Tuesday, 24 September 2013

(74): University education and generational change in Africa IV

But when it comes to the countries that export students, the study by Wittenborg University has some findings that could interest a lot of readers. It shows that Morocco  exports more students  compared to any other African country with (11.3%), followed by  Nigeria (10.2%),  Algeria (5.9%),  Cameroon (5.3%),  Zimbabwe (5.2%),  Tunisia (5.1%),  Kenya (3.5%),  Senegal, (3.1%),  Egypt (3.1%)  and finally Botswana (2.3%).

There are some interesting issues we need to pay attention to in these figures. While South Africa is the second major destination for African students around the world, and the first within the continent, it is missing when it comes to exporting students. This could relatively suggest how satisfied South Africans are with their universities. While Nigeria is missing among the destination for international students, it exports the second largest number from the continent. 

Does this suggest that Nigerians are dissatisfied with quality of their universities? Perhaps Professor Ali Mazrui would be the best to answer this question where he to produce a new edition of his book entitled “A Tale of Two Countries-Nigeria and South Africa As Contrasting Visions. One of the interesting analogies drawn by Professor Mazrui in the book was that “Nigeria is the largest exporter of oil”, and “South Africa is the largest consumer of oil”. Beyond oil, now another contrast has emerged. South Africa is the largest importer of African students, while Nigeria is the largest exporter of students from Sub-Saharan Africa.

This is not the only lesson from the statistics above. While Botswana and Zimbabwe are the only countries from Southern Africa that export students, from the West African region, Nigeria, Cameroon, and Senegal have featured, while no West African country is a major importer. One would ask that Tunisia, Egypt and Algeria have featured from North Africa. The answer is an obvious yes, the difference however with the West African region and other parts of Sub-Saharan Africa is that the universities in Morocco and Egypt at least have some quality that they attract many international students.

Building high quality universities has a lot of advantages for African countries. At least it will help the continent to produce higher institutions of learning that directly address the needs of the continent. University education is not just about speaking Victorian English or ability to converse in flawless French. It is about addressing the local needs of the society through rigorous research and intellectual stimulation. Unfortunately to quote the late Waziri Junaidu, the famous scholar of Sokoto Caliphate, “our universities belong to us only in their location”. It is sad that some of the best researches conducted about Africa are stocked in libraries outside the continent. Though even the research conducted in African universities are hardly touched by African policy makers. 

The late Dr Yusuf Bala Usman lamented about this during a lecture at the Bayero University, Kano, in the early days of Nigeria’s return to civilian rule after the May 1999 elections. He mentioned that almost two years into the new experiment not even a Local Government Chairman worked into his university to ask for any research to be conducted in order to guide him in coming up with strong policies that will guide his administration. In fact one of the Governors attending the function excused himself to the extent that the Late Dr Bala was so angry he decided to deliver the lecturer in Hausa language so that the non-English Speaking audiences present could get the message.

Restoring the dignity of these universities and producing talents who can help the continent address the challenges of the 21st century is a collective responsibility. As I discussed at the beginning of this series, one way to do that is through creative investment where the government fulfill its part of the obligation, and universities also device their own means to address their needs even without government intervention. There is nothing wrong in looking at how other countries do it, and then develop an African model for investing in universities. Before suggesting some of the solutions, it will be good to look at some universities around the world, and see how they generate funding for themselves.

Let us start with one of the richest universities in the world, Harvard University. According to a news release by Harvard Gazette published on September 26, 2012, “Harvard University announced today that its endowment posted a -0.05% return and was valued at $30.7 billion for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2012”.

This endowment fund according to the story “is not a single fund, but comprises more than [12,000] individual funds, many of them restricted to specific uses such as support of a research center or the creation of a professorship in a specific subject. The funds are invested by HMC, which oversees the University’s endowment, pension, trust funds, and other investments at a significant savings relative to outside management”.

There is risk in bringing this kind of discussion in Africa, because some of our policy makers, who are not unaware of this fact, could use it to justify their neglect of the educational system. But this does not mean that we should not discuss ways to address the challenges facing African universities, when the same policy makers have tirelessly and consistently failed to honour their promises in the last 30 years.

To be continued

18 Dhul Qada, 1434

23 September 2013

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

(73): University education and generational change in Africa (III)

The research by Wittengborg University about the flow of African students to foreign universities also provides an interesting perspective about studying in foreign countries and the potential that is within Africa as a continent. There are two key aspects of the report that I found most interesting. The major destination of African students in foreign universities and the country of origin of these foreign students. According the report, 29% of foreign students from Africa go to universities in France, 15.1% to South Africa and 9.7% each to the United Kingdom and the United States. The remaining percentage of the students goes as follows:  Germany (4.7 %), Malaysia (3.9%), Canada (2.9%), Italy (2.0%),Australia (2.0%), Morocco (1.8%) and Angola (1.7%)

From this aspect of the report, it is clear that apart from France, majority of African students prefer South Africa over the United States, United Kingdom, and other Western countries mentioned in the report. We need to ask the question why is this so? In addition to other African countries, Morocco and Angola are attracting international students from the continent. With regards to the interest in South African Universities the Wittengborg University report stated that “South Africa - which principally caters for students from English- speaking countries such as Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana and Lesotho - is described as “less bureaucratic” than Europe or the US when it comes to obtaining visas. It is also seen as “accessible, dynamic and stable” as well as less expensive. Its public universities are of high quality”.

There are important learning points from the South African experience. First is the confidence of countries in the Southern African sub region in universities located in South Africa. Secondly is the quality of education which is of the same standard with the best universities elsewhere around the world. Thirdly is that the best universities are actually public universities, and are accessible to people from outside the region. This also goes to tell us that the one who has monopoly on education is the one who provides the highest quality of education. 

I vividly remember a story we were told by Dr Kabir Kabo during a visit to him in Manchester about the expensive nature of British Universities. He told us that when Margret Thatcher was told that the reforms she was proposing in the UK educational system will send international students away, she replied that as long as there is quality they will come. It is interesting also, just like South Africa, the best universities in Britain are public universities, though with other sources of funding outside the public treasury.

With regards to Morocco, the report suggested that “Morocco… hopes to attract more by offering a high quality system, including properly accredited private institutions and branches of French and other foreign universities, at lower cost to students than in Europe. Courses are diverse, and the disciplines that are mostly chosen by students from other African countries include medicine, engineering and administration”, while “Angola…caters mostly for those from its Portuguese-speaking neighbours Cape Verde and São Tomé and Príncipe, followed by students from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea-Bissau and Mozambique. According to the report, it serves to fill gaps in students’ domestic higher education systems”.

If you look at the key issues raised in this report, there is something conspicuously missing. In the educational hubs emerging in the African continent, there is no mention of a country from the West African region. Yet there is an elephant within that region known as Nigeria with the highest population in Africa and potentially higher number of educational institutions. Not even Ghana, the emerging destination for Nigerians who lost confidence in the Nigerian universities, but do not have the economic viability to attend universities in Europe and North America is mentioned. A food for thought. What about the country by country ratio of students going out of the continent for higher education? Join me next week for an update (God-willing).

To be continued



Monday, 2 September 2013

(72): University education and generational change in Africa (II)

National development does not come in a vacuum, it has to be planned, strategised and implemented without interruption or selfishness. At the top of this priority is university education. It is not surprising therefore that when you look at the statistics of countries that are making progress in terms of development; the data suggest massive investment in quality university education. 

The picture becomes clearer when you look at the total number of international students studying in universities in developed countries. According to another report by the OECD on the total number of students studying abroad, “In 2009, almost 3.7 million tertiary students were enrolled outside their country of citizenship, representing an increase of more than 6% on the previous year”, however what is important is not the total number of students studying abroad, but the next key points in the report.

“Just over 77% of students worldwide who study abroad do so in OECD countries…in absolute terms, the largest numbers of international students are from China, India and Korea. Asians account for 52% of all students studying abroad worldwide”. Said the report. What is interesting here is the consistency in the rise of China, India and Korea in the global economy and the huge investment made by these countries for higher education. All the three countries are members of the G20.  One more thing to note from the report is that China leads the way by constituting 18.2% of all international students in OECD member countries.

That is not the only point that is important; compare this statistics with the list of the top 20 universities in the world and their location. According to the Times Higher Education report, the best 20 universities for 2012/2013 are, California Institute of Technology, University of Oxford, Stanford University, Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Princeton University, University of Cambridge, Imperial College London, University of California, Berkeley, University of Chicago, Yale University, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, University of California, Los Angeles, Columbia University, University of Pennsylvania, Johns Hopkins University, University College London, Cornell University, Northwestern University and the University of Michigan.

The entire top 20 universities according to the criteria of Times Higher Education are in three countries, United States, England and Switzerland. Apart from the growing number of universities in China, India and South Korea, the bulk of these students are studying in these top universities. You don’t need statistics to even tell you about the effort the Chinese and the Indians are making to develop the capacity of their citizens locally and internationally, just visit the campuses of any of these universities, and randomly count the number of Chinese and Indian students, you will get the answer yourself.

With the exception of South Africa that made it to the list of top 400 universities in the world according to Times Higher Education, I do not think these universities are at the top simply because they are in Europe or North America. The answer is simple, creative investment (I shall bring some data about the amount invested by some selected universities in subsequent series God-willing in order to buttress this point). In fact according to the analysis by the editor of  the Times Higher Education, Phil Baty, in an interview with the BBC's Mishal Hussein, with the kind of investment being made in countries like China, India, South Korea, Singapore, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries, their universities will overtake the European and American universities. Though that may not happen in the near-distant-future, with continuity it will happen eventually. According to the editor, when compared to previous rankings, the influence of US and UK universities is declining. 

If African countries are to save themselves from the current predicament, the continent needs to strategise effectively, by making massive investment in university education, sending Africans to the best universities around world while simultaneously improving the ones at home.

According to the World Population Review Africa as a continent has a projected population of 1.2 billion, and will reach 1.9 billion by 2050. China is projected to have a population of 1.35 billion according to statistics released by the National Bureau of Statistics of China in January 2013. By 2011 China has a total of 339, 700 students studying in abroad according to figures reported by the Chinese newspaper Global Times, mainly in the OECD countries, while Africa as a continent has 387, 386 students in foreign countries according to a special report commissioned by Wittenborg University, France

If you compare China and Africa by population, Africa is not doing badly, but when you look at China as a country with a single government, single policy, single development strategy, and compare it with Africa comprising of over 50 different governments, what does that say? This is not a glorification of studying in foreign land, but about what Africa is missing in terms of development by not investing its resources in home grown universities, and maximizing the benefit of sending its inhabitants to the best universities around the world.

To be continued.