Damtew Teferra's blog

Tempest in the Rankings Teapot

It is that season when ranking entities announce their “findings” on the comparative stature of the world’s universities. Almost certainly, the “premier” universities remain at the top and the rest are relegated to the bottom—African universities in particular. The “rankers” go about their business some with audacity but too often without sufficient concern for veracity, authenticity or integrity in their methodologies or (especially in the cae of Africa) lack of data.

Facts vs. Perceptions

For the last three years, the University of Kwazulu-Natal in South Africa stood at the top of the country in academic productivity as measured by the Department of Higher Education and Training. The Department undertakes the task using parameters that meticulously measure research and academic outputs.

Yet, according to the newly released QS rankings—which allocates 60 percent of the criteria to academic reputation—the University now stands below six South African universities. This points to a glaring tension between data and dubious assessment based on reputation.

Building Reputation: Unpacking the Numbers

The QS ranking is ostensibly a mix of survey responses and data across six indicators, compiled and weighted to formulate a final score. It claims that over 70,000 academics and 30,000 employers contributes to the rankings through the QS global surveys. QS states that it analyzes 99 million citations from 10.3 million papers before 950 institutions are ranked.

Times Higher Education states that their methodology is a unique piece of research that involves “questionnaires [that] ask over 10,500 scholars from 137 countries about the universities they perceive to be best for teaching and research.” It claims that the Academic Reputation Survey “uses United Nations data as a guide to ensure that the response coverage is as representative of world scholarship as possible”. They go on to state that where countries were over or underrepresented, the responses were weighted to “more closely reflect the actual geographical distribution of scholars” throwing more uncertainty on the changing parameters of the rankings.

There appears to be a conflation of “the world of scholarship” with “geographical distribution of scholars” without defining clearly what a “scholar” or “scholarship” is. China, India, and Brazil may have the largest number of “scholars” and by that account more scholarship, yet however they barely make it to the top in the rankings.

According to the Times, only 2 percent of the survey participants were Africans, presumably located on the continent. As about 50 percent of research in Africa is undertaken in South Africa, one presumes that the number of survey participants in the rest of Africa thus tapers off to one percent. Around one hundred academics in Africa, outside of South Africa, would have participated in the reputation index “evenly spread across academic disciplines”. Thus, for the 11 disciplines considered in the Times rankings, that would mean about 10 responses per discipline from Africa.

Rankings Indices

Indeed, rankings are largely about reputation. According to QS reputation is a calculation with 40 percent from academics and 20 percent from employers. An institution improves its position in the rankings if it scores big in these two indices based on perception.

The reasons why the world, especially Africa, would be well served to ignore these rankings are numerous. Let’s consider the QS ranking that puts considerable weight on student-faculty ratio. Without exception, the African higher sector is expanding massively. This has created very high student-staff ratios forcing African institutions to face difficult choices if improving their standing in the rankings is important—either freeze expansion or raise the number of academics. Increasing the number of academics would require massive investments, creative policies and long-term commitments, that few institutions are positioned to contemplate.

Another parameter used in the rankings is international faculty ratio and international student ratio. South Africa and Botswana and to some extent Namibia (in Sub-Saharan Africa, SSA) are the only countries that attract international faculty, mostly from the continent. This remains a dream for the rest of Africa.

Likewise, improving the percentage of international students is another rankings criteria used by QS and others.  The number of African countries that attract international students is very small and includes South Africa, Ghana, Kenya and Uganda. Virtually all of these “international” students come from other African countries with the exception of South Africa. Even when students enroll from overseas, it would only be for a semester or two.

The nature of these rankings insures that the institutions at the top are mostly from the US, year in and year out. In reviewing the ranking published by the Times Higher Education, the same could be said about those on the list at the “middle” and “lower” end where some may have moved up a notch and others moved down a notch.

Emphasizing reputation-based criteria does not affect the standing of those established at the top. These institutions tend to be immune to strikes, financial strain, internal strife, or other critical challenges faced by institutions in the developing world.

Manipulating the Rankings

Some enterprising entities, calling themselves data analysts are already emerging to “help” African institutions do better in the rankings. One flagship university in East Africa is suspected of pursuing that approach, for which it was reported paid a hefty service fee.

The aggressive positioning of these entities masquerading as service providers—often at major events where senior institutional administrators meet—is nothing more than a swindle. Institutions should use their limited resources effectively rather than pursue shortcuts to an improved ranking.

The Option of Withdrawal

Over a year ago, I got a phone call from a vice-chancellor at a university in South Africa who suggested coordinating a withdrawal from the rankings by the country’s institutions. The proposal was to encourage all universities in the country to refuse to participate and instead to dedicate all their resources, energy and time to more relevant concerns. Rhoades, one of the premier universities in South Africa, already refuses to participate in the rankings, so a precedent already exists.

An international roundtable on rankings—supported by the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies at the University of British Columbia—took place in May 2017 in Vancouver. The roundtable deliberated on the scope and significance of university rankings and proposed concrete actions and interventions on the issue in the future.

Conclusion

As stated by Philip G. Altbach, an internationally-recognized scholar on international higher education, rankings are not disappearing anytime soon. As more rankings join the fray, they are more likely to generate more buzz to insure their survival and influence.

Numerous ranking entities generate multiple findings related to the reputation of institutions. As the former Vice Chancellor of Rhoades University, Saleem Badat, stated, “Rankings, in their current form, serve no meaningful educational or social purpose,” but the tempest in the rankings teapot continues undeterred.

Show on Jobs site: 
Disable left side advertisement?: 
Is this diversity newsletter?: 
Is this Career Advice newsletter?: 
Advice Newsletter publication dates: 
Sunday, June 25, 2017
Diversity Newsletter publication date: 
Sunday, June 25, 2017

Tuition in South Africa: Economics, Politics, and Defiance

Financing higher education institutions is fraught with challenges around the world. However, nowhere in the world is this problem more pronounced than in Sub-Saharan Africa, save South Africa—until recently, that is.

The South African higher education sector has been in paralysis for a while now engulfed in student protests, including one under the banner of “Fees Must Fall”. The anticipated response to the “Fees Must Fall” protest finally came on September 19, 2016. Strikes on some campuses across the country escalated even before the conclusion of Minister Blade Nzimande’s speech.

 

The New Directive: The Core Components

According to the new directive from the Minister of Higher Education and Training, universities will individually set the fee increase taking into consideration effective operation, quality and affordability. The fee adjustment, while flexible, was capped at 8 percent and it is left to the respective universities to fix their fees.

The government has expressed a commitment to finding the resources to support the children of all poor‚ working and middle class families—those with a household income of up to R600,000 (c. USD 42,000) per annum—with subsidy to cover the gap between the 2015 fee and the adjusted 2017 fee at their institution.

The government ruling is along the lines of my earlier argument that those who can afford to pay for higher education, should pay—fees should not fall for all. This position should be vigorously espoused for the sake of the poor and the “missing middle” who otherwise subsidize the education of the affluent and the wealthy should fees fall for all.

 

Economics: The Numbers

In 2011, poverty levels in South Africa stood at 45.5 percent including upper-bound poverty line. (South Africa publishes a set of three national poverty lines—the food poverty line, lower-bound poverty line and upper-bound poverty line—as poverty measurement.) Poverty in South Africa is described under three lines: This translates into roughly 23 million people living below the upper-bound poverty line. More than 9 out of 10 (94.2 percent) poor people in the country were black Africans—a proportion that increased slightly from 2006 (92.9 percent) and 2009 (93.2 percent). The number of people living below the food line increased to 15.8 million in 2009 from 12.6 million in 2006,

According to Matthew Lester, a professor of tax law at Rhodes University, about half a million South Africans earn more than R500,000 (USD 35,000) per annum. Those households earning R600,000, the figure established by the directive, represent an even smaller number. This directive is visibly generous, in a country with an estimated 15 million households where many live under extreme poverty.

The new directive effectively provides support to all needy—and some less needy— households that can actually afford to pay. The figures, as generous as they appear, may however need recalculation for large household families characteristic of South African and other African countries.

 

Unbridled Ideology

In an ideal world where wealth might be fairly well distributed, the virtues of “free” higher education, “free” health care, and “free” accommodation” would be just. For instance, in Scandinavian countries, where distribution of wealth is fairly equitable, “free” social services, as education, health and others, to all citizens makes sense and are equitable. However, the politics of free services in South Africa, a country with deeply unequal society, systematically built by the architects of Apartheid, it is simply misinformed and self-defeating.

Thus a quixotic slogan such as “free education for all” may make sense in countries where the economic stratification is more just and the social safety strands more robust. Similar policies may also be relevant for countries that are either emerging from a massive national crisis or starting from a scratch. South Africa is neither.

 

Naive Defiance?

The relentless protest against tuition fees and fee hikes, which at times was marred by the depressing news of serious vandalism, may be justifiable in this unequal society. Now that virtually all these student demands are effectively met, continuing the strike on issues of funding may not seem to make a lot of sense. It may not be described as informed resistance nor could it be identified as defiance grounded in principle nor meaningful ideologies that address the needs of the poor and the missing middle.

The recent history of student protests has not however revolved only around issues of funding and tuition fees, though these have been particularly prominent since the realization of modern democracy in South Africa. Additional issues such as transformation, decolonization and others have been fueling the protests as well. While the “fees-must-fall” rally has been the high-pitch of the protest, these others have (so far) not generated the same level of sentiments or conviction.

 

Conclusion

As noted in my earlier article, the idea of free higher education, or what student activists have termed “#FeesMustFall”, is appealing. It is, however, inherently regressive in societies and countries where massive social and economic inequities abound.

The stated subsidy that includes households of such high income bracket (of R600,000), may not be economically tenable in a country where less than half a million households earn more than R500,000. Even more, should the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into Higher Education and Training Funding (which is expected to release its report in mid-2017) recommend a leaner provision, it may likely trigger another round of protests.

According to a BBC report on the new directives which quotes critics “this is higher than the 6% inflation rate, and will make university education unaffordable for many students.” Given the solid figures here, such criticism and reflections, may be without much meri

Show on Jobs site: 
Smart Title: 
Tuition in South Africa: <br>Economics, Politics, and Defiance

Shifting Grounds in Higher Education Partnerships

I had the privilege of speaking at the recent Norad-organized conference “Knowledge for Development” which prompted me to reflect on some of the emerging qualities of the NORHED program and others in South-North partnership. In so doing, I will single out three emerging—and “progressive”—trends with some implications for African higher education, ironically in a time when many in the Global North seem to be disinclined towards development cooperation.

Long term commitment

The literature on development cooperation, including university cooperation, is replete with challenges of forging successful, productive and truly equal partnerships between institutions in the North and the South. One of the persistent concerns of such programs and partnership schemes have been the brevity of their lifetime. Many development partners typically support higher education projects for three years. This practice has been often criticized for its lackluster impact on institution and capacity building.

The Paris Declaration (2005) and Accra Agenda for Action (2008) on international development cooperation were promulgated to curtail this deeply rooted practice guided by five principles including ownership, alignment, harmonisation, results and mutual accountability. Increasingly the partnership trend is moving from short- to long-term cooperation, in a number of cases to five years, evident in recent NORHED and DAAD cases. This is not to state that cases of long periods of partnerships did not already exist: for instance, the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA) funded a major university project in Ethiopia for nearly 30 years though that might not have been the initial intent.

South in the Driver’s Seat

The Northern institutions are manifestly dominant in the partnerships—leading, managing, and coordinating the partnerships—often exclusively. This has been one of the most chronicled and criticized aspects of academic partnerships attributed to the North’s proximity and implicit entitlement to the resources.

Måns Fellesson and his colleague Paula Mählck, in the study “Modes and Premises of Transnational Mobility and Collaboration at the Intersection of International Development Aid and Global Science Regimes – The Case of Mozambique and Tanzania”, have analyzed the North-South partnership dynamics in the context of SIDA support.

In this study, that will be published soon in the International Journal of African Higher Education, they observed the frequently unclear and inferior role of participation in international collaboration and “token presence” of Africans in Global North research projects. Access to and knowledge of funding opportunities became an early determinant in the “pecking order” of the partners involved in the collaboration. They concluded that the African researchers lack of insight and access to funding opportunities in the Global North which significantly reduced their ability to influence and shape collaborative research projects.

It is refreshing that Norway has made a decision that explicitly and directly encourages Southern institutions to lead and manage joint international projects. According to the recent African proposals submitted to NORAD for NORHED program support, the majority of them have taken the new approach. Furthermore, the program is intent on more resources and expenditures for the institutions in the South. It also encourages multi-institutional and multi-country partnerships, South-South-North.

This indeed is a progressive policy in the North-South partnerships in which the South is encouraged to lead the partnerships as well as utilize the majority of the joint resources. It may be speculative, but this approach may play a positive role in the search for sustainability—a common recent thread among development agencies in the North.

Africa now attracts considerable—economic, political and cultural—interest from around the world. It is thus important that the continent insists on the ground rules for meaningful and productive conversation and the determination of desired outcome in its engagement with the new and old crop of partners, unencumbered by the uneven power dynamics.

Diaspora mobilization

The recruitment and deployment of the (intellectual) diaspora has been on the radar for some time now. In early 2000, the French government supported the Institut de Recherche pour le Développement a major global study to document and analyze the state, role and implications of the intellectual diaspora, including Africans. That study generated a rich body of knowledge on this emerging—and important—trend.

Recently, the European Union sponsored a similar study which chronicled the issues—opportunities and challenges—of deploying the African intellectual diaspora. The Carnegie Corporation of New York has also recently committed funding to deploy the intellectual diaspora targeting a number of African countries. The African Union has also officially declared its diaspora as the sixth sub-region, which it hopes to actively draw in the transformation of the continent.

To be sure, recruiting and deploying the African intellectual diaspora is beset with multiple social, cultural, academic, economic and political challenges as the forces that trigger the movement of human capital are numerous, diverse, complex, and dynamic. This intricate reality calls for robust, multifaceted and multidimensional approaches—including the emerging practice noted here—to effectively harness it. A while back, I argued that deploying the intellectual diaspora is mutually beneficial both for the North and the South—and thus the strategy is as “good for the goose as it is for the gander”.

Conclusion

Since the last decade, Africa has generated considerable economic, political, cultural and strategic interest globally. Accordingly, the continent attracts numerous players in different fronts—including partnerships in higher education development. Though interest in development cooperation (otherwise known as aid) is largely waning, some progressive trends are emerging in a few corners. These trends include a long-term commitment to joint academic and research cooperation, the shifting of the Southern partners to the driver seats to lead and manage cooperation, as well as the deployment of the intellectual diaspora.  

These are commendable—and progressive—policy developments and practices which took decades of intellectual debates, political maneuvering and lessons of experience to materialize. Their success and impact however depend on 1) moderating existing power dynamics 2) changing the entrenched discourse and culture and 3) establishing a new norm and protocol of engagement and implementation—subjects for future (higher education) research and analysis.

Show on Jobs site: 

International Scholarships: Regional Studies in Africa

The manner in which scholarships are rolled out has evolved as higher education delivery and opportunity have diversified on the African continent. This article is prompted by a new “variant” of traditional scholarship programs unveiled recently by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) in Eastern Africa, supported by the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development. At the invitation of DAAD, I served as a member of the panel of experts to select East African universities for the competitive sub-regional scholarship which gave me an opportunity to observe the initiative up close.

This scholarship scheme is unusual in that DAAD first invited universities to submit applications to host graduate students from across the subregion. More than 80 institutions—public and private, large and small, faith-based and non-sectarian, established and new, comprehensive and specialized—from Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda—applied. The review panel evaluated 65 institutions for the award in a range of academic disciplines. To enhance the transparency and credibility of the exercise DAAD invited the Inter-University Council for Eastern Africa (IUCEA) to co-chair the selection meeting.

The Selection—and the Intention

After a thorough review of the proposals, the panel (composed of African and expatriate academics) selected 37 institutions from the sub-region to host 165 masters and 135 PhD students. These institutions subsequently announced a call for applications for individual scholarships in the areas of their DAAD award. It is expected that the students selected will reflect the regional and continental diversity intended by the scholarship and that the cohort will not be dominated by national students, as often is the case in similar initiatives.

The New Variant—What is New?

Studying in-country or in-region with scholarships secured from international entities—overseas governments, foundations, or bilateral bodies, including DAAD—is not a new development. A number of “inter-regional” scholarship programmes sponsored by the African Union Commission as well as one funded by the World Bank, both called “Centers of Excellence (COEs)”, come to mind.

Most in-region scholarships do not include provisions for international study, although additional resources are occasionally made available for some students to pursue further study visits abroad. However, the DAAD initiative has included extra funding for overseas experience in order to advance their alumni.

The Established vs the New—An Observation

A consistent pattern was noticeable in the applications submitted to the DAAD scholarship from the universities interested in hosting funded students. Interestingly, the smaller and less well-known institutions generally submitted meticulously prepared applications while applications from well-established institutions were generally weaker and lacking in comparison. The deficient information left the selection panel scrambling for more information—complicating the task of the selection process.

One may wonder, if a complete application is an indication of heightened interest in, and commitment to, the scholarship opportunity.  Is it fair to assume that the sub-standard applications, presented by a good number of the established/flagship universities (or their units), could be construed as lack of interest and commitment? Or is it that the established universities have become complacent and less likely to respond to the extensive information required to establish eligibility?

The DAAD Experience—Ten Aspects

The numerous advantages of international scholarships are well established. “Hybridized” forms of scholarships—internationally-funded scholarships at national/regional African institutions—have been recognized for their positive contributions to higher education. These include: high retention of graduates (less brain drain), relevant curricula and programmes, familiar territory to students, and minimized language/culture/social barriers.

The DAAD experience is an interesting new variant in that it incorporates common practices and more.

  1. Provides a cheaper alternative for scholarship programs, though students may not benefit from the full experience of an overseas studies
  2. Makes possible a larger scholarship cohort (as the cost of study is typically cheaper locally/regionally)
  3. Provides a non-discriminatory and competitive regime that allows all institutions to compete equally
  4. Creates an opportunity for institutions to establish new programs based on anticipated needs and strength
  5. Provides dual capacity building possibilities for staff and institutions—studying and working at same institution
  6. Raises the profile of institutions on the continent  as they advance more self-driven (contrary to externally-enforced) quality enhancement efforts
  7. Responds to national/regional efforts in quality assurance
  8. Expands regional and external scholarship and training opportunities for students
  9. Fosters national and regional mobility of African students and academics
  10. Fosters regionalization and regional integration and help expand the effort of building centers of excellence at sub-regional and continental level.

Furthermore, this scholarship is peculiar in that it does not require institutions or students to be involved with German institutions. The scholarship is free from the usual restrictions that obligate beneficiaries to find partners in the home country of the funding entity. Nevertheless, part of DAAD’s scholarship package often includes research opportunities at German universities, if students indicate interest.

Cooperation—Reality vs Aspiration

The two-step selection process—first, the selection of institutions and second, the selection of students—is neither simple nor cheap. It involves cumbersome logistics for both the applicants and the funders. Successful implementation requires heightened engagement and commitment.

The Paris and Dakar Declaration advocate for joint deployment of resources of many development actors to maximize synergies. If multiple programs could be bundled together to develop similar schemes, the impact of the initiatives would be far reaching. We are however acutely aware of the logistical, administrative and political conundrums that occur with the deployment of such scholarships.

Conclusion

The DAAD scholarship uniquely encourages institutions to compete on their strength, without discriminating by ownership (public/private), faith (religious/non religious), or age (established/new). Furthermore, it does not demand the beneficiaries to partner with German institutions which departs from regular patterns where scholarship programs are often structured to benefit the funding country.

This new variant rolled out by DAAD has a number of traits that other interested parties might consider to help develop and sustain Africa’s human capital. It is however naïve to expect others to immediately follow suit, in the absence of any quid pro quo in such an approach that has been typical of contemporary development cooperation.

 

Show on Jobs site: 
Smart Title: 
International Scholarships: <br>Regional Studies in Africa

Treacherous Ambivalence

“Going Global 2014” Conference took place in Miami with over 1,000 participants from 70 countries that included ministers, senior government officials, policy makers, institutional leaders, academics, and researchers.

In a discussion entitled ‘’Post-2015 Development Framework: The Role of Tertiary Education,” it was stated that the post-2015 MDGs (Millennium Development Goals), may not speak to the development of higher education sector directly. Many have been lamenting on this oversight for over a decade due to its impact on higher development in concerned countries. Even more will be disoriented by the prospect of yet another decade of higher education marginalization in the MDGs.

One of the arguments for the probable exclusion of higher education from the 2015-MDGs was a lack of sufficient and direct evidence to link higher education to socio-economic development. Many in the audience were awed, to say the least, by this ominous, entrenched and hollow argument.

A mountain of evidence

Unesco notes that “At no time in history has it been more important to invest in higher education.” The World Bank stresses that the skills of the knowledge economy are built at the tertiary education level and improving tertiary education systems should be high on Africa’s development agenda. It speaks to this effect in a number of visible studies which include Higher Education in Developing Countries: Peril and Promise (2000), Constructing Knowledge Societies (2002), and Accelerating Catch-Up: Tertiary Education for Growth in Sub-Saharan Africa (2008), among others.

The African Development Bank supports the development of engineering, research, and science and technology with universities and regional vocational training institutions at the center. The Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA) urges Africa to invest “adequate resources [in universities to play their] rightful role in the global production of scientific, technological and industrial knowledge”. The African Union Commission underscores “the recognized link between high-level human resources, knowledge production and sustainable development”.

In an article due to be published on the International Journal of African Higher Education, David Bloom and his Harvard University colleagues once again stress the importance of higher education to development. Their article challenges beliefs that tertiary education has little role in promoting economic growth and alleviating poverty and presents evidence about the impact that tertiary education can have on economic growth and poverty reduction, with a focus on the countries of Sub-Saharan Africa.

Needless to say, teachers, doctors, nurses, engineers, accountants, managers, economists, academics, to mention some, are critical to meeting the development goals of nations. There is no debate that these knowledge workers are critical to meeting the MDGs nor is there ambiguity about higher education institutions as the ultimate citadel for training, developing and harvesting these skills. One then questions the virtue of such a conversation in this era of the knowledge economy where higher education stands out as main contributor, player and driver. It is simply baffling why such a flimsy position still thrives and continues to impact the development of the sector.

Africa’s political position

In anticipation of the MDGs, the African Union has taken an official response called “Common African Position on the Post-2015 Millennium Development Agenda” which stated:

We must achieve excellence in human resources capacity development through an improvement in the quality of education and training by: investing in learning infrastructures; increasing the use of ICT; ensuring higher completion rates; promoting pre-schooling, integrated adult education and tertiary education; and improving the quality and conditions of service of educators and trainers.

It went on:

Enhancing equity will require: improving and sustaining progress on gender parity at all levels of education, with special emphasis on secondary and tertiary education; creating a positive environment for girls and boys at school; increasing the representation of female teachers, especially in science and technology; and eliminating human trafficking and child labour, thus allowing children to benefit from educational facilities for their full development.

The lack of a strong statement that speaks directly and unequivocally to higher education, only mentioned twice as “tertiary education”, is an obvious oversight. It is doubtful that this position ties higher education to the MDGs, let alone advances the competitive edge of Africa in the global knowledge economy. The disconnect is palpable between this watered-down position and the numerous endeavours of the African Union—such as establishing the Pan-African University,  promoting higher education quality, fostering harmonization and mobility—to build a “prosperous continent.”

Alternative discourse

The 2015-MDGs need to speak explicitly to the expansion and revitalization of higher education in the advancement of socio-economic development. Not doing so may have a chilling effect on the sector by depriving the sector of needed external sources and limiting the deployment and channeling of local resources. It is imperative that the MDGs embrace higher education directly and wholeheartedly. In a case where the new post-2015 millennium development regimes become a reality in their current form, nations, concerned institutions, and higher education leaders and associations need to push for alternative schemes—and stronger positions.

Conclusion

As the next phase of the MDGs is formulated, it is paramount that unwavering support to higher education must be rightfully positioned as one of the “designated priorities”. With the existing evidence connecting higher education to socio-economic development, the argument for further evidence about whether higher education contributes to development and poverty reduction is simply a meaningless distraction. To sum up, no amount of unfounded ambivalence should be allowed to conceal that higher education, without any doubt, immeasurably contributes to social, cultural and economic progress.

Show on Jobs site: 

The African Quest for Nurturing Doctoral Education

Now that African higher education is undergoing “massification,” the quest for PhDs for the proliferating new institutions has become paramount. The tension inherent between expansion and consolidation has been further exacerbated by the state of higher education, national development agendas and global competitiveness of the region.

The Rationale: The Obvious but the Obscure

PhDs prepare the medical doctors for a healthy society; the engineers to build the roads, bridges, dams, hospitals and schools; the agriculturalists to ensure food security; the educators to shape the next generation of teachers, not to mention economists, lawyers, scientists, business specialists —all contributing to the development of a ‘knowledge’ society. As obvious as this may be, many still pose questions on the rationale of higher education and production of PhDs. My intention here is to unequivocally state that building PhD programs is not simply to encourage “intellectual curiosity” but to address a critical aspect of national development. No country can develop without robust knowledge citadels fortified with PhDs.  In the era of knowledge economies, nations shun domestic knowledge domains at their own peril.

The compelling reasons for reiterating the obvious emanates from the plea by Dr. Dlamini Zuma, Chairperson of the African Union Commission, who stressed the need to communicate the critical role of higher education to political leaders. Ms. Zuma, in her keynote speech at a symposium organized by the National Research Foundation (South Africa) and the Carnegie Corporation of New York, told the audience that “No country grows on the basis of primary education only…and higher education and PhD production are critical for the development trajectory of Africa”—as well as a major part of African Union Commission’s Agenda 2063. Her statement may help to put to rest the undue emphasis on primary education at the expense of higher education—a pervasive view rooted in a flawed policy that persists.

These polemics from a head of a regional political organization such as the AUC may generate some cynicism but it is important to recognize the power of such pronouncements from an organization whose endorsements may influence member states and politicians to increase funding, to explore more external sources of support for the sector, to  promulgate favourable policies and create environments that discourage prohibitive regimes and guidelines.

Intensive Efforts

A number of countries are developing plans to boost PhD production; Nigeria and Ghana have plans to produce 3,500 and 1,500 PhDs respectively. Ethiopia, has massively invested in its higher education system, with an ambitious plan to produce 5,000 PhDs in 10 years. South Africa currently produces some 1,700 graduates a year and is intending an increase to 5,000 by 2030.

The quest for PhDs is pushing the frontiers of new modalities. It appears that the traditional model of multiyear, fulltime, overseas study has become untenable, if not obsolete. Even the sandwich program now pales in the face of massive need. The approach that might quench this thirst is to increase local and regional production capacity; countries are encouraging their institutions to expedite its production. The South African government provides institutional rewards for graduating PhDs in a period of three years—in the process, putting pressure on institutions, academics and administrative practice.

Local PhD production, especially in small countries, has been problematic for a number of reasons. These include inbreeding, long completion periods, limited programs, shortage of advisors, weak infrastructure, poor funding, among others. The problem is further exacerbated by the aging faculty—a pervasive phenomenon across African higher education.

The Tension between Quality and Modality

Quality is an elusive concept especially when measurement is viewed through the prism of output—publications or innovations—or input—measured by resources or facilities. The ineffective and controversial nature of international instruments measuring quality in the African context is well documented. Regardless, the issue of PhD quality is too important to be exempt from scrutiny.

It is particularly worrying that one of the modalities of PhD production currently relies on publications alone. With fraudulent publication outlets mushrooming across the world against the backdrop of weak capacity of African institutions to track them—quality as measured by publications alone must be moderated by mandatory public defences. Furthermore, the universities must be the only entity granting PhDs. The quality assurance bodies need to play an even more active role here.

To be sure, producing a PhD is simply the beginning of a long journey into the academia [or high-end professional] life. That onerous journey, worthy of its effort, could only be successfully completed with appropriate and sustained resources, policies and enabling space. It will do no good to invest in the production of PhDs, if reasonable working and living conditions are not guaranteed—the absence of which will trigger and fuel brain drain. Re-entry grants, mentorship, post-doctoral opportunities, joint collaboration schemes, enabling scholarly space, and reward systems need to be seriously considered with the expansion and enhancement of doctorate studies.

Self-reliance Supplanting Heavy Dependence

A number of initiatives are currently underway to expand postgraduate studies in Africa. These include the African Economic Research Consortium (AERC), Consortium for Advanced Research Training in Africa (CARTA), Regional Initiative in Science and Education (RISE), Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM), University Science, Humanities and Engineering Partnerships in Africa (USHEPiA). AUC’s Pan African University and the Nyerere Fellowship supported by European Union Commission, along with the Center of Excellence initiative funded by the World Bank are some of the emerging ones.

Research and to some extent PhD studies in Africa have been heavily dependent on external donors. Despite criticisms of donor support, it has been central to bankroll African research—and in the process, a substantial number of African postgraduate students. As important as they may have been, the necessary expansion of PhD production cannot continue to depend on this support alone.

As the current global economic crisis and its consequences for development funding has proved, Africa must depend on its own resources and its own policies to build this critical pillar of sustainable development. This is particularly imperative at a time when the region has recorded sustained economic growth while its historical development partners have suffered economic turmoil.

The Nature of a PhD

African higher education is known for paradoxes. While massive access is now the trend, the system in the region remains elitist and many graduates remain un/under-employed. This fate is faced by undergraduates and PhDs in the region where concern for the continent’s competitiveness remains high due to a deficit of high-end expertise.

Decisions on what kind of postgraduate programs (Masters or PhDs), in what fields (hard, soft or professional), at which institution (the flagship or the new ones), on what modality (sandwich or entirely local), on duration (full time or part-time), at what pace (three, four or five years), at what cost (free tuition or fee-based) are not that easy. Striking the right balance between interest, need, and capacity will determine the success of this effort.

Summary

The deliberations of the Pretoria workshop and the list of participating bodies are expected to be fully published on 17 November issue of University World News (which compliments the earlier one published on 02 November 2013 issue available at http://www.universityworldnews.com/article.php?story=20131102155412705).

 

 

Show on Jobs site: 
Smart Title: 
The African Quest <br>for Nurturing Doctoral Education

Rationing and Rationalizing in Africa

A certain African country  pays academics handsomely for publishing scholarly articles. It also rewards them for graduating Masters and PhD students even though academics are  employed to do just that. Compensation is such that the more productive an academic is, the more resources at his/her disposal. In an ​Organization for Social Science Research in Eastern and Southern Africa (OSSREA) study that culminated in the book, Financing Higher Education in Sub-Saharan Africa*, this practice is an anomaly.

The issue of financing higher education is increasingly a matter of interest to diverse stakeholders: governments, universities, ministries, academics, staff, students, and families/guardians. Even in the richest countries—and universities—in the world, the issue of funding is a constant concern and to be sure, there is never enough.

In African countries in severe financial straits, it is intriguing how institutions even operate—to be more cynical, even open their doors to students—when they only receive a fraction of their operational budget from governments without additional sources of funding. A case in point is Zambia where the universities have been receiving only 20 per cent of their budget from the government  for a number of years. In the case of Tanzania, the budgetary requests of the University of Dar es Salaam has increased from nearly Tanzanian Shillings 27 billion in 2000-01 to 132 billion in 2009-10—an increase of nearly 80 per cent; and yet government approval rates decreased from 82.6 per cent to 37 per cent during the same period.

In Ethiopia, a country with unprecedented higher education expansion and massive input to the sector, universities face wide ranging challenges from accommodating expanded enrollment to unattractive academic salaries that are continuously devalued by high inflation. As a paradox, a number of these institutions however are known to return quite a large sum of unused funds to the treasury. For instance, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia’s flagship, returned 60 per cent and 37 per cent of the total budget in 2009-10 and 2010-11 respectively. The point here is that, while resources are critical, their deployment and utilization are contingent on systems that are autonomous, efficient, and professional.

In Uganda, the liberalization of the economy has been accompanied by the expansion of privatization in higher education both in public and private domains. For instance, Makerere University, Uganda’s flagship, has expanded enrollment by what Philip G. Altbach calls the “privatization of public universities”,  aggressively recruiting more privately and fewer publicly funded students. The University has increased its revenue from 30 per cent in 2000 to more than 65 per cent in 2009/10 to 80 per cent recently. This aggressive resource mobilization—currently practiced or considered by other institutions locally and regionally—has been a financial boon, for many academics and university departments. Many however maintain that the “Makerere miracle” contributed to  “mission creep” on quality and research productivity.

Botswana, one of the few middle income countries in the continent, recognizes that “diamonds are not forever” and anticipates decreased revenues from the diamond boon within a decade. As a consequence, the country is striving to streamline resources required to develop its human capital while closely examining existing funding schemes that have been borne predominantly by the government.

Zimbabwe is one of the growing numbers of African countries where governments are creating universities in every political/ethnic region without particular regard to need, relevance or viability. Zimbabwe fulfilled that pledge just recently. In the meantime, the country’s popular Cadetship Scheme, a funding model for needy students, has been struggling with massive debts that have had serious academic and management consequences.

Establishing universities in every administrative region of a country is not simply unique to Zimbabwe. It indeed has become common to many election and political manifestos in Africa, from Ethiopia to South Africa, from Ghana to Zambia—probably as artifact of the democratization process in the continent. Critics however lambaste such expansion schemes as reckless and assert that resources are being used ineffectively only to establish the proverbial “glorified high schools”. In a number of countries, these developments have been instrumental in pursuing egalitarianism in higher education at the expense of diversification and consolidation.

In Madagascar, the system of compensation has been largely faulted for inflating their teaching loads. Disproportionate amounts of "complementary hours" are paid to contract and full-time academics and contribute to budget inefficiencies due to government-defined levels of teaching duties. Complementary hours can reach as many as four to five times the obligatory hours per year per academic, and have become a means for most academics to supplement low earnings while consuming resources needed for other academic activities.

In Malawi, the recurrent unit cost of university education, in terms of GDP per capita, is the highest in the world. According to the World Bank, in the period 2000 to 2008, the recurrent unit cost stood at 2,147 per cent of GDP per capita—which is seven times more than the Sub-Saharan African average. And yet, government subsidies to public higher education which runs as high as 90 per cent disproportionately benefits students from the highest income quintile.

To be sure, in many African countries, the volume of government support to higher education has increased considerably. Notwithstanding the challenges, the Cadetship Scheme in Zimbabwe and Trust Fund in Ghana represent some of these initiatives. Although some countries may not have much wiggle room to increase their higher education budget, they still need to expand their small higher education sector.

To sum up, South Africa is the country in the opening paragraph. In South Africa, the system rewards productivity in a very direct and also generous manner. For instance, for every accredited journal article a professor publishes, the institution (where the academic is based) is rewarded as much as 120,000 Rands (12,000 USD). While arrangements vary as to how this money is allocated between the institution and the author, in certain cases, funds may go directly into the private account of the academic. Regardless of the underlying issues surrounding the measures of productivity, many African scholars and administrators are likely to envy South African institutions and their rewards and incentives.

*Damtew Teferra (Editor, Expected Fall, 2013), Financing Higher Education in Sub-Saharan Africa, Palgrave MacMillan.

Show on Jobs site: 
Smart Title: 
Rationing and Rationalizing <br>in Africa

Unleashing Mass Access -- Tallying Collateral Losses

At a conference this month to honor the work of Philip G. Altbach, a number of regional and international issues of the field were presented by world’s leaders in international higher education. It became clear that the issues that confront different regions of the world are basically similar from access to funding, from quality to unemployment. This editorial is prompted by this dialogue and focuses on the opportunities and ramifications of expanding access to higher education in Africa.

The Growth—and the Gains

The unprecedented expansion of the higher education system in Africa is often described as “massive” Still, the enrollment rate hovers around 5-6 percent. Martin Trow’s taxonomy of higher education recognizes three stages— elite, massive and universal. Africa, with a single-digit enrollment rate uncomfortably sits on the “elite” landscape—far removed from mass access and light years away from universal access. Africa has  many mountains yet to climb to move beyond elite.

At a national level, many countries that had just one “flagship” university, opened a dozen— in some cases more—in a short span of time. In some countries, as in Malawi—arguably a country with the lowest enrollment rates in the world—the growth however has been in enrollments within existing institutions. Where hundreds and a few thousands were accommodated, now several hundreds of thousands are hosted.

If the expansion of public institutions is remarkable, the growth of private institutions could be described as “phenomenal”. Dozens now adorn the higher education landscape although their “market” share still remains small despite garnering some 25 per cent in many countries already.

The expansion of the higher education system has provided opportunities for many students—an estimated 10 million now in the continent. It has also contributed to the development of the region by providing knowledge workers, albeit far from sufficient. What is noticeable however is that, the steady and enviable growth of the African economy has not been credited to the remarkable growth of the higher education system. It appears that the issues of dwindling quality in higher education and un(der)employment may have upstaged the ostensible contribution of massive higher education to growing economies.

The Emerging Hurdles

To be sure, Africa has to expand its system much more to address its insatiable appetite for access and to compete with more globalized knowledge societies and economies.

Developments in higher education have been guided by internal and external factors including the liberalization of the global economy and the transformative capacity of the information and communication technologies. In many cases, the expansion of African higher education has not followed a well-organized and systematic approach.

Lately higher education has begun to reflect campaign manifestos and narrowly-defined expansion regimes influenced by ethnic, cultural and religious influences. From Kenya to Ghana the competing parties included university education  in their campaign agendas. As a consequence, the motives, the modalities, the locations of institutions, and the “partisan” recruitment and enrollment in higher education are now a cause for concern. The unwieldy politics of African “democratization” are ominously creeping onto the higher education landscape.

Egalitarianism Trumping Differentiation?

The wave of “massification” as well as increasing number of “village universities” stand out, as challenges and threats in advancing competitive institutions in Africa.  Africa needs “village” institutions in great numbers, much like the United States needs community colleges, but not at the expense of the quality or innovation essential to a knowledge economy.

To be sure, available resources for all sectors—even when backed by internal commitment and external support—are limited.  If all institutions are to be treated equally the national potential may be greatly degraded as resources are already spread thin with the shift from the flagship” to the new ones. The challenge remains to strike a healthy balance between expanding access and advancing competitiveness. The time for serious strategic and systematic differentiation of the higher education system in Africa has arrived.

Hypocrisy in Quality Control: Officiating Double Standard?

Expanding access has had considerable impact on the quality of higher education around the world. While measuring quality has always been tricky, Philip Altbach’s musing “on the general decline of the qualifications of academic staff in a classroom” is illustrative. Some of the major players including the late Ethiopian Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, and the Nigerian President, Jonathan Goodluck, described current quality as “dangerous” and “embarrassing”. At a 2012 graduation ceremony at Makerere University, Mahmoud Mamdani in concurrence noted the “quality of teaching reached an all-time low.”  The uneasy relationship between access and quality in African higher education cannot be clearer.

In the meantime, the hypocrisy of a double standard in demanding quality in private, but not necessarily in public institutions is troubling. Cases abound where publicly funded institutions are conferred the status of a “university” while they are no better than “dignified” high schools; and yet this status for deserving private institutions may be denied. The blame could be fairly distributed across stakeholders including students, parents, and non-governmental entities who often demand “good service” from private, but not public, providers. Private institutions should and must be regulated, but the quality demanded of private institutions should be demanded of public ones.

Employment—The Sole Incentive of Access?

The discussion of access often leads to concern for employment and employability.  While access to higher education in the region is still “elitist”, the status of un(der)employment, ironically, remains “massive”. Since the Arab spring, the issue of (un)employment has attracted global attention in social, economic, media and political circles.

Access to higher education has often been conceived as simply providing the opportunity for employment and increased economic status. And yet, the broader contribution of higher education to cultural development, personal growth and livelihood, community welfare, and advancement of “democratic” values has had less traction.

Conclusion

Expanding access to higher education remains vital to the development of the continent. But this could be possible, among others, through the provision of good quality education. While efforts to establish “centers of excellence” at sub-regional, regional and continental levels are progressing, they are not being cultivated in many countries—at least not in a consistent or systemic manner.

There should be no qualms about expanding higher education in Africa, if its citizens are to live better and function in the international knowledge society. But now the focus should shift from expansion to consolidation, from egalitarianism to differentiation, and from access to success.

 

 

Show on Jobs site: 
Smart Title: 
Unleashing Mass Access: <br>Tallying Collateral Losses

African Universities Moderating Development Paradigms: The Quest for “Honest Brokers”

 

The Africa-EU Policy Dialogue Workshop on Academic Cooperation and Research Collaboration took place in October 2012 where the Addis Ababa declaration was enunciated in the company of university leaders, policy makers and development agencies. At this forum a number of issues including the role of multinational corporations in academic and research cooperation in Africa were raised and prompted this editorial.

Social Responsibility: A Sense of Doubt and Cynicism

To be sure, in much of Africa the credibility of multinational corporations as responsible entities has often stood on shaky grounds. The recent economic and financial calamities triggered by flawed capitalist economic discourse have exacerbated that stance even more. When I proposed that African-based multinationals execute their “corporate social responsibility”, as most do at home, the reaction of the audience was pretty cynical—and visibly adverse.

Despite chronic financial hardships African universities and academics perennially face, many have resisted the temptation of succumbing to potential rewards from entities of questionable standing that might compromise institutional integrity and independence. It is only unique institutions such as universities that can freely and openly discuss, debate, accept and/or reject ideas and proposals. In contrast, a large majority of institutions—development agencies, research centers, think tanks—maintain, and serve, veiled and/or unveiled interests. In the United States, for instance, entities allied to the Democratic and Republican Parties, vigorously advance partisan ideologies, policies and interests.

Major and prominent multinational organizations tasked with advancing human progress, sustainable development and social justice often lack the unique independence of universities. The recent fiasco at UNESCO that established the highly controversial Equatorial Guinea International Prize for Research in the Life Sciences  amidst an avalanche of criticism from around the world is a poignant, reminder of this.

To be sure, African universities have gone through a lot too. Like most modern day institutions in the world their credibility and public image have steadily declined. Mass expansion that resulted in poor quality education and rampant unemployment for graduates, waning academic etiquette and soaring plagiarism, declining social status and professionalism have inflicted considerable damage to institutional reputations. The performance of some dubious academics who ventured into politics has not helped either.

It is true that “democratization” has created more space for critical voices in the region. Issues that universities articulated in the past, often confronting governments, are now taken up by opposition parties, NGOs and civil society organizations. Indeed several think tanks in the region pursue  “critical inquiry”. Most of these institutions however are perennially dependent on external sources which directly or indirectly shape their research trajectory, intellectual discourse and, often, the extent of their critiques. New players in African higher education landscape, managed by regional political bodies and supported by regional political regimes have also emerged. The African Union Commission’s higher education initiatives, in partnerships with other similar entities, are main examples.

“Champagne Glass Civilization”: Untenable Paradigm

With due consideration and appreciation to all players in the knowledge and discourse domain, universities remain the sole credible bastions of critical inquiry, though they remain largely overlooked and their potential poorly tapped. To be more direct, knowledge, innovation and discourse generated and developed by African universities, albeit meager, remain largely underutilized, and worse, often ignored.

In the absence of a critical mass of strong, reputable and independent think tanks, research centers and knowledge hubs on the continent, the region continues to consume and pursue policies that reflect, what the late Nicaraguan economist, Xavier Gorostiaga, called the “champagne glass civilization” which pushed the world to the brink of economic, financial and social collapse. The numerous national, regional and global challenges that confront the continent are such that universities—the prime pillars of critical inquiry—should be full partners in complicated development agendas. As the least “co-opted” institutions endowed with academic freedom, they are in a better position to pursue truth wherever it may lead, dare to walk the unbeaten path, challenge the status quo and, advance avant garde perspectives, ideas and paradigms.

“Ivory Towers” and Utopian “Nuisances”: Uncontested Defamation

For too long, African universities have been criticized as irrelevant ivory towers and their academics as utopian “nuisances” that are to be dismissed or ignored. This has resulted in marginalization from a meaningful role in setting, implementing and addressing development agendas. It is a common (mal)practice that many African countries hire external consultants rather than using experts in their own backyards. (A few countries even refuse to hire their own citizens who have become international experts but live abroad.)  Even when academics are involved in such endeavors, the main actors often tend to isolate those critical voices or manipulate their contributions without impunity.

It is important to stress that the capacity of universities as research, knowledge and innovation hubs has been constantly eroded due to a host of reasons. Many African academics tend to be preoccupied with “moonlighting” activities including consultancy services in order to earn a reasonable living. Unfortunately, the contribution of many academics involved in consultancy has been heavily restricted by the regimes governing these undertakings, often a tendency towards subservience to the interests of commissioning entities that subsequently diminishes contributions further.  African academics (and institutions) are loudly criticized for their lack of relevance in the struggle against the rampant poverty in the region. It is not uncommon to hear that African academics have failed the continent. Unfortunately these views often go unchallenged and are often tolerated by the academy itself.

Conclusion

African universities must be fully involved in setting and implementing development agendas along with other major regional and international players. In the world where maintaining a status quo has simply become untenable—and even dangerous—deploying universities, the powerhouse of critical, free and independent inquiry—for sustainable and equitable development has never been more important and nor more timely.

Articulating a new global social, economic and cultural contract without institutions capable of critical inquiry, insight and discourse, is simply disastrous. Universities, as “honest brokers” of knowledge need to be responsibly deployed, engaged, and nurtured so that they can play a prominent role in articulating and realizing the kind of development the region desperately needs. The onus rests on national governments, regional bodies, development partners and multilateral agencies. African universities, their regional and continental associations must proactively engage, consciously strive, stridently insist, and strategically act to take a central position in developing and advancing new and emerging global development paradigms.

 

 

Construct, Re-Construct or Self-Destruct: Strategies for Africa

 

The University Teaching and Learning Office at the University of Kwazulu-Natal in Durban, South Africa, organized its Six Annual Conference under the theme of “Higher Education in an Era of Reconstruction, Internationalisation, Competition & Cooperation” in September 2012. The conference attracted more than 300 national participants and others from the subregion. Speakers, including Jamil Salmi and Kenneth King, whose presentations and reflections on global dynamics of higher education and cooperation inspired new vigor to the ongoing dialogue in the country’s higher education system.

Salmi noted three ways of promoting excellence in a country—build new from a scratch; amalgamate (merge); or reorganize existing configurations in an institution. Insisting on the importance of national context, he noted the pros and cons of each approaches.

For all its remarkable achievements in expansion, equity and access, South Africa grapples with issues of quality and dropout rates. In reaction, the higher education minister was reported to have said that it is necessary “to work with whatever [students] we have” to improve quality. This underlying problem of quality has been central to reconfiguring South African higher education through mergers, consolidation and threat of dissolution.

While South Africa expands and consolidates, further afield, in the rest of Africa, construction (of new institutions) is a prominent pre-occupation. Zimbabwe has expanded the number of universities from one in the 1980s to 11 now; the latest addition to this is a new military university, inaugurated last month. Tanzania is another example. Enrollment at the University of Dar es Salaam has expanded three fold in a decade. The most phenomenal growth in African higher education expansion may be in Ethiopia where the number of public universities has grown from 2 to over 30 and student numbers ballooned from some 50 thousand to more than 400 thousand in a decade. Yet for all the phenomenal expansion, Africa’s enrollment figure still hovers around 5 percent.

World Class Universities vs. “Classless” Universities

Rankings now situate institutions in contestable hierarchies declaring a certain institution as “number one” and another “number one hundred”; that an institution “dropped a notch” while another made “some gains”. One recent ranking claims that more African universities now fall in the top 400 list, but only from South Africa.

The importance and implications of rankings are growing by leaps and bounds. They are a concern of governments, university administrators, faculty, students and parents. Stories abound on the consequences of rankings from a firing of a university president due to a poor institutional showing to tweaking national immigration policies to raise the international student profile.

For the vast majority of universities in developing countries, the placement at the high end of the rankings is simply out of reach and irrelevant. These “classless” universities however remain the main incubators for the majority of graduates who populate the teaching, academic, research, business, civil society, NGOs, and government sectors.

The global marketplace of knowledge tends to be shaped by the world class universities but the “Classless universities” have a critical role to play. Every university has to aspire to deliver “quality” education that is “contextualized”—which, Salmi, admits is missing in his book.

Institutions are not and should not be born or raised as though they are all equal. The experience of the public higher education in California that differentiates institutions as mainly research focused, teaching and less research focused, and the open system of community colleges has useful lessons for Africa.

Thus for nation building and global competitiveness, egalitarianism is as impractical as it reckless. To be sure, in the arduous task of institution building, populist ideals of institutional egalitarianism need to be rejected. Institutional isomorphism needs to give way to diversity and differentiation.

“Democracy” and Access: Emerging Perverted Loopholes

Expanding higher education has now become a common election manifesto in fledgling democracies in Africa. Incumbents and opposition candidates often run on pledges of establishing new universities and expanding access. This is a commendable national agenda, but the expansions need to be pursued beyond building “glorified high schools” for electoral gains. An African government minister once said, “Who actually cares about the number of conferences and a number of papers published when it is too attractive and popular to declare to your electorates that so many number of universities are built and so many students enrolled.”

Massive, often poorly planned and executed expansions have had serious quality and ethical consequences. Establishing and sustaining meaningful institutions requires a longer shelf life than the short-lived, narrow and inflated figures characteristic of populist elections.

Self-Destruct to Self-Construct

South African higher education has been undergoing transformation for nearly twenty years. The system has witnessed expansion as well as contraction by way of mergers and liquidations as it strived to address the imbalance perpetrated by Apartheid. In cases where institutions have proved woefully inadequate they have been placed “under administration.”

In one of the plenary sessions at the conference, a Vice Chancellor of a fledgling institution, braved the idea of “self-destructing” in order to merge with a better institution nearby. It was impressive, unprecedented and caring of the highest order to sacrifice one’s institution in order to construct a new hybrid. This should be the guiding spirit that rules South Africa in its effort to raise the quality of higher education. Such selflessness should drive the discussion of institutional reconfiguration in the country and beyond.

African Scholarship: Pride in Premiership

The University of Kwazulu-Natal takes pride in calling itself the Premier University of African Scholarship pursuing excellence, intellectual leadership, and relevance. At the climax of the discussion by  Salmi, the vision of “African Scholarship” was challenged by an alternative of “World Scholarship.” Such healthy dialogue in Durban, Addis Ababa, or Accra needs to be encouraged.

In a competitive world of global knowledge market, the temptation and pressure to imitate major players is tremendous.  Largely shunned by its own constituencies and ignored by others, “African Scholarship” resides in a corner of “World Scholarship”. It is thus commendable to pursue a strategic vision grounded nationally, aspiring regionally and operating globally.

Conclusion

Quantity without quality, particularly in the context of higher education, is simply meaningless and wasteful—perhaps dangerous. The ongoing phenomenon of mergers and consolidations taking place in South Africa, as controversial as it may be, has some lessons for Africa in an expansion mode.   Furthermore, egalitarianism and isomorphism should pave the way for diversity and differentiation to ensure better access, equity and quality in fostering national development and enhancing global competitiveness. The notion of World Class Universities is captivating and seductive but should be grounded, moderated and contextualized as classless universities strive to improve quality, equity and access. Thus, Africa should resist from turning into a breeding zone of isomorphic clones that perpetuate misplaced egalitarianism in higher education.

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - Damtew Teferra's blog
Back to Top