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With No Money, More Students, African Universities Struggle

  • Anita Powell

Academics from around the African continent converged in Johannesburg last week for the African Universities Summit, a chance to tackle some of the major issues facing higher education in Africa today. Universities are key to Africa’s development, according to educators.

African academics say that from the Cape to Cairo, however, a lack of funding, poor infrastructure and high demand make the task of educating Africa's students a real struggle.

"Most countries are trying to increase the number of graduates because it is important for economic development," said David Mfinanga, who is deputy vice chancellor at the University of Dar Es Salaam.

"But the resources are limited, so that affects quality as well, and therefore we are struggling to balance the two because you need the quantity, you need more graduates, but you need to maintain the quality, and the resources are limited," he said.

And even at one of the largest universities in Southern Africa, money is a persistent problem. The University of Johannesburg recently hosted a summit on improving higher education in Africa.

“We’ve seen some of the funding from governments being shaved off, going down, and institutions that had to find ways of looking for alternatives, making up for this lack," said Pinkie Mekgwe at the University of Johannesburg.

Mfinanga said advocating for higher education can be an uphill battle on a continent that often struggles with graver problems like war, famine and poverty. He said a better standard of university education, though, holds the solution to many of those problems.

"You cannot have development without creating knowledge and transferring knowledge," he said.

But experts say governments also need to look at the consequences of churning out graduates.

"Once you train all these kids, you fill their heads with a lot of knowledge and knowhow — what are you going to do with that if they just get out of university and they are out of a job?" asked Ousmane Sene, director at the West Africa Research Center.

These aren’t problems that will be solved overnight. They require massive investment, the commitment of governments and the combined efforts of everyone involved. Those involved say those various issues make this problem all the more urgent. The very future of Africa depends on it.

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