[Issue 21] Media Monitoring: Extract of Press News on Higher Education in Africa

  1. Mail and Guardian

Science will unlock Africa’s potential — if it is funded (Africa)

Africa’s leading scientists, innovators and policymakers met in Kigali, Rwanda, in March this year to brainstorm solutions to an increasingly pressing problem: the poor quality of science on the continent. Any good leader knows that scientific discovery and innovation fuel progress, facilitate development and can tackle issues such as food insecurity, water shortages and climate change. But most African governments are failing to fund research and development (R&D) adequately. According to the Unesco Institute for Statistics, countries in sub-Saharan Africa spend, on average, just 0.5% of their gross domestic product (GDP) on this. In the West, the figure is closer to 3%. This disparity underscores the development challenges Africans face. Africa is home to 15% of the world’s population and 5% of its GDP but accounts for a paltry 1.3% of total research spending. Moreover, African inventors hold just 0.1% of the world’s patents, meaning that, even when money is spent on science, innovation and research, the findings rarely translate into solutions for the continent’s most immediate challenges. These trends are not universal; some African governments are investing heavily in science-led innovation. In South Africa, for example, authorities have pledged to double R&D spending by 2020 to 1.5% of GDP. This follows a 2016 commitment by African heads of state to increase science and technology budgets to at least 1% of GDP by 2025. A handful of countries — including Kenya, Rwanda, and Senegal — are working hard to reach this funding threshold. Africa also benefits from generous research-related aid and international support. One of the top donors, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has invested more than $450-million in African science initiatives over the past decade. Projects include a $306-million programme to boost crop yields and a $62.5-million grant to improve health outcomes.

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  1. University World News

Wider access to higher education needs a mind-set shift (Malawi)

At Malawi’s first international conference on higher education last month, Professor Paul Tiyambe Zeleza, vice-chancellor of the Nairobi-based United States International University – Africa, suggested there was need for caution in the Malawian government’s decision to “unbundle” the University of Malawi and turn its four constituent colleges into stand-alone universities. Zeleza said the move went against global trends: universities the world over are consolidating their institutions, growing their enrolment numbers, and expanding their reach. The decision to “dismantle” the University of Malawi, as he saw it, went in the opposite direction. Zeleza said Malawi had the “dubious distinction of having the lowest university enrolment rate in the world,” with less than 1% of college-age Malawians attending university. The African average was 12%, while the global average was 33%. He added, in a personal conversation later, that in developed countries university enrolment rates were above 60%. It is instructive to examine the factors that have given Malawi this unenviable distinction. It is a legacy of missionary education from the 1870s, of colonialism from the 1890s, and of one-party dictatorship from 1964 to 1994. When Malawi won its independence from British rule in 1964, there was no university in the country, save for a few missionary teacher training and technical colleges. Secondary school education did not start in Malawi until 1941 when the colonial government opened Blantyre Secondary School. By the time of independence in 1964, there were only four full secondary schools in the country.  The pace of development in post-independence Malawi was rapid, but looking back from a 21st century perspective, it was not rapid enough. The University of Malawi was established in October 1964, three months after independence. It remained the only university in the country for the next quarter of a century, when the African Bible College opened in 1988. The second public university, Mzuzu, would not have its first intake until 1999. Currently Malawi has four public universities, whose total student population is about 20,000.

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  1. University World News’

Bad politics and the paradox of university rankings (Zimbabwe)

Zimbabwe’s higher education sector finds itself caught in a paradox: the country has one of the highest literacy rates in Africa at 92%, but its universities perform dismally in both continental and international rankings. Pressure is mounting on the post-Robert Mugabe government to intervene. In an editorial published on 21 May titled “Bring back the glory in Zim’s universities”, regional newspaper the Southern Times, said it was high time the authorities worked to ensure the country’s institutions of higher learning regained their lost glory. “Something is certainly not right and the sooner the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education moves in to address this, the better,” the editorial said. The newspaper said it was a “shame” that the University of Zimbabwe could be ranked lower than universities in countries such as Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and even Sudan – more so given the fact that the country is still said to have the highest literacy rates on the continent. The University of Zimbabwe, the country’s flagship university founded in the 1960s, has long lost its spot among the elite league of African universities. According to the 2018 list compiled by Australia-based university ranking organisation uniRank, the university is ranked number 59 out of 200 universities in Africa, with Zimbabwe’s Midlands State University following at 148. Eight South African universities dominate the top 10 with the University of Pretoria occupying the top spot, followed by the University of Cape Town. The University of Nairobi in Kenya and the American University in Cairo, Egypt take ninth and 10th positions respectively. No Zimbabwean university is in the top 50. Last year, University of Zimbabwe Vice-chancellor Professor Levi Nyagura announced that the institution had set its sights on becoming one of the top 10 universities on the African continent by the year 2020, stressing that student enrolment at the learning institution had grown by more than 700%, from 2,280 in 1980 to 17,000 in 2017.

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Download Issue 21  Media Monitoring.Extract for Higher Education news in Africa. 21

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