Harmonise West African HE governance, report urges

Harmonisation of the governance systems of higher education institutions in the eight countries of the West African Economic and Monetary Union, or UEMOA, is among recommendations of a report on how improved governance in the sector could boost socio-economic development.

The study, Gouvernance des Etablissements d’Enseignement Supérieur et Amélioration de l’Environnement des Affaires en Zone UEMOA, was written by Boubacar Baidari of the Centre Africain d’Etudes Supérieures en Gestion and El Bachir Wade of the University Cheikh Anta Diop, both based in Dakar, Senegal.

It was supported by the Investment Climate and Business Environment Research Fund, which is jointly funded by TrustAfrica and the IDRC, Canada’s International Development Research Centre.

At a time when African countries were undertaking reforms to modernise and improve the functioning of their higher education systems so they could contribute more to economic and social development, Baidari and Wade examined the existing state of university governance in the union, which is known by its French acronym UEMOA.

UEMOA member countries, which are working towards greater regional integration, are Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo.

The principal question of the research, said the authors, was to find out if there were methods of university governance that would lead to an improvement in Africa’s business environment.

They said that a previous report, Etude sur l’Enseignement Supérieur dans les Pays de l’UEMOA, Phase 1, published in 2004, had examined the governance systems in seven UEMOA countries and identified problems which affected the business environment.

This had found that universities “contributed little to the objectives of development and reduction of poverty in the respective countries, did not adequately train young people for the economic and social challenges of the country, and played little part in the global knowledge economy”.

In their new report, Baidari and Wade have assessed current practices in university governance; identified those that contribute to improvement of the business environment; and made recommendations for a better harmonisation of governance systems in the UEMOA zone.

The research

As well as drawing on analysis of existing studies of the organisation of higher education in UEMOA – and reports on university governance from institutions including the OECD, UNESCO, the European Union and the World Bank – the researchers carried out field surveys in all the union’s member countries except Guinea-Bissau.

These efforts covered 39 public universities, 121 private higher education institutions, 99 professional federations and associations and 776 graduates in professional employment.

Baidari and Wade said they found a significant difference between public and private institutions’ governance.

Systems in public universities worked relatively well, in spite of some weaknesses in their composition which included a large cohort of teaching staff. Most institutions in the public sector did not have measures for quality assurance or tools for internal inspection, they said.

The best governance practices were found in international public higher education institutions, specialised schools and some public universities established since 2000. These included the presence of independent external members on governing boards.

Private institutions had notable discrepancies in their systems of governance, said Baidari and Wade. Most of them had not, strictly speaking, set up governance mechanisms at all.

However, some private institutions had management systems that included internal audits, administration controls and quality assurance.

Baidari and Wade found that the private higher education institutions appeared to be more efficient than public ones in achieving the best match between the education they offered and the needs of the business sector.

But national and international public institutions also did offer courses that were well adapted to needs of national economies.


The report made 22 recommendations aimed at political and university authorities, the business community and graduates. They include:
  • • Strengthening external controls over private higher education institutions to improve their governance;
  • • Adapting regulations governing higher education in UEMOA countries to bring them up to standards corresponding to best practice in university governance;
  • • Harmonising the different higher education governance systems in the UEMOA zone;
  • • Encouraging higher education institutions at national level to set up partnerships to share resources and skills;
  • • Developing internal control and quality assurance in higher education institutions by creating appropriate systems;
  • • Involving private sector partners in defining, drawing up and introducing courses, and updating programmes to respond to needs and demands of national economies;
  • • Encouraging the participation of specialists and experts in the teaching process to promote exchanges of experiences and improve the relevance of courses;
  • • Companies should facilitate student internships and visits to businesses;
  • • Employed graduates should set up information networks on job offers, lobby on behalf of their alma maters and help new graduates find employment.
Relevant link
UEMOA pledges help for member country universities