Planning for Higher Education Changes in Madagascar

By Hayward, Fred M.; Rasoanampoizina, Hanitra | International Educator, May/June 2007 | Go to article overview

Planning for Higher Education Changes in Madagascar

Hayward, Fred M., Rasoanampoizina, Hanitra, International Educator

FOR THE LAST YEAR, work has been under way on a strategy for higher education reform, quality improvement, and a transformation in Madagascar. After some delay, that process has been joined by the major higher education institutions.

Higher education in Madagascar developed in the 1950s as part of the French Institut des Hautes Etudes. The University of Antananarivo was established on this base in 1961 with 723 students focusing on law, medicine, pharmacy, science, and the arts. Five regional centers were established in 1975, becoming regional universities in 1988. In 1989-90 the universities were required to admit all students who passed the baccalaureate. From 1975 to 1990, the number of students more than quadrupled, to 37,000. Judging that experiment a costly failure, the government returned to competitive admissions, reducing the total number of students to an average of 20,000 from 1994 through 2002. Increases since that time have been modest. In 2006 the total student population at the six public universities was 37,152.

Private higher education institutions developed primarily during the past decade. Most provide training in business, languages, management, and computer science. In 2005 the 50 recognized private higher institutions had 6,778 students (19.50 percent of the total). The total number of students enrolled in higher education is 3 percent of the college-age group, compared to 8 percent for Africa as a whole.


Among the most difficult challenges is to stem the tremendous loss of students from secondary school to graduation. Only half the 25,000 students who passed the baccalaureate at the end of secondary school were admitted to a university. Thirty-five percent of students fail in the first year, and 18 percent repeat-with devastating consequences for students and a waste of resources. Of those admitted, 42 percent will earn a diploma. Part of the problem is inadequate preparation in secondary school, as well as the fact that many go to universities because it is expected and because students receive little counseling about other opportunities.

Much of the university curriculum is out of date. Only 64 percent (2006) of the faculty have Ph.D.s or their equivalent. Few do any research or publish. A recent study shows only 87 publications in major refereed journals in 2004 and 121 in 2005. Research experience is limited, which undermines the ability of faculty to train and to stimulate students. Teaching and learning are not highly valued or rewarded. There is a public perception that about half the university graduates are unemployed, although there have been no studies to verify this.

University faculty are aging. The system suffers from a hiring freeze of more than a decade. As a result, the average age of faculty members is 56 years, with only 15 faculty members in all six universities under the age of 40.

Gender equity among students is less of a problem in Madagascar than in many other developing countries, with 46 percent of students being women. On the other hand, only 29 percent of the teaching faculty are women at public institutions and only 18 percent in private tertiary institutions.

Finance is a critical problem for universities. Government commits 18.2 percent of its budget to education and only 9.4 percent of that to higher education-the equivalent of $390 per student. Government policy of scholarships for most students (82 percent in 2006) without a means test has become an automatic budget liability, and 25 percent of recipients are from wealthy families. Students pay fees, but their contribution is limited. Attempts to increase fees or reduce scholarships would pose serious political risks. Added to these problems is the growing demand for access.

The system suffers from inertia. Senior university administrators resisted suggestions for reform until 2006 when new elections of presidents brought in leaders who are aware that Madagascar is far behind most of the rest of Africa and committed to improving quality.

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