Tuesday, 8 October 2013
(75): University education and generational change in Africa V
The strength of Harvard University’s endowment fund is quite exceptional, because the $30 billion that the university makes from its donors is more than the entire amount spent by British universities, as a BBC report in 2011 indicated. The Harvard University endowment fund is an example of where private effort is made to generate funding for university education.
Here is an example of government effort to establish a world class university. As reported by Global Higher Education, the King Abdallah University of Science and Technology in Jeddah started with an investment of $12.5 Billion. This is just one university that is at the moment in transition to compete with the best universities in the world.
So to return to our main subject, universities in Africa need to device creative means of financing their activities, some of these means are not beyond reach. For this reason this column will suggest three different alternatives to seek additional income for universities. The first solution one would propose is intra-regional consolidation which has various elements. A common trend you find in some African universities is multiplication of effort. For instance you can find three universities in the same region receiving funding from the same government, yet each of these universities would have chemistry department, biology department, sociology department etc. Yet at the end of the day neither department possesses enough staff strength and modern equipments to the highest standard. Instead of having three or four similar departments producing so many half-baked graduates, the universities should collaborate with each other and produce centres of excellence with each university focusing on its areas of strength.
Let’s take some universities in Nigeria for instance. What is the key difference in terms of specialization between Ahmad Bello University, Bayero University and Usman Dan Fodio University? How does the University of Lagos, the University of Ibadan and Obafemi Awolowo University differ from each other in terms of the quality of the courses they offer and the nature of their specialization? Running a university in this age is a serious business that requires a lot of strategic thinking in terms of the local and the global positioning of the institution.
If you take for instance the United States, you can see the point I am trying to make when you look at some universities in the same region. Both Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) are located in Boston, yet each of them is different in its global positioning. Similarly, the Colleges of the University of London such as University College London (UCL), Imperial College, and the School of Oriental and African Studies have a clear global positioning such that students clearly know why they apply to these universities. Employers clearly understand what to expect based on the specialization of such institutions. Governments requiring policy input know exactly which institution has the uniqueness to address their concerns.
In essence, African universities need to create a brand for themselves. This will help in coming up with better ideas for income generation. If you revisit the list of the best universities in the world as mentioned earlier in this series, one thing you will notice is that almost each one of them has an identifiable brand. The creation of this scholarly brand is essential in attracting the best into the universities. These students would eventually take policy making positions; some of them will run successful individual businesses etc. when a university succeeds in producing high quality graduates, it must follow that up with a strong alumni programme, by making sure it remains in touch with each student from graduation to retirement.
Alumni associations are not about annual gatherings. They are about unlocking the potential of your graduates, following their career development, and utilizing their experience as well as resources for the benefit of the university. In universities elsewhere, it is not uncommon to find departments getting free teaching from their students who have amassed so much experience in their field, and running classes free of charge. It is not uncommon to see key university infrastructure in various universities built by their alumni. The alumni are equally the best starting point for establishing a strong endowment fund for universities.
These kinds of initiatives are part and parcel of creative investment. A key area of investment for universities is housing within the region of the university. Just take a census of students living in university surroundings, paying exorbitant amount for rent, yet the very universities in whose neighborhood these students are living do not benefit from anything economically. A lot of our universities actually have enough land to build houses and give it as rent to the students. Anyone who studied in British Universities will tell you how substantial part of the houses surrounding the universities are owned by the universities. These are investments that do not require deep thinking before they could be initiated.