Building ‘brand Africa’ in HE can help to retain talent

African universities have the expertise, best practices and research capability that can serve as a foundation to shape ‘brand Africa’ in higher education – but many Africans lack the confidence to do this.

These topics came to the fore as higher-education stakeholders highlighted the significance of having a pan-African higher education vision and outlined the challenges of building ‘brand Africa’ in higher education at the QS Africa Forum organised earlier in September by Morocco’s Mohammed VI Polytechnic University and the United Kingdom-based educational agency QS Quacquarelli Symonds, known for its rankings. It was themed ‘Building Brand Africa in Higher Education – Strengths and opportunities to reimagine futures’.

As Professor Thami Ghorfi, the president of ESCA Ecole de Management (ESCA School of Management) in Morocco, told University Word News: “There is a lack of communication about the success stories in Africa.”

Ghorfi said it was important to build ‘brand Africa’ in the higher education sector, in particular, given the education and training needs in Africa.

He explained: “This is important, given the limited financial resources and visa constraints that African students must deal with when they consider studying in Western countries.”

He was a panellist at a forum titled ‘Leadership, employability and skills for the future of work – The role of business schools and universities in bridging the skills gap and developing the full potential of young Africans for the 21st century and beyond’.

“So, we need to reinforce the branding of the best African schools to meet the aspirations of these African students who generally believe that only European and American schools can provide them with high-quality education,” said Ghorfi.

“Strengthening the brand of African schools [or higher education institutions] will also help to build the self-confidence and the sense of belonging of African students so they can have a positive view about their future and pursue ambitious goals within their countries.

“It will also help African countries to retain the best talents instead of letting them study abroad and, in most cases, working and staying in the host foreign countries for the rest of their lives,” added Ghorfi.

Building the self-esteem of Africans

Echoing Ghorfi’s views about brand-building and building confidence, Professor Abiodun Humphrey Adebayo, the vice-chancellor of Covenant University in Nigeria, told University World News: “There is no doubt that Africa as a continent has been marginalised and under-represented among the global giants.

“We are equally faced with some self-inflicted challenges due to colonialism, including low self-esteem of Africans along with a lack of self-confidence and inferiority complex among Africans.

“These perspectives must change by consciously engaging in rebranding efforts and initiatives in higher education,” added Adebayo, who was a panellist at the forum session entitled ‘Building brand Africa in higher education – Academic excellence, brand-building and examples of best practice’.

Expanding further, Dr Veronica Omeni, the chairperson of the QS Africa Forum and the principal consultant at QS in the UK, suggested to University World News that, as part of the brand-building process, examples of excellence in higher education in Africa should be showcased.

In this instance, she pointed out that Africa, one of the fastest-growing regions for higher education worldwide, with 32 institutions in the QS World University Rankings, has registered a 400% growth in terms of the number of universities included since 2011.

She said these examples of academic excellence in Africa can be used as a foundation to shape a future brand Africa in higher education.

Ghorfi agreed, saying African schools must position themselves [to an international audience] as adding distinctive value in specific areas of study, such as economic growth, business development, entrepreneurship, sustainability, renewable energy and social innovation.

Related to this aspect is that institutions can use their research through thought leadership and expertise related to the African context and its challenges, to reinforce their branding.

In this way, African higher education institutions could also present the narrative [about what they do] from their point of view.

This, said Omeni, was a way they can discuss the enormous potential on the continent from their unique perspective – along with how higher education institutions can build on the foundation of their strengths to benefit themselves, their local communities and have a positive influence on the future of education in Africa, meeting the needs of Africans and all those living on this great continent, according to Omeni.


However, some of the challenges that African institutions might face in building brand Africa in higher education include the lack of strong accreditation systems and rankings that may help best schools to be recognised, and the lack of trust that young people have in their local institutions [such as government, universities, and so on].

Ghorfi said African schools that are dealing with the economic and social issues of their countries of origin might face other challenges, namely the scarcity of qualified and sufficient resources (faculty, professional staff), inadequate infrastructure (roads, hotels, campuses, technology), political instability in some cases, and health and security issues in some contexts.

“There is a need to promote the best institutions through international accreditations and rankings to change the perception of students and institutions,” Ghorfi suggested.

Expanding further, Adebayo said: “The challenges that might face building brand Africa in higher education also include a lack of governmental support and motivation, insecurity in some parts of the Africa continent and lack of cordiality among Africans, along with corruption and lack of quality leadership.”

And, added Omeni, the need to overcome global misconceptions about Africa and rather showcasing best practices which “the wider world needs to hear about”.

“There are also internal challenges which differ from country to country on the African continent, which may require new approaches [and] broader collaboration between organisations at regional and pan-African level,” Omeni indicated.

For Adebayo, it is about a changed mindset – “knowing that we have the potential to do great things if we maintain a possibility mentality”.

“We need curriculum reform to address the current needs of the African society, engagement in entrepreneurship drives, leadership transformation and establishing university-industry connections along with media and corporate propagation of Africa branding,” Adebayo added.

“Africans will need to tell their stories by themselves as no one can tell Africans’ stories better than the Africans themselves,” he emphasised.

The power of data

According to Omeni, institutions and countries in Africa have to harness the power of data.

“It is impossible to make any plans for the future without access to sector-wide information that provides an overview, highlights opportunities and gives clarity in decision-making,” said Omeni.

For him, the building of a unique, regional higher education brand that addresses the skills and scientific needs of the African continent is an opportunity to avoid past errors.

“[This] is an opportunity to respect tradition and culture, while being open to innovation and growth, without replicating models that may not be viable,” Omeni emphasised.

Adebayo is also hopeful: “If we Africans join forces together, we can rebrand and build the kind of Africa we want.”