By Muhammad Jameel Yusha’u
The challenges facing Africa are too many, lamenting about them will not solve the problem, ignoring them will compound the situation, finding solution to them requires innovation and prioritizing the needs of the continent. Few will argue against the idea that education is the solution to these problems.
By education I do not mean producing literate individuals holding paper qualifications. Graduates who will be happy for acquiring degrees, while their qualifications do not reach the lowest degree of quality compared to their best competitors. Here we are talking about producing competitive and innovative talents. Young men and women who have the capacity to generate resources, create ideas, and provide leadership in various spheres of life for the development of Africa, whether from within or outside the continent. We are talking about a comprehensive approach typical of the style of China, by using its population to influence both the educational and economic development around the world.
Few will argue against the idea that investment in university education is at the heart of development especially in the 21st century. Let us prove this by looking at some statistics. In a special report released by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in May 2012, by the year 2020, China and India will produce 40% of graduates the world over. According to the report “Looking ahead, it’s likely that the global talent pool will continue to grow across most OECD and G20 countries, and that the fast-growing G20 economies will continue to account for an increasingly large share. According to OECD calculations, there will be more than 200 million 25-34 year-olds with higher education degrees across all OECD and G20 countries by the year 2020. What’s more, 40% of them will be from China and India alone”.
To understand the kind of investment made in higher education, let us look at the picture in the last ten to twelve years. The report suggested that “In 2000, there were 51 million 25-34 year-olds with higher education (tertiary) degrees in OECD countries, and 39 million in non-OECD G20 countries. Over the past decade, however, this gap has nearly closed, in large part because of the remarkable expansion of higher education in this latter group of countries. For example, in 2010 there were an estimated 66 million 25-34 year-olds with a tertiary degree in OECD countries, compared to 64 million in non-OECD G20 countries. If this trend continues, the number of 25-34 year-olds from Argentina, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, the Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia and South Africa with a higher education degree will be almost 40% higher than the number from all OECD countries by the year 2020”.
While India and China alone are projected to produce 40% of university graduates by the year 2020, here is a simple analysis of the rest of the countries mentioned in the report. Starting with Argentina and Brazil (South America), China, India, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia (Asia), Russia (Europe), and finally South Africa (Africa).
Without the need to think deeply, all the countries are members of G20, yet only South Africa made it in this statistics from the African continent. Do African countries think South Africa alone can shoulder the responsibility of the continent without a reciprocal role by the rest of the continent? The position of South Africa in the OECD data is interesting, because if quantity in number is the determining factor in producing graduates, perhaps Nigeria will top the table in Africa. But the world has changed; we live in a knowledge based society where firms are interested in employing innovators, rather than salary-collecting graduates. The former is potentially what South African Universities produce, coupled with other factors that are essential for economic development.
Still when you study the world ranking of universities around the world, more than any country in Africa, South Africa leads the way. Let us look at the Times Higher Education ranking of universities around the world, (of course this does not mean the rankings are bias free); South Africa has the only four out of 400 universities from Africa. Here is the question to think about, what is the relationship between economic development and university education. There is additional point that needs to be made regarding these figures which requires an answer, what is the ratio of graduates from India, China and other G20 countries in the best universities around the world? What is the ratio of African students in the best universities mentioned in world ranking of universities like the Times Higher Education?
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.
The research by Wittengborg University about the flow of African students in foreign universities also provides an interesting perspective about studying in foreign countries and the potential that is within Africa as a continent. There are two key aspects of the report that I found most interesting. The major destination of African students in foreign universities and the country of origin of these foreign students. According the report, 29% of foreign students from Africa go to universities in France, 15.1% to South Africa and 9.7% each to the United Kingdom and the United States. The remaining percentage of the students goes as follows: Germany (4.7 %), Malaysia (3.9%), Canada (2.9%), Italy (2.0%),Australia (2.0%), Morocco (1.8%), Angola (1.7%)
From this aspect of the report, it is clear that apart from France, majority of African students prefer South Africa over the United States, United Kingdom, and other Western countries mentioned in the report. We need to ask the question why is this so? In addition to other African countries, Morocco and Angola are attracting international students from the continent. With regards to the interest in South African Universities the Wittengborg University report stated that “South Africa – which principally caters for students from English- speaking countries such as Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana and Lesotho – is described as “less bureaucratic” than Europe or the US when it comes to obtaining visas. It is also seen as “accessible, dynamic and stable” as well as less expensive. Its public universities are of high quality”.
There are important learning points from the South African experience. First is the confidence of countries in the Southern African sub region in universities located in South Africa. Secondly is the quality of education which is of the same standard with the best universities elsewhere around the world. Thirdly is that the best universities are actually public universities, and are accessible to people from outside the region. This also goes to tell us that the one who has monopoly on education is the one who provides the highest quality of education.
I vividly remember a story we were told by Dr Kabir Kabo during a visit to him in Manchester about the expensive nature of British Universities. He told us that when Margret Thatcher was told that the reforms she was proposing in the UK educational system will send international students away, she replied that as long as there is quality they will come. It is interesting also, just like South Africa, the best universities in Britain are public universities, though with other sources of funding outside the public treasury.
With regards to Morocco, the report suggested that “Morocco… hopes to attract more by offering a high quality system, including properly accredited private institutions and branches of French and other foreign universities, at lower cost to students than in Europe. Courses are diverse, and the disciplines that are mostly chosen by students from other African countries include medicine, engineering and administration”, while “Angola…caters mostly for those from its Portuguese-speaking neighbours Cape Verde and São Tomé and Príncipe, followed by students from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea-Bissau and Mozambique. According to the report, it serves to fill gaps in students’ domestic higher education systems”.
If you look at the key issues raised in this report, there is something conspicuously missing. In the educational hubs emerging in the African continent, there is no mention of a country from the West African region. Yet there is an elephant within that region known as Nigeria with the highest population in Africa and potentially higher number of educational institutions. Not even Ghana, the emerging destination for Nigerians who lost confidence in the Nigerian universities, but do not have the economic viability to attend universities in Europe and North America is mentioned. A food for thought. What about the country by country ratio of students going out of the continent for higher education? Join me next week for an update (God-willing).
But when it comes to the countries that export students, the study by Wittenborg University has some findings that could interest a lot of readers. It shows that Morocco exports more students compared to any other African country with (11.3%), followed by Nigeria (10.2%), Algeria (5.9%), Cameroon (5.3%), Zimbabwe (5.2%), Tunisia (5.1%), Kenya (3.5%), Senegal, (3.1%), Egypt (3.1%) and finally Botswana (2.3%).
There are some interesting issues we need to pay attention to in these figures. While South Africa is the second major destination for African students around the world, and the first within the continent, it is missing when it comes to exporting students. This could relatively suggest how satisfied South Africans are with their universities. While Nigeria is missing among the destination for international students, it exports the second largest number from the continent. Does this suggest that Nigerians are dissatisfied with quality of their universities? Perhaps Professor Ali Mazrui would be the best to answer this question where he to produce a new edition of his book entitled “A Tale of Two Countries-Nigeria and South Africa As Contrasting Visions”. One of the interesting analogies drawn by Professor Mazrui in the book was that “Nigeria is the largest exporter of oil”, and “South Africa is the largest consumer of oil”. Beyond oil, now another contrast has emerged. South Africa is the largest importer of African students, while Nigeria is the largest exporter of students from Sub-Saharan Africa.
This is not the only lesson from the statistics above. While Botswana and Zimbabwe are the only countries from Southern Africa that export students, from the West African region, Nigeria, Cameroon, and Senegal have featured, while no West African country is a major importer. One would ask that Tunisia, Egypt and Algeria have featured from North Africa. The answer is an obvious yes, the difference however with the West African and other parts of Sub-Saharan Africa is that the universities in Morocco and Egypt at least have some quality that they attract many international students.
Building high quality universities has a lot of advantages for African countries. At least it will help the continent to produce higher institutions of learning that directly address the needs of the continent. University education is not just about speaking Victorian English or ability to converse in flawless French. It is about addressing the local needs of the society through rigorous research and intellectual stimulation. Unfortunately to quote the late Waziri Junaidu, the famous scholar of Sokoto Caliphate, “our universities belong to us only in their location”. It is sad that some of the best researches conducted about Africa are stocked in libraries outside the continent. Though even the research conducted in African universities are hardly touched by African policy makers. The late Dr Yusuf Bala Usman lamented about this during a lecture at the Bayero University, Kano, in the early days of Nigeria’s return to civilian rule after the May 1999 elections. He mentioned that almost two years into the new experiment not even a Local Government Chairman worked into his university to ask for any research to be conducted in order to guide him in coming up with strong policies that will guide his administration. In fact one of the Governors attending the function excused himself to the extent that the Late Dr Bala was so angry he decided to deliver the lecturer in Hausa language so that the non-English Speaking audiences present could get the message.
Restoring the dignity of these universities and producing talents who can help the continent address the challenges of the 21st century is a collective responsibility. As I discussed at the beginning of this series, one way to do that is through creative investment where the government fulfill its part of the obligation, and universities also device their own means to address their needs even without government intervention. There is nothing wrong in looking at how other countries do it, and then develop an African model for investing in universities. Before suggesting some of the solutions, it will be good to look at some universities around the world, and see how they generate funding for themselves.
Let us start with one of the riches universities in the world, Harvard University. According to a news release by Harvard Gazette published on September 26, 2012, “Harvard University announced today that its endowment posted a -0.05% return and was valued at $30.7 billion for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2012”.
This endowment fund according to the story “is not a single fund, but comprises more than [12,000] individual funds, many of them restricted to specific uses such as support of a research center or the creation of a professorship in a specific subject. The funds are invested by HMC, which oversees the University’s endowment, pension, trust funds, and other investments at a significant savings relative to outside management”.
There is risk in bringing this kind of discussion in Africa, because some of our policy makers, who are not unaware of this fact, could use it to justify their neglect of the educational system. But this does not mean that we should not discuss ways to address the challenges facing African universities, when the same policy makers have tirelessly and consistently failed to honour their promises in the last 30 years.
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, 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 four similar departments producing so many half-baked graduates, the universities should collaborate with each other and produce centres of excellence. 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 do the University of Lagos, the University of Ibadan and Obafemi Awolowo 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 institutions.
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 students 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 build 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 leaving in university surrounding’s, 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 rent for the students. Anyone who studied in British Universities will tell you how substantial parts of the houses surrounding the universities are owned by the universities. These are investments that do not require deep thought before they could be initiated.
The second source of funding that will help universities in Africa is inter-regional consolidation. If you take countries like Nigeria, South Africa, Egypt and emerging oil economies like Angola, they do better in comparison to other African countries. Equally important are the free trade zones, as well as lack of travel restrictions among African regions such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and the Southern African Development Community (SADEC) provide ample opportunities for exploring the potential of African universities, and generating more income. Institutions like Bayero University, Ahmadu Bello University or the University of Ibadan have every potential to explore the educational market in neighboring countries like Benin, Niger, Chad, Cameroon etc. the expansion of market and economic activities should not just be restricted to material goods and services, education should be the most important commodity that should be transferred across borders.
The good news is that there is thirst for higher education almost everywhere, what is difficult is affordability, so if you take these institutions to the door step of these neighboring countries you will be in position to consolidate your income, and most importantly provide educational services. It is not as easy as it sounds, but when you have chief executives that have the foresight to pursue long term initiatives that will bring both quality and income, it is doable. The University I was teaching until few months back, Northumbria University in North East England, is now the largest provider of university education in Hong Kong, and making similar in roads in Singapore. These are countries in faraway Asia; and that business strategy started not long ago. Within short period the university saw its income rise, and began to recruit top class academics around the world, and began to compete with the best universities in Britain.
Other Universities from United States and the United Kingdom are opening campuses in Malaysia, the Gulf Region, China and North Africa. African universities should explore the potential within them, otherwise within short period, with the proliferation of private universities, and the European and American Universities seeking ways to maximize their incomes, our universities, which at the moment are attended by our brothers and sisters only, while the elites send kids abroad, will become like public primary and secondary schools. I hope it never happens. About nine years ago, one of the Professors in Nigerian Universities, currently holding an executive position told me that, there is every possibility that in the next few years our universities will become like public primary and secondary schools.
I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw some pictures on the state of Nigerian campuses published recently in the Newsletter of ASUU (Academic Staff Union of Universities-Nigeria). Without exaggeration, some refugee camps are better equipped than the condition students learn in our universities. And these graduates are expected to compete with those in the Ivy League universities around the world.
The final strategy to help African universities is the need to create regional educational hubs in Africa. Here I mean, in each region, from the North to South, East to West and Central Africa, top class universities need to be produced that will serve the economic needs of that region. To do that, a political decision needs to be made. The African Union should be the one to make that political decision. In this regard I will suggest, that All African Heads of State agree to a Marshal plan on the development of education which will support these educational hubs to develop for at least 20 to 30 years, until African Universities are in the position to compete with other universities around the world. One great mistake that Africa will make is to allow the current state of higher education to continue as it is.
Gone should be the days when universities simply produce glorified-literate individuals who can only join government services and append their signatures on documents to release money or approve contracts. African States should think of universities that produce innovators along our value system. In coming up with this Marshal plan, African philanthropists should be involved, and we are not short of them, many are racing to feature in Forbes list of dollar billionaires. Left to me the effort of people like Mr Mo Ibrahim to give award to African leaders, which in recent years are difficult to find, I will rather suggest he gives that money to one African university to develop its infrastructure; that way good leaders can be produced who may not even need an award, but who see service to humanity as their reward.
This article is part of six series on university education published in Premium Times, Blueprint newspaper and my blog www.jameelyushau.blogspot.com