15 steps closer to quality higher education in Africa
Date of publication
Improving higher education is a complex challenge, but essential to the continent’s development. An expert panel offered these routes to tackling it.
Collaborate across universities: Faced with a lack of essential services such as transport, water, power, healthcare and educational systems, and a government uninterested in investing in research, the question of how African countries can conduct cutting-edge research to tackle problems related to local needs can be difficult. One solution is to form collaborations among scientists in different universities. Sadiq Yusuf, deputy vice chancellor academic affairs, Kampala International University, director of African affairs, TReND, Kampala, Uganda.
Harness the potential of e-learning: Massive open online courses (MOOCs) and online universities such as Singularity University and Minerva are revolutionising learning and Africa has an opportunity to think deeply about providing quality education online, and figure out how to make it less costly and more interactive. James Kassaga Arinaitwe, global fellow, Acumen, Bangalore, India,
Stop neglecting science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM): Providing tertiary education in technical fields can be significantly more costly than social sciences, forcing cash-strapped public education institutions to reduce expansion in this area. This has contributed to higher education systems that are skewed towards the social sciences, rather than teaching applied science, engineering and technology skills, which the continent urgently needs. Álvaro Sobrinho, chair, Planet Earth Institute, London, UK.
But don’t forget the social sciences: Social sciences have an important role to play here too. There are many stories of technological development not serving African communities because their needs weren’t understood. If we can envisage greater collaboration across the disciplines, technology and science can deliver on their promise and potential. Can teams of researchers include social scientists alongside natural scientists and engineers? The Ebola outbreak is just the most recent and headline-catching event to have shown what happens when the social dimensions are ignored. Jonathan Harle, senior programme manager, Inasp, Oxford, UK.
Invest in quality: More and more students are gaining access but how useful is it to scale up inefficiencies? A quality programme would have a curriculum that is reviewed and refreshed with emerging content. Ideally learning goals would be re-examined and strengthened in tandem with the human capital needs of the economy. Beatrice Muganda, director of higher education, Partnership for African Social and Governance Research, Nairobi, Kenya.
Redefine ‘quality’ research: African researchers are challenged to perform on an international stage, but also show how their work contributes to local needs. When the former pushes for publication in the high impact journals this can often be at odds with ways of communicating research which better serve the latter. What is understood as quality is often defined in the north and that imbalances things. The way quality is measured (through the journal rankings and related metrics) is a narrow measure, but is extremely influential in global debates on higher education. Jonathan Harle
Make academia relevant: It is critical for African researchers to focus on the pressing challenges facing the continent, from climate change to human rights to transformations in science and technology. The key is to develop vibrant African outlets of knowledge production, and strengthen collaborations for African researchers within the continent and with the African academic diaspora, as well as with other international colleagues. Paul Tiyambe Zeleza, vice president of academic affairs and professor of history, Quinnipiac University, Connecticut, US.
Link study to jobs: Ensuring the relevance of training is critical to ensure that capacities are developed that will enable university graduates to find highly skilled jobs in their home countries and go on to play a crucial role as agents of change over the continent. This is where the links between universities, the local and international private sector and policymakers become crucial for facilitating the transfer of knowledge from and to private businesses and political decision makers. Charlotte Siegerstetter, implementing manager, GIZ, Tlemcen, Algeria.
Acknowledge the problems: Corruption and nepotism have contributed to the failure of higher education in Africa. In Nigeria, some universities are going through a financial crunch and unable to pay staff salaries because they spent so much money on the election. There is a need to transform our senior management. These problems can’t continue, a concerted movement for change is called for. Sola Adesola, senior lecturer, Oxford Brookes University, Oxford UK.
Start innovation hubs: We need huge amounts of money supporting innovation. Having incubation centres at each university where even social science students are engaged in experiments pertinent to what their “world of work” would look like will further creativity and solve some of our education quality challenges such as churning out unskilled youth. However, this takes leadership on the government and private education part. James Kassaga Arinaitwe
Don’t just copy out-of-date western models: Our education leaders and policymakers should be careful about copy-and-paste models from the west. Harvard, MIT, Oxford and many universities are struggling to remain relevant to the growing number of online courses and universities. In fact they are surviving in part because of the influx of international students from Asia, Africa and other parts of the world. So should Africa continue copying what top universities in the west are doing, or should we think of another approach? James Kassaga Arinaitwe
Follow Ethiopia’s footsteps: The government of Ethiopia is a great example of a government prioritising higher education and making it more relevant to local needs. For example, it has rapidly expanded its higher education system in recent years, and introduced a policy designed to shift the balance of subjects in all public universities away from the humanities and towards the sciences and technology, on a 70:30 basis. The University of Jimma is a great success story. Since the department of materials science and engineering opened in 2013, it has rapidly expanded to become one of the top research schools in the sub-Saharan region. Álvaro Sobrinho
Work with the private sector: As the leading source of job creation, the private sector can help institutions equip the continent’s youth with skills for the workplace. For example, businesses can partner with local universities to create high quality STEM curricula. Businesses could help overworked faculties to design and deliver courses that equip students with both a deep understanding of science and technology, as well as practical skills for the workplace. Álvaro Sobrinho
Convince governments that universities are the route to development: We need to persuade African governments that investing in higher education can help their countries reach middle-income status faster, an aspiration for many. For example, South Korea transformed itself from an aid-recipient country to a donor country through rapid economic growth and prosperity in just 50 years. Álvaro Sobrinho
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