Universities and higher education institutions have always been an integral part of modern and past African history. Al Qarawiyyin University in Fez, Morocco, which opened in 859 AD, is considered to be the oldest existing and still operating university in the world. Al-Azhar University in Egypt, which is part of the largest complex of institutions associated with Al-Azhar Mosque and currently accommodates two million students, is dubbed the most prestigious Islamic university in the world.
But this important legacy is being put to the test as universities across Africa face a myriad of challenges related to the progress and management of their education systems.
Only 6% of children in sub-Saharan Africa will enroll in higher education, compared to an 80% chance for a child in an OECD country.
Besides the systemic and qualitative challenges, there are also quantity gaps. A close examination by Quartz Africa of Africa’s 10 most populous countries shows that just over 740 universities serve some 660 million of Africa’s billion people. But compare that number with countries like the United States, which have some 5,300 universities and colleges serving a population of over 323 million people.
In the five most populous nations on the continent, the per capita population served by any given university reached 1.5 million in Egypt. South Africa had the lowest number with over 390,000 people. With falling infant mortality rates and high fertility rates, Africa’s population is growing rapidly, with the continent expected to number around 2.8 billion by 2060.
The list has been compiled from various government and educational sources, and takes into account fully-fledged autonomous universities, not their constituent colleges or individual campuses. It also ignores non-university education systems such as technical schools, research centers and distance education, in addition to the many smaller colleges that offer vocational or vocational courses.
Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa, has some 40 federal universities, 44 state universities and 68 private universities. In Kenya, the number of private chartered universities, which can also receive government funding, has increased to 17, from 22 public universities. Ethiopia has made huge strides in higher education: in 2000, the country had just two universities, but now has 36 public universities and 98 private institutions, according to the education ministry. Private universities accounted for more than public universities in Uganda, Sudan, Egypt and Tanzania.
South African universities are the best performing on the continent. Even though the country had 136 universities (pdf) for its 54 million inhabitants, it has almost always achieved the highest rankings on the continent. In the 2016 Times Higher Education ranking, South Africa had six of Africa’s top 15 universities due to its universities’ highly cited research, strong international outlook, and ability to attract endowment funds from universities. industries.
But quality in African universities does not always translate into global competitiveness. With enrollment levels increasing across the continent, the question of standards almost always arises, with more and more universities lacking basic facilities or a well-balanced ecosystem for education. For example, the best university in Africa in 2016 is the University of Cape Town, followed by Witwatersrand. Still, UCT is ranked 148th globally in the Times ranking, while Wits is ranked 182nd globally.
To address some of these quantitative and qualitative challenges, African universities need to focus on knowledge production and focus on developing cutting-edge research. As Harvard’s Calestous Juma wrote in Quartz Africa, there is a need to create “universities of innovation”, which are dedicated to solving local problems and improving lives.
Of the continent’s nearly 128 million school-aged children, 17 million will never go to school, according to data from the Brookings Institution. Another 37 million other schoolchildren also face learning deficits that are no better than those who never go to school.
The result is that only 6% of children in sub-Saharan Africa will enroll in some form of higher education, compared to a child from an OECD country who has an 80% chance.