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Date: Mon, 09 Jan 1995 19:36:45 -0500 (EST)
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Subject: African Universities (fwd)
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Strategies for Stabilization and Revitalization

By William S. Saint

Technical Paper No. 194. Technical Department, Africa Region. Washington, D.C.: World Bank.

Though relatively young, universities in Sub-Saharan Africa have accomplished much. They have grown from just six institutions in 1960 to more than 100 in 1993, with a corresponding rise in enrollments. In some cases, they have developed relevant curricula and revised their content to reflect African priorities, legitimized research and established specialized university research units. They have also largely replaced expatriate faculty with indigenous staff, and fostered intellectual communities. A major achievement has been to produce the skilled human resources required to staff and manage public and private institutions in the newly independent states.

In the course of their brief history, thinking about the role of universities has also evolved. In Francophone Africa, the early classical academic approach is giving way to a more utilitarian orientation. As regards Anglophone universities, governments have tended to encourage a technocratic definition of their role, which has been reinforced by the current economic crisis on the continent. Also, a growing number of African observers see a potential for universities to build upon the strengths of traditional culture so as to modernize in a positive, indigenous fashion.

There is much to suggest that African universities are nearing the end of their initial phase of development. Their mandates at the time of independence now require reassessment as a result of changes in the world, in Africa, and in the universities themselves. Internationally, the emergence of global markets has created a competitive world economic system characterized by rapid knowledge generation and technological innovation. These changes affect local labor markets and the types of skills they require. Within Africa, high population growth rates and increased access to education have boosted the social demand for higher education, leading to rising university enrollments and a proliferation of tertiary institutions. Universities have also changed, becoming mass-based and diversified institutions operating under severe financial constraints. In many countries, conditions which engender these second generation issues have deteriorated to the point where the need for action is now urgent.

This study, Universities in Africa: Strategies for Stabilization and Revitalization, seeks to provide guidance to persons committed to renewing and expanding the capacity for human resource development within Africa's institutions of higher learning.

The Scope of the Problem

To varying degrees, the universities of Sub-Saharan Africa face the following problems.

Initiating Reform

To address these concerns, African nations must first answer three questions.

The answers will differ from country to country in accordance with national circumstances, culture, and priorities. With varying emphases, a general consensus in Africa holds that its principal higher education issues are quality, relevance, finances, efficiency, equity, and governance. What is not clear is how these issues should be addressed and where one should start. This study offers alternatives, tested and untested, for policy makers and institutional managers to consider as they tackle the complex challenges of higher education reform. It is based on the experiences of Africans who are committed to this undertaking, and who are beginning to generate innovative responses to the extraordinary difficulties they confront.

Efforts at higher education reform stand little chance of being sustainable unless they are grounded in broad public consensus. Failure to invest in public education and consensus-building prior to the institution of policy changes can have high costs in terms of public reaction, student protest, and damaged working relationships amongst key actors. The benefit of doing so is a more stable and effective reform process.

Several alternative approaches to consensus building have emerged on the African continent. The self-study is one of these. It is an institutional review, initiated by management, that uses a process of internal consultation to evaluate the existing mission statement, organizational structure, key policies and installed capacity for consistency and responsiveness to the external environment. The resulting institutional development proposals can then be shared with government, donor, and private sector representatives in the effort to build agreement regarding the university's future role and objectives.

An inter-institutional steering committee is a sub-sector review undertaken by government to appraise higher education policy and its financial and organizational implications. Representation often includes key government ministries, university leaders, and relevant professional associations, and a final report is normally presented to government for executive decision.

An intermediary coordinating agency with oversight responsibility for the higher education sector would play a mediating role between government and the university system in the effort to establish common ground for policy initiative.

An external visiting committee would be comprised of outside experts who periodically review all aspects of a higher education system or institution at the invitation of government.

If Africa's universities are to be stabilized and revitalized, universities themselves must seize the initiative. One way to do this is through the development of an updated university mission statement. This mission statement should focus integrated attention on educational quality, finances, access, curriculum, distribution of students among the various disciplines, staff development, research, governance, and management. A second, less direct path lies through the promotion of higher education research. At present, relatively little analysis of Africa's higher education needs is carried out by Africans. Consequently, much of the current policy discussion in this field is framed and promoted by donor agencies. If needed reforms are to be appropriate and lasting, the talents and experience of African scholars must be brought to bear. More important, the process must begin immediately as the African higher education crisis is already well advanced.


The study's principal messages are as follows.

If appropriate economic models and fresh directions for development are to be crafted by Africans, and if tradition and modernity are to be effectively fused, then academically and financially sound universities are an imperative for Sub- Saharan Africa.

William S. Saint. 1992. Universities in Africa: Strategies for Stabilization and Revitalization . Technical Paper No. 194. Technical Department, Africa Region. Washington, D.C.: World Bank.