HIGHER education institutions in Africa and the world over have made a number of strides but the going could be tougher if the academic cream cannot get tougher. Tougher challenges call for tougher measures, as they say. So higher education institutions have no option but to tread on the narrow path as they move to consolidate the gains made so far.
Sweet music to the ears is that universities are no longer ivory towers nowadays. The fact that anyone who can pay university fee can get the privilege to study in the highly coveted institutions of higher learning, in a range of programs from certificate to graduate courses, is no small milestone.
However, the liberalisation and subsequent proliferation of universities has already diluted the taste and quality of higher education, let alone other inherent challenges that are within or outside the universities’ control.
Universities in this street and that one, this corner and the next one, that hill and the subsequent one has given rise to a rather innocuous but insidious university management strategies similar to what I have previously compared to antics of dealing with competition among chain stores.
Figure out this, if you are choosing a university to join today you will find yourself making a decision based on cost and the duration of the program. This is very overtly sensible but covertly detrimental. Most questionable universities in the contemporary days are those where programs are completed within a shorter duration than competitive universities and they are normally cheaper to attract more ‘clients.’
When cost and duration of study becomes the threshold and the benchmark of competitiveness then quality is trampled on by business thinking in the academic world.
The centrality of education in achieving equitable and sustainable development cannot be overemphasised. It is through education that the much needed professionals like engineers, doctors, teachers and others are produced. If this pivotal production is subjected to the market demand and supply forces all the pillars of development will be torpedoed within no time.
The much praised expansion and development in high education should not be confused with open policies and profit generation. Education should not be a private investment affair. Anybody with money to invest should not buy land and construct premises to house a society defining institution like a university.
Yes public private partnerships are healthy for the development of any economy but these partnerships should be circumspect.
On the same vein, increasing access to varsity education has been a blessing and a curse in equal measure. Because of the increasing number of university students, without a matching increase in facilities and other resources, including human resources such as teachers, the quality of the system has deteriorated.
Another challenge concerns funding. The dependence of African institutions on governmental funding over the years has meant that they have been unable to take on the responsibility of generating their own funds. Consequently, funding will remain an important issue for the next few years. That is, there will not be enough money to meet the needs of the system, mainly due to the lack of further government funding and the inability of the main institutions concerned to find innovative fundraising solutions.
Finally, the other challenge is related to relevance, in terms of the socioeconomic needs of the countries involved. The good news is that many countries are now taking steps to renew their curricula in order to make them more suited to their own needs and more relevant to national characteristics, so that they can produce entrepreneurial and globally competitive outcomes.
The challenges are complex but the future is bright. The means will determine the end.