Whenever the University almanac releases the outcome of their annual rankings of Universities in the World, East African universities are always outside the top ten brackets.
On the continental ranking luckily, the University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM) does us East Africans proud by leaping into one of the top 20. Our continent is mead proud in World Universities rankings by the usual suspect’s universities’ of South Africa. Wits University is particularly with it when it comes to these rankings.
The question we should be asking but which never gets much debated is why are Sub-Saharan Universities so low on the radar of rankings both at the World level and on the continent?
We are always left clutching at straws with our older and 50 year old premier East African University, Makerere, not making much of a blip on the radar at 27th on the continent or thereabouts.
A quick web check will tell you that East Africa today has 100 or more Universities spread between the five countries with majority an estimated 20-30 each found in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda and the rest sharing 15 or thereabouts. With such a proud array of a list of universities one then wonders why we are not making the top 50 of the World with any of our East African universities.
The answer surely must lie in a number of vexed issues that plague the education sector. Prof, Calestous Juma of Harvard University Technology Centre this week gave us an insider’s look at why our universities are hard pressed to make an impression on the communities in which they are meant to impact let alone their countries, region or continent. “It is the refusal to change.
Our universities and Governments have marinated the same methodology over the years and refused to embrace change. It is easier to move a grave than get our African Governments to embrace change because, the occupants do not protest,” says Prof. Juma a celebrated East African Scientist and researcher, more serenaded and acclaimed internationally abroad than at home where he is vilified as a propositionist of Genetically mortified foods (GMO).
Prof. Juma describes the situation on research in much of Continental Africa as convoluted as Universities “teach without researching and research institutions research without impacting on students through teaching.” In his view this is a huge disconnect as the Universities have the residue of knowledge, the students but they have little research funding hence they end up teaching using ‘yesterday’s methods and tools which do not create the room for students to become inquisitors of new knowledge.”
Many African countries have education policies crafted in the 1960’s they are clearly outdated and out of sync with the realities of challenges facing the continent and world today. The policy makers are like stuck old vinyl records.
They mouth the same old epithets that they do not mean, Governments spend more money buying luxury cars for University administrators, than putting money into resolving the hunger conundrum that bedevils continental sub -Saharan Africa 50 years into independence. Many of our University dons who receive research grants operate more bars and guest houses put together than selfmade unschooled businessmen can challenge. Claims have been made that research grants are regularly stolen, diverted and made to support non-scholarly pursuit, nay, even personal business empires. The tragedy for Africa is that African Scholars end up on the shores of the Western World or increasing South Asia where the policy makers have internalised that every country’s future and man’s well- being on earth, is mitigated by research.
Pro.Juma is one such scholar. Born and brought up in Kenya, Prof. Juma has ended up in respected and world re-known Harvard Technology Centre when Africa , in fact, needs him more, through a stint in Kuala Lumpur University where he became Vice Chancellor, a feat that may be difficult to achieve in East Africa outside his native Kenya , going by how much Prof. Isaya Omollo Ndiege has had to bear disruptive elements opposed to a Kenyan being Vice Chancellor at a public University in Uganda’s Kyambogo University. The fact is Universities in Africa devote less than 10% of their budgets on research and the bulk of that research fund goes into paying for tuition for graduate studies in western universities.
According to Prof. Juma, the time has come for companies to invest in research because the long term benefits demand it. Mobile phone companies for instance can offer scholarly investment in research in ventures that will change Africa significantly. M-pesa, M-farm were all founded in this region and many other technologies are waiting to be founded. What it takes is tough decisions.