African countries continue to invest in higher education
A flurry of stories on higher education developments in African nations provides ongoing evidence that several African nations are very serious about participating in, contributing to, and benefitting from globalised education.
In Tanzania, students are raving about an initiative called the Pan-African e-Network Project, a distance learning programme launched in 2009 to enable Indian universities to share their expertise with their African counterparts. Through it, three Indian universities provide live lectures for students in Africa, and students can both pose questions to their lecturers and interact with their student peers in other African countries. Over 40,000 students across Africa are enrolled in these undergraduate and master’s-level programmes. What makes this an especially exciting venture is “the enthusiastic cross-continental collaboration of several African and Indian universities.” Students enrolled in the programme note that they are benefitting from the high quality of the lectures, the internationally recognised credentials upon degree completion, the affordability of the courses, and the fact that they don’t have to sit in the very crowded, small classrooms provided by their university for normal courses.
In Kenya, higher education is escaping austerity measures meant to combat the economic pressures the country is facing. Though the government is struggling to meet even urgent budgetary needs, it has increased funding for state universities by 36%. A government paper tabled in parliament, which will guide the annual allocation when East Africa’s biggest economy reads its 2012–13 budget in June, shows that universities will receive KSh60 billion (US$732 million), up from the KSh44 billion they received in the current fiscal year. The increased funding will, among other things, help to build the Open University of Kenya, a new institution whose programmes are to be delivered through e-learning and print media to enable people to access university flexibly from their homes. But even with the increased higher education funding, university administrators are likely to find it difficult to deal with the surging number of students seeking admissions. The country last year rolled out a double-intake plan to admit an additional 40,000 students over the next three years. “The sector’s biggest challenges include inadequate infrastructure and staffing, slow pace of ICT integration and dealing with accelerated admissions to universities,” said Finance Minister Njeru Githae in his budget policy statement for 2012-13. “The government will seek to address these challenges by providing enhanced education and training opportunities, building capacity in industrial training and reforming the university education system.” Update: It was also announced that Kenya will admit 7,000 extra students to its universities in the next academic year, making use of additional capacity in the form of new colleges. This brings to 41,000 the number of students who will join universities in the coming academic year, up from 34,000 admitted last year – a 20% jump.
And in Mauritius, the government is prioritising education as the lynchpin for economic and social development in the country. It will soon sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Kenya and Tanzania as part of its effort to position Mauritius as a destination for higher education. The MoU will provide for joint recognition of educational qualifications between the countries, with staff and student exchanges, and establish links between universities in the respective countries. The Minister of Tertiary Education, Science, Research and Technology Rajeshwar Jeetah explained that economic and social development in the country must rest with education, hinting at overall educational reform at the tertiary level and stating that foreign investment is the key to structuring a knowledge hub. Government is well on its way to achieving the target of increasing the tertiary enrolment rate from the current 46% to over 70% by 2015, with a view to attracting up to 100,000 foreign students by 2020. The granting of student visas under certain categories by immigration authorities, with authorisation for foreign students to work a maximum of 20 hours weekly, has been proposed by Mauritius as well.
Two new universities are expected to open by 2014, says Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande. Over the next two years, R3.8bn (US$491.6 million) has been earmarked for overall infrastructure development, R1.6bn of which has been set aside specifically for historically disadvantaged institutions. "On the academic front, my department is committed to increasing the production of graduates in engineering, the natural sciences, human and animal health sciences, and teacher education in line with my performance agreement with the president. We are engaging with Higher Education South Africa and the deans of relevant faculties to accelerate, especially black and women graduate output, in these areas," said Nzimande. To help tackle the problems faced by students wanting to enrol at a university, a National Information and Application System and a National Student Financial Aid Scheme will be established soon. This would centralise applications so that students would not have to apply to multiple universities, each with its own application fees. Update: We recently came across some additional news that According to the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), since 1994 the provisional number of international students in South Africa's 23 universities grew dramatically - from 12,600 in 1994 to more than 64,784 in 2010. About a quarter of these are studying postgraduate qualifications. Sources: elearning Africa, University World News, Africa Review, News 24