While there education improvements made towards the attainment of universal primary education among African countries, there is a great deal of work to be done to improve the quality of higher Education.
This was observed yesterday during the opening of a two-day conference dubbed “Mobilising African Intellectuals towards Quality Tertiary Education”, which is taking place at the Kigali Convention Centre (KCC).
Education experts said it is critical for the African continent to improve the quality of its higher education if it is to compete at the global stage, as well as to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Africa’s Agenda 2063.
Speaking during a high level panel discussion, Professor Jeffrey D. Sachs, the director for Sustainable Development Solutions Network and the Earth Institute, said that it is critical for higher learning institutions to take a leadership role in championing national developments.
“I think the role that the universities play in shaping our societies is vital. We live in a complicated era, an ever-changing world characterised by sophisticated problems. It is, therefore, important that universities now take a leadership role in realising national aspirations,” he said.
“To move from high levels of poverty to high levels of prosperity, there should be well-built, reputable education systems that provide skills development and capacity building that breed a generation of economic development champions,” Sachs added.
According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), Sub-Saharan African countries have, overall, achieved enormous progress towards the six Education for All Goals and the education-related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) since 2000.
But no African institution of tertiary education appears in the top 100 varsities globally, according to recent international university rankings. And only 10 of the world’s top 1000 universities are in Africa, 8 of which are located in a single country, South Africa.
This, experts said, clearly demonstrates that something has to be done.
“It is obvious that we need to do more and invest in our education system by modernising the teaching, learning, and research system through putting in place the right infrastructure, adequate budgets, and school supplies, among others,” said Belay Begashaw, director general of Sustainable Development Goals Centre for Africa (SDGC/A).
Abdalla Hamdok, the executive secretary for United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), said that the increased demand for tertiary education has led to mushrooming of private universities across Africa, and that they should be regulated.
“The growth in private institutions has altered the mandate of national governments, towards building, supporting and monitoring the sector. They need to regulate private institutions with emphasis on such functions as accreditation, qualification, and curriculum development so that they offer quality education and qualification,” he suggested.
He argued that African intellectuals should provide a strategic direction to reforming African tertiary education to align it to a modern and toward development path and create a critical mass of expertise in this area, advocating a stronger emphasis on STEM subjects.
Fred Swaniker, the CEO of African Leadership Academy (ALU), stressed the need for Africa to stop relying on western validation when it comes to quality.
“Too often, Africa seeks validation from the West when measuring performance of our institutions. These rankings are normally based on size of land, number of PhD holders, and other factors which do not necessarily respond to Africa’s economic needs,” he said.
The case of Rwanda
Rwanda’s Vision 2020 envisages that all Rwandans will be able to read and write with diverse professional and technical skills by the year 2020.
It says that Rwanda will be endowed with an education system that is well adapted to the socio-economic problems of the country, while ICT skills will be widespread.
Education minister Papias Musafiri noted that Rwanda’s education success is attributed to the strong policies and heavy investments by the Government.
“The Government made heavy investments in harnessing the value of partnerships to attract centres of excellence and higher learning institutions, and this is what is helping us. We hope that, through this, we shall be able to continue creating a pool of knowledge society,” he said.
Musafiri said that supporting teacher and faculty development, harnessing the power of digital education which makes delivery easy and quick, and striking a balance between STEM disciplines and social sciences, are some of the things that should be done to raise the quality of tertiary education.
Organised by the SDGC/A, the conference drew members of the Africa’s education systems, students, policy-makers and private sector players for two days, participants will be discussing practical actions, exploring solutions and seeking to build consensual approaches that can be undertaken right away against the back-drop of under-performing higher education systems throughout the continent.