African Universities Seek Autonomy

By Land, Thomas | Contemporary Review, July 1994 | Go to article overview

African Universities Seek Autonomy


Land, Thomas, Contemporary Review


THE University of Zimbabwe recently reported a scandalously high thirty-four per cent vacancy rate. Almost half the staff posts at Makerere University in Uganda are unfilled. Many of the ninety-five top higher education institutions in Africa south of the Sahara are losing the fight to keep their most talented professors on the campus, according to an authoritative new analysis published by the World Bank. Dwindling education budgets have sharply eroded staff salaries, making it hard for universities to compete in national and regional labour markets.

Many institutions are fighting back. A series of meetings under the auspices of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), ending in Dakar, Senegal, and attended by the heads of some forty-five African universities, has produced a declaration seeking fundamental reforms. Their call for change has just been taken up at an international colloquium on teacher training in Africa. The Dakar declaration demands an end to state monopoly of higher education and improved managerial and administrative autonomy for African universities, enabling them to generate resources for self-development.

Magued Diouf, the Senegalese government spokesman at the meeting, was 'encouraged' to see that many of 'our universities are taking matters into their own hands by setting up legal and financial consultations as well as clinical and bacteriological testing and even general and specialized health services... They are also developing self-financing publishing centres'. The participants recommended the creation of regional higher education networks to encourage the trend while enhancing the political integration of the continent.

A UNESCO colloquium on teacher training in French-speaking Africa, held also in Dakar, has now responded by proposing further educational and structural innovations. Pressures for change are mounting in response to a crisis of higher education throughout Africa, the World Bank says. More than three decades after they carved out their original roles in the wake of independence, the continent's universities now face a different set of challenges.

Rapid population growth, growing access to secondary school education and liberal admission policies have swelled university enrolment. But tight budgets, national emergencies and neglect have forced cutbacks in library purchases, equipment and building maintenance, forcing many staff members to leave. Educational quality is dropping.

UNIVERSITY ENROLMENT IN SELECTED AFRICAN COUNTRIES

                                             Number of Public
Country             1980       Present        Universities

Botswana             900         2,255             1
Mozambique         1,000         4,333             1
Swaziland          1,900         1,357             1
Angola             2,200         6,048             1
Malawi             2,200         2,284             1
Tanzania           5,000         3,406            20
Uganda             5,900         5,533             2
Congo              7,300        11,310             1
Zambia             7,500         4,857             2
Zimbabwe           8,300        11,000             2
Cameroon          11,500        34,000             5
Kenya             13,000        40,000             6
Senegal           13,600        19,132             2
Ethiopia          14,400        22,701             3
Nigeria           69,700       160,767            31

Sources: -- UNESCO Statistical Yearbook and World Bank data.

During the 1980s, enrolment in African universities sky-rocketed. The continent's university student population grew by sixty-one per cent from 1980 to 1990, rising from 337,000 to 542,000. But higher education's share in the budgets of African governments dropped from 19. …

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