Knowledge is a powerful tool and driver of both growth and development globally. Tertiary institutions are the centres of knowledge.
Since the colonial and post colonial period, such knowledge has always been the monopoly of the state and the church in Africa.
The globalisation processes and pressures have led to the liberalization of tertiary education in Africa with diverse outcomes.
The crises facing public tertiary institutions has necessitated and justified the role of private sector and liberalisation and commercialisation of knowledge.
The question however is, ‘Can private universities rise to the occasion and address similar challenges but with different outcomes?’
The challenges facing many public universities include the lack of facilitation for research, inadequate infrastructure and inadequate funding. These factors adversely affect these tertiary institutions.
The adaption of the structural adjustment programmes and its attendant policy requirements have seen the mushrooming of private universities in Africa majority with little academic justification.
The rapid emergence of private tertiary education has created a need for quality assurance agencies to protect consumers from rugged capitalists who have conveniently invested in the education sector.
However, not all countries in Africa are keen to have such agencies and as such, unethical practices if unchecked could lead to substandard education and fraud.
The fact that many countries in Africa lack capacity to initiate and implement quality control measures, places additional burden on the part of the state. The growth of tertiary education over the last few years is more evident in Rwanda.
However, tertiary education in Rwanda has created not only hope but also frustrations. While there has been increased access to tertiary institutions, private universities in Rwanda have become increasingly commercialised.
In addition, the qualified human resources capacity is lacking and the curriculum inadequate. At a particular university in Kigali for example, doors of learning have been opened to those who can afford it but the university lacks skilled staff and policies that can attract, retain and nurture young talent.
The current staff composition is largely a conservative clique of relatives whose commitment to knowledge is suspect. Furthermore, the university largely relies on cheap labour from a neighbouring country that fall short of basic skills required to sustain a serious tertiary institution.
The cumulative effect of poor planning and lack of quality control measures and implementation has seen the university operating on skeleton staff, improvement on the outside environment to the detriment of basic teaching tools such as a university library, qualified staff and basic working tools.
The fact that the university is managed as a family business with no board of governors makes it a one man show. It is therefore not a surprise that graduates of such institutions are not equal to the task hence require additional on-the job training.Quality and relevance thus remains an elusive dream.
The political leadership in Rwanda has adopted very progressive education policies but then the real challenge as pointed out is to ensure relevant tertiary education implementation of stated policies.
As elsewhere in Africa, many institutions are slow to respond to change, have deadwood staff, less innovative and mismanaged. Such a state of affair can only call for excessive government intervention or outright take over of private institutions that cannot meet the international standards.
The worst scenario would be closure. While profit is important for a private investment, the danger that the output has in society has serious detrimental effects in the long term. The fact that Rwanda lacks a learning culture should be of concern to the government and society in general.
The previous government built a society that paid little attention to knowledge. Politicians and military officers enjoyed unlimited or unfettered impunity with the result that mediocrity rather than merit was the code word for upward mobility.
These negative social values are still prevalent within the dominant education culture that the government seeks to change.
To be sure, many students in Rwanda need a more pro active government that would enforce quality and set tougher conditions such as qualified members of academic staff and researchers, managers and adequate learning tools and infrastructure.
The biggest challenge would be putting in place policies that can attract and retain the best brains in the country. The idea that anyone can teach in a university provided you are related to the high and mighty can only lead to national disaster in as far as tertiary education is concerned.
It is important to note that it takes more than thirty years to build a single academic but only a day to destroy such an initiative through poor pay and retrogressive practices.
Both the students and academic staff must learn to question and seek answers to serious educational problems currently confronting Africa and Rwanda in particular if integrity and culture of learning is to be restored in institutions of higher learning.
Eastern and Southern Africa policy research Institute