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.




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