Opinion: We must support the establishment of universities of excellence in Africa

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Only five African universities are in the top 500 of the Shanghai Ranking 2014, including four South Africa and Egypt. Africa therefore still suffers from a severe shortage of universities of excellence.

At the same time, there has been strong growth in demand for higher education on the continent. Half of sub-Saharan African population is under 25 years (including 190 million young people aged 15 to 24 years).

During the next decade, eleven million young people should be entering, each year, the labor market. Moreover, a growing middle class is looking for quality education for their children. But too many young Africans leave the continent to pursue their university education abroad (over 300 000 per year), often without the plan of coming back, resulting in a damaging brain drain for the future of the continent.

Expensive abroad education
Moreover, this choice of the international education is very costly to both families (8,000 to 10,000 € per year on average) and to the States that issue scholarships. This costs results on a big portion that cannot afford to benefit from the university education they aspire, and are forced to remain in their country.

These students are thus often the victims of overcrowding in classes (the University Cheikh Anta Diop of Dakar, originally designed for 20,000 students, hosts nearly 70,000) and of the scarcity of job opportunities. The unemployment rate for African graduates rises in effect 30 to 40%, some argue that this is caused by courses often poorly adapted to labor market needs.

Some concrete answers to this growing need of high-level education:
– First across the continent, the World Bank launched in 2014 a funding program ($ 150 million) of nineteen “poles of excellence” in eight African countries to support the scientific and technical studies.

– Similarly, in Burkina, fifteen African states, private companies and institutions created 2iE, an engineer school of 3,500 students in 2006. Also, renowned international universities have opened African campuses. Carnegie Mellon has opened a campus in Rwanda in 2012. After China and India, the Ecole Centrale Paris opened a school in Casablanca in 2014.

– Finally, some purely private initiatives emerge; an example is Ashesi University (over 600 students), an engineering school founded in 2012 in Ghana that develops partnerships with universities of excellence (Babson College, USA) and industrial companies (General Electric). A South African initiative can also be cited, ALU (African Leadership Unleashed), its mission is to develop a network of twenty-five private universities on the continent with two first campuses in Mauritius and Kenya in 2015-2017 horizons.

However, these new institutions are still few and are not enough to meet the immense challenge that the continent faces.

Tomorrow’s African university system is yet to be invented. Four tracks can be proposed:
– First, beyond the help of international donors, the implementation of appropriate financing instruments should be facilitated to assist the creation and expansion of tertiary education institutions. The experience of Enko Education, fund specialized in primary and secondary education in Africa, could be applied to university-level education.

– Second, in a constrained context, efforts should be made to create new models that consume less capital. Increased use of technology allows, for example, by dematerializing some courses to have access to quality education through online courses (2iE is an example of this MOOC utilization).

– Third, we must strengthen the academic and industrial partnerships to “produce” graduates with an academic international formation and practical skills, allowing them to be quickly employed after the obtainment of their diploma (95% of 2iE graduates find employment in 6 months).

– Finally, fourth, to meet the social requirement of access to education of the majority, we must develop large-scale scholarship schemes (Ashesi University hosts 40% of equity mainly financed by large foundations).

Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world.”… Let’s start equipping Africa!


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