Monday, 26 August 2013

(71): University education and generational change in Africa (I)

The challenges facing Africa are too many, lamenting about them will not solve the problem, ignoring them will compound the situation, finding solution to them requires innovation and prioritizing the needs of the continent. Few will argue against the idea that education is the solution to these problems. 

By education I do not mean producing literate individuals holding paper qualifications. Graduates who will be happy for acquiring degrees, while their qualifications do not reach the lowest degree of quality compared to their best competitors. Here we are talking about producing competitive and innovative talents. Young men and women who have the capacity to generate resources, create ideas, and provide leadership in various spheres of life for the development of Africa, whether from within or outside the continent.  We are talking about a comprehensive approach typical of the style of China, by using its population to influence both the educational and economic development around the world.

Few will argue against the idea that investment in university education is at the heart of development especially in the 21st century. Let us prove this by looking at some statistics. In a special report released by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in May 2012, by the year 2020, China and India will produce 40% of graduates the world over. According to the report “Looking ahead, it’s likely that the global talent pool will continue to grow across most OECD and G20 countries, and that the fast-growing G20 economies will continue to account for an increasingly large share. According to OECD calculations, there will be more than 200 million 25-34 year-olds with higher education degrees across all OECD and G20 countries by the year 2020. What’s more, 40% of them will be from China and India alone”.

To understand the kind of investment made in higher education, let us look at the picture in the last ten to twelve years. The report suggested that “In 2000, there were 51 million 25-34 year-olds with higher education (tertiary) degrees in OECD countries, and 39 million in non-OECD G20 countries. Over the past decade, however, this gap has nearly closed, in large part because of the remarkable expansion of higher education in this latter group of countries. For example, in 2010 there were an estimated 66 million 25-34 year-olds with a tertiary degree in OECD countries, compared to 64 million in non-OECD G20 countries. If this trend continues, the number of 25-34 year-olds from Argentina, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, the Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia and South Africa with a higher education degree will be almost 40% higher than the number from all OECD countries by the year 2020”.

While India and China alone are projected to produce 40% of university graduates by the year 2020, here is a simple analysis of the rest of the countries mentioned in the report. Starting with Argentina and Brazil (South America), China, India, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia (Asia), Russia (Europe), and finally South Africa (Africa).  

Without the need to think deeply, all the countries are members of G20, yet only South Africa made it in this statistics from the African continent. Do African countries think South Africa alone can shoulder the responsibility of the continent without a reciprocal role by the rest of the continent? The position of South Africa in the OECD data is interesting, because if quantity in number is the determining factor in producing graduates, perhaps Nigeria will top the table in Africa. But the world has changed; we live in a knowledge based society where firms are interested in employing innovators, rather than salary-collecting graduates. The former is potentially what South African Universities produce, coupled with other factors that are essential for economic development.

Still when you study the world ranking of universities around the world, more than any country in Africa, South Africa leads the way. Let us look at the Times Higher Education ranking of universities around the world, (of course this does not mean the rankings are bias free), South Africa has the only four out of 400 universities from Africa. Here is the question to think about, what is the relationship between economic development and university education. There is additional point that needs to be made regarding these figures which requires an answer, what is the ratio of graduates from India, China and other G20 countries in the best universities around the world? What is the ratio of African students in the best universities mentioned in world ranking of universities like the Times Higher Education?

To be continued…

6:16 pm


  1. Dr. Jameel, this is quite an interesting topic. Recently I have developed interest in the political economy of higher education. In a paper I wrote on this topic, I found out that, among the developing countries, those that tend to invest heavily in this sector and even go to the extent of attracting foreign students and educational institutions are more likely the countries that have stable political institutions. And doing so help their economic development and growth. Example of these countries include, India, China, Malaysia, South Africa etc. My point here is that it may not be all surprising that most of African countries produce few graduate, with the exception of South Africa, due to their poor investment in the sector which is related to their poor and unstable political institutions.

    1. Thank you so much for your input. I will appreciate if you can share the paper with me so that I can benefit from your insight. Thank you very much. Jameel

  2. A good piece indeed! We did replied your mails and awaiting your reponse. Thanks

    Ashiru Hamza Mohammad