The changing landscape of higher education

In the two weeks since the last edition of University World News – Africa was published on 12 March 2020, the entire face of African higher education has changed as, one-by-one, country-wide closures of schools and universities have been announced and have taken effect.

The first to shutter educational institutions was Algeria – the announcement came at the end of February – quickly followed by several other North African countries. Today, the UNESCO statistics show that there are only a handful – seven out of a total of 54 African countries – that have not ordered the closure of schools and universities.

Since the closures, the burning questions have become iterations along the lines of: What next? And for how long? Thus, the focus has necessarily shifted to the implementation of online learning as a means to ensure academic continuity and save the academic year.

Academic continuity is especially important for those institutions that have already lost academic time this year as a result of disruptions caused by student protests (South Africa) or staff strikes (Nigeria). But not all countries and their universities are equipped to handle online learning – as the coverage in this week’s edition illustrates.

In the varying levels of preparedness of institutions around the continent, the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the inequalities that persist across the African higher education system as a whole, and also within countries themselves.

Our coverage shows that in Tunisia students represented by one union have rejected the move towards online education on the basis that not all students have equal access to the technology and bandwidth required to support such learning. In other countries such as Rwanda, there is a discrepancy in the preparedness of individual universities to deliver teaching and learning via online platforms.

Thus, while no-one can argue that e-learning offers an effective alternative to contact learning, its implementation comes with challenges and it can become a political issue. As Laura Czerniewicz notes in our lead article, the current crisis is likely to “evoke political responses, in ways that we may not expect”.

In this situation without precedent, universities have little option but to do their best.

In this edition, there are stories which reveal some evidence of a “pulling together” in the concessions offered by telecommunications companies in some countries around subsidising the costs of online educational delivery, and the Association of African Universities has urged its member universities to see the pandemic as an opportunity for universities to at least start to explore the benefits of using technology-based platforms for teaching, learning and research.

These are interesting but extremely challenging times. Being an online publication, University World News – Africa is confident it will be able to continue to publish without putting any of our correspondents at risk. Please visit our dedicated ‘Coronavirus Africa’ hub for higher education news related to the COVID-19 pandemic. We look forward to keeping our readers updated on developments around the continent.

Sharon Dell is the editor of University World News – Africa. She can be reached at