Africa Features
Many African universities still don’t acknowledge the role of mathematics as a foundation stone of modern society and a model for rational inquiry and creativity in human development. The lack of proper laboratories at many higher education institutions in Africa is evidence of this attitude, mathematics researchers say.
The University of the Free State in central South Africa has produced its first carbon footprint report for 2022, with data collected from the institution’s operations in 2021. Carbon reporting is seen as a critical aspect of the university’s efforts to combat global warming and achieve environmental sustainability.
On the sidelines of the recent Reinventing Higher Education conference held in Cape Town, South Africa, two academics flesh out what upending the ‘unidirectional gaze’ that characterises existing North-South research collaborations might practically mean for universities, institutions and academics in the Global North.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, which brought greater awareness of the benefits of blended tuition in Africa and beyond, the focus is turning away from the technical stability of learning management systems to concerns about how to support people to get the most out of these edtech platforms.
More and more Somali academics who left their country to study abroad, or who immigrated, are returning to home soil, even though salaries are dismal compared to those in especially Western countries. But it is not the money that draws them, it is the desire to give back to their communities.
Universities in Zimbabwe are slowly catching on to a modular learning system which was first introduced online at the University of Zimbabwe when COVID-19 hit the country. While administrators are praising the system for increasing retention and pass rates, students and lecturers have mixed feelings.
Nigeria’s presidential election in which a former two-term governor of Lagos State, Senator Bola Tinubu, emerged as the president-elect, may have been one of the most competitive political battles in the country’s history – and one in which the youth, including students, made their voices heard.
“Calm your inner Luddite, hold on to your inner sceptic,” is one of the messages for educators contemplating ChatGPT and other large language models, from Dr Roze Phillips, a futurist who straddles the worlds of work and academia. “Trying to outsmart AI is not a viable strategy.”
Kwanele Nyembe, the student who was crowned South Africa’s National Poetry Slam champion during the Poetry Africa Festival in October 2022, has his eye set firmly on the first prize at the 2023 World Slam Poetry competition in Brazil later this year.
Extreme climatic events such as heatwaves and flash floods have resulted in major disruptions and challenges for universities across Africa. Extreme heat events, due to global warming, have been associated with low student turnout, low academic performance and health risks for academic staff and students.
“AI will not replace people – but the person using AI might replace you,” says Pieter Geldenhuys, futurist and director of the Institute for Technology, Strategy and Innovation. He has teamed up with North-West University in South Africa to run a course to upskill people in new artificial intelligence technology.
South Africa lags behind the world in turning its scientific discoveries and research findings into commercial products. Official estimates suggest only 7% of the intellectual property-generated research is commercialised, a paltry figure compared with the international benchmark of 40%.
Millions of young voters, including students, are registered to participate in the Nigerian election. Amid a renewed interest in politics, students who have been badly affected by university strikes and insecurity during the past few years, may express their dissatisfaction at the polls.
Universities as co-creators of knowledge have a fundamental role to play in the transition to net-zero and circular economies. One of the critical aspects of this transition involves the process of decarbonisation, which refers to measures taken by an institution to reduce its carbon footprint, primarily its greenhouse gas emissions, to reduce its impact on the climate.
Corrupted: A study of chronic dysfunction in South African universities tells an unpleasant but very important story – not only for South Africa, but globally – about how corruption can seep into academic institutions. Professor Jonathan Jansen’s book explains the emergence of chronic institutional dysfunction, rooted in a political economy framework.
More than 80% of medical students at three institutions in Rwanda displayed mild sleeping disturbances, according to a study. It suggests open discussions between medical students and academic staff to alleviate potential causes for the problem, including sleep deprivation.
A new higher education law establishes and extends the power of the National Council for the Assessment of Higher Education Quality to undertake quality assurance in Mozambique’s higher education. But there are concerns about government centralisation and human resource capacity within the system.
Student leaders are being recruited to roll out an online entrepreneurship training programme to their fellows. The programme, which uses the Telegram instant messaging app to deliver coursework, has already been piloted among a limited number of students at universities of technology in South Africa.
The government of Cameroon has introduced a student entrepreneur programme to promote entrepreneurship in its higher education system, including public and private higher institutions. The project aims, among other things, to strengthen the practical training of students to function in a business environment.
Usmanu Danfodiyo University Sokoto Scholars’ Forum in Nigeria serves as an incubation hub where the best brains are being nurtured to take deliberate action on their personal development. Students who have joined the club have been able to turn their excellent grades into further opportunities.
Alumni associations, whose members comprise prominent politicians, religious leaders, entrepreneurs, academics and other professionals, have been stepping up to plug many of the infrastructural and other gaps in the Nigerian higher education system by raising funds for their alma maters. Several government-run tertiary institutions have been benefiting.
From suggestions to ban ChatGPT, an artificial intelligence chatbot, to adjusting curricula and assessment formats, the academic community in North Africa, as in other parts of the world, disagrees about how the higher education sector should respond to the latest text tool.
Changes in the seasonal temperature and floods in Yaoundé, Cameroon's capital, have made climate change tangible on the campus of the University of Yaoundé 1. It has been affecting anything from students’ dress code to the cost of food, and has reminded researchers of the role they have to play in addressing the crisis.
With a new grant from Global Affairs Canada, Context Matters is set to begin its second half-decade of studying literacy in Africa. Context Matters is a programme created by CODE, a Canadian NGO that focuses on early-grade literacy in Africa with special concern for girls’ literacy and gender equality.
Just over a year ago Professor Olusola Bandele Oyewole took over as the secretary general of the Association of African Universities, based in Accra, Ghana. Oyewole spoke to University World News about what he has been doing since taking office and what progress he has made in achieving the goals he set in 2021.
Universities will continue to play a significant role in addressing the impact of climate change, promoting sustainability and providing roadmaps towards mitigation and adaptation methods during 2023. Climatologists in Africa have drawn up their lists of priorities, given the region’s unique challenges.
Eight months ago, Dr Sylvie Mucyo became the first woman to lead the biggest polytechnic institution, Rwanda Polytechnic, that brings together eight regional polytechnic colleges. Created six years ago, Rwanda Polytechnic was mandated to offer technical and vocational education and training across the country.
The discourse about students’ knowledge and skills should be about how to bring the ways of knowing, valued by universities, closer to the ways of knowing that the world beyond values, says Chris Bradford, co-founder of the African Leadership Academy and the African Leadership University, and of the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program.
Professor Sakhela Buhlungu, the vice-chancellor of the University of Fort Hare, survived an apparent assassination attempt earlier in January. He remains determined to stay at the institution, but is deeply frustrated about the lack of action from the authorities despite evidence relating to alleged corruption.
Political turmoil in Sudan since October 2021 has affected all sectors of society, including higher education, where academic freedom has been under threat, policy reviews have stalled and the brain drain has picked up pace. A new political agreement, signed in December 2022, has brought hope for the sector’s recovery.
Following a peace deal between the Ethiopian government and Tigray forces after two years of civil war, which appears to be holding, academics and students are counting the cost of damage to Ethiopia’s higher education system. One of the consequences has been parents sending their children to study abroad.
Youths are capable of leading the climate change conversation and can come up with brilliant initiatives regardless of age. What the youth need is space and a chance to show their maximum potential. However, most of the time, space and platforms are not given to them, says climate activist and masters student Elizabeth Gulugulu Machache.
Cameroon’s higher education sector has been facing a myriad of challenges, many of them set to persist in 2023, including limited funding, a nationwide lecturers’ strike, poor infrastructure, ill-equipped and insufficient staff, as well as the effect of the Anglophone armed conflict. Yet, there is a flickering of positive changes as well.
A few months after his election as the president of Kenya, in a context in which universities in the country have been staggering financially, William Ruto has initiated reforms that will impact upon the tertiary education sector and which reflect his political influences and aspirations.
Universities in Africa struggle to offer the academic background required to contribute effectively to the climate change discourse and activities aimed at addressing climate change, which is why many postgraduate students seek climate change expertise, both in teaching and research contexts, outside the continent.
Comedy and satire are powerful resistance art forms in repressive societies in Africa. Ranging from stand-up comedy to memes, humour is being used to undermine political propaganda, expose abuses of power and ridicule ethnic and social taboos that promote exclusion.
The emergence of comedies that are performed at funeral rites in cities across Sub-Saharan Africa as business side hustles are getting the attention of researchers of African humour, according to Professor Katrien Pype, a social anthropologist at KU Leuven University in Belgium.
The enormity of the mental health challenges faced by students across Africa, in particular first-years, should be a wake-up call for governments and universities in Sub-Saharan Africa to start realising that traditional intervention models, if they are offered at all, are no longer adequate.
Professor Adipala Ekwamu is one of the most influential figures in higher education in Africa, having founded the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture, or RUFORUM, and serving as its executive secretary since 2004. He spoke about his life’s work ahead of his retirement from the position at the end of December.
Mentorship for early-career researchers to prevent them from falling prey to fly-by-night journals and conferences, funding support for researchers and enhancing the effectiveness of information sharing about predatory practices within the higher education sector were highlighted as strategies that could help to combat the problem.
A cost-of-living crisis in Tunisia, where annual inflation rose to 9.8% in November, is one of a list of factors that is pushing Tunisian academics to emigrate, with Saudi Arabian universities being a significant draw – offering better salaries and research opportunities.
Collaboration between two research centres, one in Japan and one in Zambia, is successfully contributing to efforts aimed at early detection of potential pandemics caused by zoonotic pathogens and has also led to significant technical support and human resource development among African researchers.
Young women are often on the receiving end of online violence. As the 16 Days of Activism Against Violence Against Women and Girls comes to an end, two students, who have been victims of this form of gender-based violence, call on universities to do more.
Higher education institutions can actively contribute to the achievement of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals through teaching, research, community engagement, non-academic services and management practices. Zimbabwean universities have to do more to align their work with the SDGs.
Stacey Francis, a 44-year-old, believes in lifelong learning. She has been a student, on and off, since she completed school. Given the pace at which the world is changing, she encourages graduates to always remain up to date in their fields of study.
Students and teachers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo can, for the first time, access a free online library after the ministry of education launched the National Digital Library in a bid to boost the availability of educational resources, books and scientific articles for teaching staff and students.
Tamlyn Sasha Naidu from the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, was this year’s breakthrough winner of the emerging talents at the Falling Walls Science Summit held in Berlin, Germany. Falling Walls is the unique global hub connecting science, business and society.
Figures from the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency show that only 28.2% of PhD holders in the country are women, compared with 71.8% of men. This discrepancy is alarming judged by the fact that, on lower academic qualification levels, women perform better.
Universities in Africa need to be more dynamic and open to new initiatives as they seek to deliver on their mandate of advancing the domestic, social and economic development of their societies. In particular, they must offer students comprehensive support so that they can succeed at university, according to Teboho Moja, professor of higher education at New York University.
Nigeria’s tertiary schools are generally ill-equipped in areas ranging from resources to physical infrastructure to provide education to students with disabilities. The quest for funding to revitalise infrastructure, among other needs, is among the major reasons the academic staff of universities and colleges have been striking.
There is “profound intellectual concern that this decolonial project, insofar as it valorises indigenous knowledges, is anti-universal – and is, thus, inimical to the idea of the university”. As much as indigenous knowledge should be promoted, “this should not come at the expense of the university and the kind of knowledge that is supposed to be produced in a university context”, says Associate Professor of Higher Education Patrício Langa.
Notwithstanding the progress made so far by the Rwandan government to promote inclusive education in higher learning education, Janvier Igirubuntu’s educational journey as a visually impaired student has been tough. He struggled at primary level, but his well-equipped secondary school helped him to persevere. Today he is a third-year student.
Students with disabilities in Cameroonian universities face numerous challenges. Even in some of the most prestigious higher education institutions in the country, students who have managed to muscle their way through the schooling system face problems ranging from ill-equipped facilities to ignorant staff and societal stigma.
Ongoing conversations among citizens in Nigeria are spotlighting the need for researchers to get involved in shaping the country’s nascent democracy. Those making the calls maintain that researchers have long left the country’s democracy to be toyed with by the political elite, who often seek what they can gain rather than what they can offer.
Child marriage is one of the most widespread forms of violence against children in Zimbabwe. A total of 5% of girls are married before the age of 15, according to UNICEF. Dr Julieth Gudo, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Cape Town, who was pressured into child marriage at the age of 13, fought back.
President Julius Maada Bio of Sierra Leone, who took office in 2018 and introduced free basic education, is now turning his attention to the tertiary sector, once an education hub in West Africa. In an exclusive interview, he said human capital development has been a flagship project in 2022.
As the Sharm el-Sheikh climate summit, COP27, unfolds, the higher education community is grasping the opportunity to put some of their demands on the conference table in Egypt, including calls to strengthen educational and research capacities of universities and research centres to tackle the impact of climate change.
Ivory-tower African universities are alienating the populations and students they are meant to serve when they should be leading development efforts, creating relevant knowledge and meeting local employment needs, according to Ndungu Kahihu, the head of a Kenyan training programme that seeks to empower youth and match them to jobs.
Student entrepreneurs, or agripreneurs, from various higher education institutions are initiating innovative, life-changing projects to ensure food security, modernising farming methods with the help of technology, sharing their ideas and knowledge with existing farmers – and are hoping to inspire young people to work in the agricultural sector.
“The US$100 billion pledge for climate finance made during COP26 at Glasgow appears to be a pipedream. Needless to say, closing finance gaps and increasing the flow of climate finance ... from both the public and private sector are critical,” says Joyce Kimutai, principal meteorologist at the Kenya Meteorological Department.
The Mozambique government has proposed that companies in the public and private sector should be obliged to contribute 1% of their payroll to finance vocational education institutions in the country. The reason is that Mozambique companies and public bodies are struggling to recruit quality Mozambican graduates.
The capacity-building aspect of climate change should be addressed when climate science activists, researchers and politicians gather for the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP27, in Egypt from 6-18 November. However, it is important to establish what resources and skills are being transferred, says Dr Nomhle Ngwenya, a climate risk analyst and researcher at the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa.
The United Kingdom’s new policy on post-study work visas is proving to be popular among Nigerian students eager to permanently immigrate to that country. The UK now allows international students with a study visa to remain for at least two years after their graduation.
Letwin Pondo, a fourth-year undergraduate student in the department of surveying and geomatics at Zimbabwe’s Midlands State University, runs #SheSpeaksSpatial, an initiative that encourages women to participate in the geospatial sector. Her attendance at international conferences, where she was the youngest participant, empowered her to start some of the initiatives she is involved in.