ACADEMICS from Africa and beyond gathered in Kigali, this week, for a two-day high-level forum on quality of higher education on the continent.
The continent’s challenges in education stood out on the first day of the Sustainable Development Goals Centre for Africa forum.
Experts and stakeholders in higher learning say that concerns of quality and access stand out in Africa compared to other parts of the world.
At the moment, no African institution of tertiary education appears among the top 100 in the world.
Only 10 African institutions feature among the world’s top 1,000 universities, eight of them in South Africa.
Dr Abdalla Hamdok, the acting executive secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, said most of the challenges facing tertiary education in the continent can be traced back to strained financial resources in higher learning institutions.
“Most African universities suffer from the effects of scarce financial resources. The current budgetary allocations towards public higher institutions averages less than 1 per cent of GDP, and has not increased since 2010,” he told The New Times on Wednesday.
Among challenges that have mushroomed from low financial resources and increased demand is poor quality from some of the private institutions that are mushrooming across the continent.
“The increased demand for tertiary education has led to the mushrooming of private universities across Africa, though the model for private institutions differs from country to country, with many challenges,” Hamdok said.
“The growth in private institutions has gradually shifted 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 can offer good quality education and qualification.”
Dr Hamdock said other major challenges include the relevance of higher learning institutions as most of them are heavily influenced by the legacy of colonialism.
“The legacy of colonialism has influenced both the design of the curriculum and the choice of subjects for study. For example, the curricula in agriculture, health, mining, and engineering are not attuned to the demands of the labour market. On average, 26 per cent of the undergraduates in Africa, other than North Africa, register in the arts and humanities, but only 4 per cent in Science, Technology, Engineering and Medicine (STEM) subjects,” he added.
The continent also continues to experience brain drain through loss of skills through migration, which is very high 0n the continent.
Experts say that, since 1990, about 20,000 skilled professionals are estimated to leave Africa every year with tertiary educated (who account for less than 3 per cent of the labour force) constituting more than 35 per cent of all migrants.
Fixing the gaps
Prof Jeffrey D. Sachs, the director of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network and the Earth Institute, said among the ways that the gaps could be fixed include leveraging ICTs and technology to improve access and quality.
He added that there should be more focus on quality as opposed to quantity, adding that attention should also be given to producing knowledge in Africa.
Hiroshi Kato, senior vice-president of the Japan International Cooperation Agency, said it is time the continent considered partnerships with other parts of the world that have been able to advance their tertiary education such as Japan.
To address issues of quality, Dr Belay Begashaw, the director-general the Sustainable Development Goals Centre for Africa, said that it requires the involvement of all political players due to its complex nature.
“It requires the active involvement of the entire political system, by showing goodwill and commitment through enacting of appropriate policies, coupled with adequate budgetary allocations,” he said.
Begashaw said intellectuals need to be insulated to maintain their impartiality and social trust when solving critical national development issues and be allowed to work on longer-time scales to solve complex problems.