Rethinking higher education in Africa

What work still needs to be done to improve the prospects of higher education students in Africa and the sector as a whole? 

Further education is an essential resource in the economic growth of a country. Not only are higher education institutions major employers, but they also breed entrepreneurship and skilled professionals, in turn boosting business within the local and wider community. 

According to the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, in the US for example, “those who attend college are twice as likely to own a small business than those with a high school education or less.” 

In the last few years, Africa has “put higher education at the centre of its ambitionswith the development of Agenda 2063 which, in 2013, was approved by 54 members of the African Union. 

The 50-year plan aimed for “at least 70of all high-school graduates go on to have tertiary education”, which, at the time, was eight times the Sub-Saharan African average of 8% 

According to data by the World Bank, in 2018, the gross tertiary education enrolment ratio stood at 9.4%, which, while demonstrates growth, is still far below the global average of 38%. 

Rates of course vary drastically according to region, with Mauritius experiencing gross tertiary education enrolment ratio of 41% in 2017, and South Africa experiencing 24% in 2018. 

The rate of enrolment in tertiary education is also likely to be impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, due to the inaccessibility of online learning in the region and a reduction in funding for the sector.  

In Kenya, the Commission on University Education relocated K Sh 272 million (US$2.5 million) of its development cash to a COVID-19 emergency fund, and in Nigeria, the federal government plans to cut ₦50.76 billion (US$130 million) from the education sector.  

So, what areas of the higher education sector in Africa still require focus? 

Access is still one of the main issues within the higher education sector in Africa, with much of the recent success regarding increased enrolment rates seen within primary and secondary education. 

According to the London School of Economics (LSE), “while more people have been educated, there remains a huge divide between elites and the rest of the African population, which has stalled productivity and economic growth”. 

Access is a particular issue when it comes to international study, as “limited funding opportunities for African students often reserve this option for the elite, and scholarships are often provided in small numbers by personal donors affiliated with a specific institution”. 

The effect of the coronavirus on higher education in Africa has been significant, with students and universities having limited internet access and being unable to cope with such an immediate shift to online learning. 

According to one reportthe coronavirus pandemic “exposed the huge digital divide that exists among the universities, the majority of which do not have adequate infrastructure to deliver entire programs online”. 

The impact of the coronavirus pandemic is also likely to been seen in the amount of funding available for research being conducted at African institutions, which currently contributes less than 1% to global research. 

According to the Africa Report, Africa’s higher education institutions themselves must also place greater emphasis on “industry-academia collaboration”. 

Not only must students be equipped with employable skills [to] prepare them for the global job markets”, but also companies must view the higher education industry as a source of ideas and innovation“. 

This approach provides students with 21st century employability skills that can be used at both global and local levels, further contributing to Africa’s economy. 

Universities that leverage this relationship with industries will also see greater opportunities for research and innovation, thus improving their rankings and presence within the global higher education market.  

To strengthen the higher education sector in Africa, more work needs to be done to address barriers to access, to adapt to the sudden shift to online learning and to suitably prepare graduates for the global employment market.  

Discover key insights into the higher education landscape in Africa and other regions by registering for QS MAPLE 2021, The future today: Sustainable growth towards 2030now available on demand. 

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