Author: Jonathan Chuks Mba
Site of publication: Global Partnership
Type of publication: Article
Date of publication: May 3rd, 2017
Africa has an estimated 1,650 higher education institutions, many of them facing challenges that require the intervention of various stakeholders, national governments and development partners in order for the students to maximize their learning outcomes and contribute effectively to the workforce.
Perhaps with the exception of South Africa and countries in Northern Africa, Africa’s economic downturn –in the latter part of the 1970s and beyond, the structural adjustment programs (SAPs) and the brain drain that followed– severely affected the performance of African higher education institutions and curtailed their capacity to deliver quality higher education.
The challenges facing higher education in Africa
Higher education in Africa is under-developed and has been a low priority for the past two decades. Access to higher education for the relevant age group remains at 5%, the lowest regional average in the world, just one-fifth of the global average of about 25%.
Women are underrepresented in higher education, in particular in the science and technology fields. In regards to quality, not a single Western and Central African university features in the rankings of the world’s best 500 academic institutions.
The contradiction of unemployed graduates and a lack of skilled workforce
Currently, most African countries face shortages of human resources and capacity within science, technology, engineering, and mathematics as well as agriculture and health disciplines.
Perhaps with the exception of South Africa and countries in Northern Africa, Africa’s economic downturn –in the latter part of the 1970s and beyond, the structural adjustment programs (SAPs) and the brain drain that followed– severely affected the performance of African higher education institutions and curtailed their capacity to deliver quality higher education
The current pattern of skills production in Africa does not match labor market demand or development needs. The recent trend in African higher education is the low percentage of graduates in areas of engineering, agriculture, health and science.
While graduates of many African higher educational institutions go unemployed, substantial shortages of skilled labor persist. The challenge is to increase both the quantity and the quality of graduates through investments in laboratories and human resources for these disciplines, improve the link with employers to raise relevance and foster strong international collaboration to raise quality.
Causes of the disconnect between supply and demand
The reasons are a disconnect with the needs and skill demands of the economy, no critical mass of quality faculty, insufficient sustainable financing, and shortcomings in governance and leadership.
Higher education in Africa faces severe constraints in terms of attaining critical mass of quality faculty. The average percentage of staff with PhD in public higher education institutions in Africa is estimated to be less than 20%.
Many departments do not have more than 1 or 2 senior professors; many close to the retirement age. This prevents departments and universities from being able to provide relevant higher education training (in part to develop faculty themselves), and establishing vibrant research environments.
The current pattern of skills production in Africa does not match labor market demand or development needs. The recent trend in African higher education is the low percentage of graduates in areas of engineering, agriculture, health and science
Moreover, low salaries of faculty, lack of research funding and equipment, as well as limited autonomy provide disincentives for professors to stay in African universities. Academic disruptions due to strikes by staff and/or students arising from a number of factors including poor administrative leadership and lack of resources are other challenges confronting African higher education.
Promoting collaboration between industry and academic institutions
There is the need for a stronger collaboration and partnership between industry and academic institutions of higher learning in Africa to address the multiple challenges confronting higher education.
Investments into higher education should ensure that the governance framework is conducive to excellence, providing reasonable financial autonomy, and enhance accountability of the institution and the governing body.
Institutions should promote internal decentralization in the administration of resources, and promote the use of management information systems and transparency in administration, use of resources, and communication of results.
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