Experts weigh in on higher education challenges

A selection of experts and scholars in African higher education share their views on the key challenges and trends facing higher education in the upcoming year.

Jamil SalmiTertiary education expert and former World Bank tertiary education coordinator

Tertiary education is an essential driver of economic and social development in all African nations. Skilled human capital and a strong research base are not only key elements of a country’s economic growth strategy, but they also determine its capacity to attain the Sustainable Development Goals.

African nations must formulate a clear vision for the future of tertiary education, put in place favourable governance frameworks, and mobilise resources to overcome the challenges facing their tertiary education systems: poor access and equity; inadequate quality and relevance; and insufficient research and knowledge transfer.

They must also overcome political rivalries and mistrust to promote South-South cooperation and pool their resources in support of regional projects, such as the African Centers of Excellence.

Violet MakukuQuality assurance specialist and the HAQAA Initiative project officer at the Ghana-based Association of African Universities

The slow verification of qualifications has been a major challenge. The situation has been aggravated by refugees fleeing both natural and man-made crises, who have nothing to prove their academic and professional qualifications. Degree mills and degrees offered by institutions that are not accredited have also become a major challenge.

National qualifications frameworks for African countries need to be harmonised and there should be mutual trust among member countries. There is need for a continental database for African universities where all student qualifications are deposited on the cloud with passwords and different levels of administrative powers controlling access.

Atta-ur-RahmanProfessor emeritus, UNESCO science laureate, chairman of the UN Committee on Science, Technology and Innovation and president of the Network of Academies of Science of Islamic Countries and former federal minister of science and technology and chairman of the Higher Education Commission, Pakistan

The main challenges facing African universities are delivery of quality education, and linking education with socio-economic development through emphasis on science, technology, innovation and entrepreneurship.

African governments need to make the knowledge economy a cornerstone of their respective development plans. The focus should be on massive investments to send tens of thousands of the brightest students to top universities abroad for PhD studies so that the PhD-level faculty to student ratio can reach a level of 1:20. In order to attract them back to Africa, salaries need to be increased fourfold, and research grants and facilities made available.

Oussouby SackoMali-born president of Kyoto Seika University, Japan

We need to train students to be able to discover problems and develop solutions. African universities need well-trained teaching staff and adequate curricula for socially responsive education. We also need to introduce liberal arts education, link technologies across fields and introduce more multidisciplinary studies in our universities.

Peter OkebukolaDistinguished professor of science and computer education at Nigeria-based Lagos State University and president of the Global University Network for Innovation in Lagos (GUNi-Africa)

In 2019, African governments should embark on a massive upgrade of facilities to make them fit for purpose. Besides improving the selection process and raising standards for promoting university teachers, institutional research policies must be established and periodic training should be given to all staff, especially the older, analogue professors, on the use of ICT for teaching, learning and research.

Juma ShabaniDirector of the Doctoral School at the University of Burundi and former director of development, coordination and monitoring of UNESCO programmes with a special focus on Africa

African universities need to produce a critical mass of skilled people who can respond adequately to the current and future needs of the world of work and deal with issues of youth employability and self-employment. They should develop and implement integrated programmes that build on relevant initiatives designed in isolation. These include the Centers of Excellence and the student mobility programmes at masters and PhD levels.

The mobility programmes will be supported by at least two major initiatives, namely the Global Convention on the Recognition of Higher Education Qualifications, which should be adopted by UNESCO member states in 2019, and the African Standards and Guidelines for Higher Education, which will help to harmonise and strengthen accreditation and quality assurance mechanisms in Africa.

Béchir AllouchProfessor of technology at the Virtual University of Tunis and president of the Tunisian Association for E-Learning

The use of ICT, to enrich face-to-face learning (or even to replace a part of it) and to ensure access to the best teachers and quality courses, could help the continent better cope with the pressure of increased enrolments.

The best solutions would be those invented at the micro level by teachers themselves. However, without pooling efforts and federating efforts at the local, regional and even continental levels, we will not go far. Helping teachers by providing them with appropriate pedagogical resources (MOOC content and open educational resources), and exchanges of experiences in African networks can help teachers better serve heterogeneous audiences. Technology is not an end in itself. It can help teachers only if they know how to integrate it into their teaching.

This is possible if we stop acting in isolation in both our universities and countries, since we all face similar challenges.

Mostafa Mohsen RadwanHigher education reform expert and former vice dean of the faculty of engineering at Fayoum University in Egypt

One of the urgent challenges facing African universities is implementing solid quality assurance systems to regulate and monitor processes within the university, and provide indicators for future planning and guarantee development.

The African Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance (ASG-QA) in Higher Education, recently (November 2018) published within the context of the Africa-EU Partnership, provide an overarching framework for quality assurance in higher education.

This will promote and facilitate mutual trust between higher education agencies and regulatory bodies and institutions. It will improve transparency and accountability, and facilitate the recognition and mobility of students and human resources within and across national borders of the continent and with Europe.

Jonathan Oyebamiji BabalolaProfessor at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria

Most of the best African graduates leave the continent because of frustration in conducting research and in spite of a determination to stay. Sometimes, when they return after their PhD or postdoc, they do not fit in. African leaders seem to be more interested in politics and economy than human capital. They must realise that not all solutions prescribed by the West can solve African problems, hence they should start building human capital for Africa.

The African Union is making efforts but this may not bring the expected results until each country makes human capital development a priority.

Timothy O OyetundeEducational, curriculum and pedagogy consultant and dean of the School of Postgraduate Studies, University of Jos, Nigeria

An urgent challenge is teacher quality. Teaching is a delicate and complex activity. Teachers' pedagogical skills and their disposition or emotional competence are as important as their content knowledge.

For effective classroom interaction, teaching must not only be seen as a science, an art, and a craft, but also as a complex process of persuasion and influence. Thus, the point that must not be missed is that adequate training of teachers in pedagogical skills is critical to upgrading teaching and educational standards in African universities.

Fareeda KhodabocusDirector of quality assurance at the University of Mauritius and a member of the Higher Education Research and Advocacy Network in Africa (HERANA)

Higher education in Africa must embrace technological innovation. This includes teaching, learning and research in all subjects vital for the economic development of any African country – engineering, technology, agriculture, biological sciences, business education, social sciences and entrepreneurship, depending on priority needs.

African universities of the future need to be more technology-oriented. The job market must evolve to drive demand for skills. This requires improved management, governance, university industry links and exchanges with more advanced countries, and increased student and staff mobility for enhanced knowledge-sharing.