Africa Commentary
Universities are vital institutions with great promise and contribute in myriad ways to society. But there are good reasons to critique universities in Africa, both those created by colonial overlords and those that emerged in the post-independence years, writes Professor Saleem Badat.
Higher education institutions in Africa have been relegated to a marginal position in global knowledge production. A shift is needed towards the knowledge economy, diverse epistemologies, diversifying higher education systems, and engaging with international dimensions while promoting progressive and innovative policies in African universities.
If higher education quality and better governance are the purposes of Ethiopia’s new regulation which allows for public universities to become autonomous institutions, appointing politicians to head the transition and the semi-privatisation of the country’s premier public higher institution is not the answer.
In a groundbreaking study that challenges traditional norms of teacher induction, a team of researchers from two South African universities has proposed a visionary approach that leverages the involvement of students in the induction of new university teachers, opening the door to educational transformation.
The Ethiopian Education and Training Authority’s role is expanding due to a revision of its legal responsibilities, but the authority’s limited capacity is already overstretched. Professional associations should play a bigger role in the accreditation process and should be empowered to do so.
Learning loss, an opportunity gap, polarisation and environmental and climate justice have in common systems of practices and policies that are pervasive and intentionally exclusionary. They reflect system failures. As educators, we must ask how we are contributing to the problem or solutions.
In Ethiopia, higher education stakeholders should discuss the emerging trend to award honorary degrees based on ethnic affiliations, in particular to persons who are part of ethnic groups in the area where the awarding university is geographically located. This has drawn criticism and has negative consequences for a society where national unity is a challenge.
A new study highlights the need for the training of research ethics committees in Sub-Saharan Africa tasked with reviewing data-intense research protocols where data protection and data sharing are important. This is to better handle the ethical, legal and social implications of big data-related research, which are inadequately supported by legislative and enforcement frameworks.
With 232,915 students registered in private higher education institutions in South Africa, these institutions play an integral role in the higher education system and should be supported by the government. However, a recent policy on the naming of higher education institutions muddies the waters in unhelpful ways.
Several students at the rural University of Zululand in South Africa have said they never anticipated that their time at university would be a life-or-death situation. They are a generation whose aspirations for a better university experience have been crushed by inadequate housing, deplorable living conditions and criminals who endanger their lives.
The student housing shortage in Côte d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso is profound.The growth in student numbers has contributed to a shortage of places in residences. Whereas, some efforts have been made to address the housing shortage, students have been finding their own solutions.
Before we entrust more power to artificial intelligence in higher education, we must remember that AI tools and platforms propagate the biases, bigotry and epistemic injustices that have plagued higher education worldwide since the European colonial conquest and which continue to this day.
Anti-black African xenophobia, which spills over into physical threats, is a pressing issue in South Africa – from its streets to its universities. Yet foreign academics, university administrators and teachers contribute directly to local higher education institutions that would be much poorer without them.
The South African system of paying public universities for academic publications has arguably been highly successful in driving increases in knowledge production, but it also had the unintended consequence of positioning research in instrumentalist and performative ways, which are at odds with the ideals of knowledge creation.
There is widespread agreement that African universities need to produce more PhDs in order to fast track their countries’ socio-economic development, but what is conspicuously absent in the debate is how PhDs should be produced in order to achieve the expected outcomes.
Students who want to enrol in postgraduate programmes when the new academic year starts in September 2023 have to sit for a university admission test administered by Addis Ababa University – Ethiopia’s premier university – before they will be allowed to register, the Ethiopian Ministry of Education has informed higher education institutions.
Cairo University has been championing sustainable transportation options and has been implementing programmes that promote sustainable resource management practices, reduce energy consumption, water usage, as well as waste on campus. It has also integrated sustainability into its educational and research plans.
Pedagogy premised on the notion of ubuntu broadens the narrow approach of global citizen education from that of mere employability in the global job market to education towards peace, through restorative justice, as a result of co-belonging to a community. It could also help to counter managerialism in Africa’s higher education system.
In the Ethiopian Ministry of Education’s 2022-23 university exit exam, only 40.65% of all students who took the exam passed with a score of 50% and above. Yet, the introduction of the exam has created a variety of opportunities for self-reflection and improved performance at national, institutional and individual levels.
South Africa’s Nelson Mandela University or NMU launched a Giving Campaign on 3 July to commemorate the birth of the late president Nelson Mandela on 18 July. It is an integral part of NMU’s commitment to be an engaged university that pursues a sustainable, just society, writes Deputy Vice-Chancellor André Keet.
To chart a more equitable, just and sustainable way forward for higher education and internationalisation, the higher education sector has to look back critically and assess the past practices, concepts, approaches, achievements and challenges. Only in this way can it begin to develop a way forward.
We live in a time of unprecedented evolution and transformation in humankind’s history. There have been more innovations, technological strides and evolution in all sectors in the past 50 years than over the thousands of years of humanity’s history preceding this period.
At least half of South Africa’s public universities continue to grapple, with limited success, with the transformation imperative, both intellectually and in terms of their programmes, and no university has managed to transcend the legacy of its origins and history, according to the South African Ministerial Transformation Oversight Committee’s final report.
While there are an increasing number of female students who choose to study at private institutions in Ethiopia, the number of females involved in teaching and leadership positions is either meagre or non-existent. Understanding the causes of and addressing this anomaly is necessary.
At the heart of inclusive internationalisation, which embodies decolonisation of knowledge and epistemic plurality, is collaboration, cooperation and coming together across borders and differences, and sometimes across comfort zones. Internationalisation is about mutual care, mutual respect and mutual acknowledgement, whereby we work together in shaping a better future.
The long-awaited plan of the Ethiopian government to grant full autonomy to public universities appears to have entered its final stage. The next two years will be critical to realise the intentions of the new proclamation, which fails to provide the needed emphasis on academic freedom, an important aspect of any autonomy package.
The digital gender gap is vast in Africa. Yet, women’s inclusive participation in the digital sphere is acknowledged to potentially have a significant contribution to make towards addressing the Sustainable Development Goals and the African Union’s Agenda 2063, which underscore the importance of gender equality and women empowerment.
Being a ‘public good academic’ – someone who has an understanding of and commitment to their civic responsibility to advance the public good agenda – comes at a price, including relational, psychological, career-related and personal resource costs.
When it comes to climate change, international educators are part of the problem, but we can also be part of the solution if we come together as a sector and commit to moving towards more sustainable internationalisation practices, even if it involves making sacrifices.
How the higher education sector creates an enabling environment wherein lecturers and students can experiment with the potential and limits of artificial intelligence tools, how it uses the opportunity to develop higher-order critical thinking capabilities, and how it instils a values-driven, integrity-focused approach are some of the challenges brought on by AI.
If the implementation of nationally standardised academic promotion criteria continues to remain uneven across institutions in Ethiopia, the credibility and legitimacy of the sector is being undermined. The Ethiopian Ministry of Education – and institutions – have to find ways to work towards a more uniform system.
PhDs are not necessarily a panacea for developmental challenges, but they can make valuable contributions to African society and economies, provided their education and training are designed and implemented to achieve expected outcomes – and governments are ready to create opportunities to utilise them.
On a daily basis, national research and education networks in Africa are proving to be inspirational to other organisations and businesses around the globe in the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 4 on quality education and as key players in creating a better planet for learners.
Rhodes University in South Africa recently restated its long-held position that an academic institution that is committed to sound research principles should not participate in rankings. In doing so, it is joining high-profile universities around the world that have expressed concern about the neocolonial nature of ranking systems.
The Ethiopian Education and Training Authority, which appears to have embarked on an effort to reform itself, deserves the attention and support from the government and all members of society who have been demanding a more robust and dependable quality assurance system.
To navigate a rapidly evolving landscape, with shifts in population demographics and accelerated digitalisation, universities must look beyond their borders to engage with partners and networks to support universities in accelerating their institutional goals and ensuring the greater good of higher education.
If universities enact the five ‘I’s of internationalisation – intent, inclusivity, innovation, interactivity and impact – they can place internationalisation at the core of what they do. This has become critical in an interdependent world driven by common challenges and in need of common solutions.
The World Bank has recommended that Africa produce as many as 100,000 PhD students in a decade. But that does not mean standard processes should be sacrificed on the altar of quantity. Africa needs quality PhDs, which takes time, effort, expertise, commitment and resources.
A group of innovative universities in Sub-Saharan Africa are working on a common problem. How can they bring economic opportunities to the world’s youngest and fastest-growing population? Their solutions to upscale training in digital skills could make all the difference to the continent’s future.
Two types of pressures necessitate revisiting the role of a professor. Firstly, the pressure to account for “market-friendliness” and, secondly, to respond to the transformation and decolonisation imperatives as a result of massification. In this context the professorial role may need to re-adapt to respond to broader socio-economic and political exigencies affecting higher education.
The announcement that Russian is to be available as a second language in Egyptian schools and colleges is a timely reminder that the world of global higher education, a key element in ‘The Great Game’, is facing a new set of challenges.
There is no single understanding of the relationship between higher education and the public good shared across constituencies in South Africa, but a common view is that the state is central to achieving a public good role of higher education – and needs to do more to enhance the higher education system’s efficiency.
In his 2016 book titled The Fourth Industrial Revolution, Klaus Schwab observed that as the workplace becomes more digital and high tech, and AI and robots become crucial, there is an urgent need to still feel the human touch grounded in meaningful close relationships and social connections between people.
The government of Kenya has rapidly expanded university education, both public and private, in response to demand. However, this rapid expansion has been supported by a cost-sharing financing model, which according to some scholars contradicts the concept of higher education as a public good.
Despite a lot of local data, there is a dearth of accessible African datasets and challenges around local languages. However, broadband connectivity, 5G and the internet of things are spreading and will make data collection for powerful AI analytics in education in Africa possible.
The Ethiopian Ministry of Education is considering the digitalisation of school-leaving and university exit exams to counter corruption and cheating in the sector. But a national strategy is necessary to address challenges associated with a digital exam, such as the availability of infrastructure and IT facilities as well as security needs.
In an open letter to President Kais Saied, an academic calls on the Tunisian leader to take steps to undo the damage done to the country’s reputation following xenophobic and racist attacks on black Sub-Saharans, some of them international students. He believes the great forefather Tunisian Hannon can provide guidance.
South Africa, the continent’s largest producer of scholarly output, has a responsibility to work with African countries and the Global South to move beyond the empty rhetoric about epistemic decolonisation and lead the process of dismantling the Global North’s hegemony and bibliometric coloniality.
South Africa has announced 17 National Contact Points for the various funding pillars of Horizon Europe, the European Union’s flagship multilateral research programme, the biggest of its kind in the world. The NCPs will support researchers with the expertise to place their scholarship in the international domain.
Women’s under-representation in scientific publication means that their perspectives, expertise and contributions are being overlooked. On International Women’s Day, 8 March, it is important to emphasise the barriers that women scientists continue to experience. The failure to tackle these is undermining Africa’s development and progress.
Given South Africa’s fractured schooling system and the diverse socio-political contexts of students, how do institutions level the playing field? Institutions of higher learning have to assist the process by moving beyond the traditional paradigm of distancing ourselves from the deficiencies of basic education and step up efforts to equalise opportunities.
Active maintenance is required to defend collegiality, a distinctive feature of university governance that has a global dimension. International research is finding that collegiality is often taken for granted and sometimes even forgotten about, and that islands of collegiality are at risk of being perverted.
Only 3.3% of nearly a million school-leavers in Ethiopia passed their final examinations with 50%. The shocking result is the outcome of two decades of challenges and will affect the intake in public and private higher education institutions. It has now prompted Ethiopia’s Ministry of Education to devise a national strategy in a bid to halt the decay.
A new definition of higher education internationalisation can create an opportunity for South Africa to become an ‘active and self-determined’ contributor and partner in the global field of internationalisation of higher education instead of merely replicating dominant concepts and definitions from the Global North.
As the movie industry celebrates artists and their creativity and cinematic flair during its award season, Ousmane Sembène’s cinematic contribution has received attention. January marked the birth, 100 years ago, of the Senegalese novelist and filmmaker hailed as the ‘father of African cinema’.
Managing ethnic diversity in Ethiopian public universities is not an easy task, but it is worth investing in because the benefit of managing diversity goes beyond higher education and contributes to the political and social stability of a country that has been gripped, in recent times, by internal strife.
Although education is held in high regard by Ethiopians, political parties seldom use it in electioneering. This may explain why 18 months after a change in government its 2018 educational roadmap is still in place. However, challenges during the last year may require a rethink of some of the plan’s priorities for higher education.
After nearly five decades, the Ethiopian Ministry of Education is planning to reintroduce something similar to what was formerly known as Ethiopian University Service. In different formats, compulsory service is an established practice across the continent. In Ethiopia, it is argued, it may be a mechanism to rebuild national unity.
Quality assurance agencies and networks in Africa have to work in synergy in pursuit of the harmonisation of quality assurance systems, the mutual recognition of qualifications, and enhanced mobility of academics in Africa. Efforts to advance quality assurance awareness and capacity-building activities have picked up steam.
Humour in Africa is certainly heavy, moving and defying boundaries and national states and even local cultures, affecting the social and psychological health of the society and illuminating the social and political space in Africa. But why is there a paucity of discourse on humour studies?
Despite making notable progress in their quest to become research-oriented institutions over the past seven years, universities allied to the African Research Universities Alliance, or ARUA, largely remain undergraduate universities, in what could be a reflection of the general state of institutions across the continent.
Community service is a critical tool for decolonising African universities and can turn universities into real partners for development, but until the obligations of this key mission are enshrined in policy or law and adequate funding is provided, it will remain largely voluntary.
The first summit of university leaders from Africa and Europe has resolved to launch new types of long-term collaboration. Based on the draft African Union-European Union Innovation Agenda, this includes, among others, long-term funding and the need to draft a comprehensive strategy of research infrastructure investment in Africa.
Knowledge matters in education, but some kinds of knowledge matter more. And knowledge that really matters, is powerful. In this article, researchers ask questions about the nature of the knowledge that matters in one specific field, namely that of health professions education.
This commentary has been triggered by a question raised in the University World News article on why the tradition of imparting critical thinking is waning in Africa. The totality of ‘environments’ within which universities operate and to which they aspire to contribute as well as the political, sociocultural and economical contexts need to be interrogated along with historical precedents.
African governments, business enterprises and universities have a shared responsibility to raise the research capacities and productivity of universities and countries. The research ecosystem depends on the availability of adequate funding, motivated researchers, robust facilities, dynamic collaborations, strong intellectual property policies, effective dissemination and translation of research results into products and policy, and for social impact.
Some tertiary education institutions take a short-term approach to attracting private funds, while a more effective method is known as advancement. This is a holistic, longer-term process whereby an institution positions itself strategically and engages judiciously with its external environment to ensure sustainability.
A visual redress praxis has emerged during the past decade as a transformation priority on the campuses of Stellenbosch University, South Africa. The university has prioritised changes in its visual culture, the renaming of buildings and architectural representations of various university spaces. This is a reflection on the politics of visual redress.
The findings of an inquiry at South Africa’s Stellenbosch University by Justice Sisi Khampepe into institutional racism are expected to be released soon. It followed an incident during which a white male student urinated on the belongings of a black student. Two similar incidents have since taken place. In this article, staff responses are considered alongside the implications and opportunities of the probe.
The Ethiopian higher education sector is currently undergoing promising reforms towards substantial autonomy for public institutions. While weighing the pros and cons of the new plan may be left to the government and public institutions, private institutions should examine the impending consequences and prepare themselves for a more competitive tertiary landscape.
The responsibility for designing and implementing a vision for African universities that aspire to be effective, relevant and responsive to the development needs of society and the economy does not rest on vice-chancellors alone, but should be shared between university leaders and governments.
The lack of incentives and the unrealistic demands levied on private higher education institutions in Ethiopia have the potential to derail these providers from contributing to national development and the future of higher education. The existing limitations and restrictions should be tackled.
It has been a daunting exercise to keep track of and neutralise the well-oiled and well-funded propaganda machinery of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, writes the Global Ethiopian Scholars Initiative in response to claims by Dr Kiros Guesh about the devastation of higher education in Tigray.
COVID-19 has forced universities to re-evaluate their telos – their value and purpose – undergirding their teaching and research functions, business models, governance and institutional cultures, and external engagements. It comes at a time of fierce epistemological and ontological contestation, writes Paul Zeleza, former vice-chancellor of the United States International University Africa.
Investing time and expertise to negotiate a transparent Framework Research Agreement is highly recommended to address the challenges associated with contracts, including intellectual property negotiations, and where the intention of both the industry partner and a university is that of a long-term research collaboration with several projects.