoine Gioan, author of a study on higher education in French-speaking Africa published by the World Bank, said Perucca.

With few resources and international pressure to fulfil the millennium development goals, countries have given priority to providing basic school education, she wrote. Universities were finding it difficult to maintain student aid, there were no funds for teaching materials and, when students graduated, their qualifications often did not match employment needs.

Meanwhile Amadou Tidiane Bâ, rector of Senegal's University of Ziguinchor, underlined in a television broadcast the "national character" of the university, and warned against too great a student expansion, reported the Agence de Presse Sénégalaise of Dakar.

Tidiane Bâ said that in five years, the university should be able to "absorb" all qualified school-leavers in the region who wanted to remain in Ziguinchor. But when enrolments reached 10,000 to 15,000, it would be necessary to stop "and not let the numbers swell".

The university could cope with an intake of 700 students but, faced with demand from 2,700 new baccalauréat holders, it had been obliged to accept nearly 1,700 this year, he said. Recently, qualified school-leavers without places had demonstrated, demanding admission to the university, said the Agence de Presse Sénégalaise.

* More reports here and here