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THE PRESENT
PREDICAMENT OF
AFRICAN UNIVERSITIES
Confronting the Burden of the Past
Page 1 of 61
The Present Predicament of African Universities:
Confronting the Burden of the Past1
Y. G-M. Lulat
I Introduction
Modern universities arrived in Africa amidst a fanfare of great optimism; today, the sad
truth is that in many parts of Africa much of that optimism is now on the wane, if it has not
already evaporated completely. (Unless indicated differently, Africa for the purposes of this
chapter refers to sub-Saharan Africa, comprising about 40 countries–not including island
states like the Seychelles and South Africa.2) One may begin this chapter, then, with two
observations that one can forthrightly render regarding the state of universities in much of
Africa today: first, that they have come a long way from the time when most of Africa was
ruled by Europe. That is, in quantitative terms, enormous progress has been achieved. Yet,
at the same time, in qualitative terms, universities throughout most of sub-Saharan Africa
are, to put it very, very mildly, under extreme stress.
The magnitude of quantitative progress, taking two comparative benchmark years,
1960 (by which time most of Africa was on the verge of achieving independence) and 1997,
is nothing short of miraculous, as the following numbers for higher education as a whole
testify: in 1960, total enrollment was 21,000 and the gross enrollment ratio was 0.2%; in
1997 the respective figures were 1,802,000 and 6.9%.3 Qualitatively too, there was a time
when the quality of undergraduate teaching and learning (graduate education was and still
is relatively undeveloped) in African universities was internationally comparable. Whatever
criticisms there were of African universities in the past, they rarely (if ever) included those
about quality. To day, however, it is a different story.
1
A slightly revised version of this document, with a modified title, was published in Higher Education: A
Handbook of Theory and Research, Vol. XVIII, ed. by John C. Smart and William G. Tierney, pp. 595-667.
London and New York: Kluwer Academic, 2003.
2
South Africa is generally excluded from this chapter because of its Apartheid history and present
circumstance. Consider this one simple fact to demonstrate the uniqueness of South Africa on the African
continent: it alone accounts for two thirds of Sub-Saharan Africa’s entire GDP. Compared to other Sub-
Saharan African countries, it is, clearly, in a league by itself. Including it in the discussion that follows will
simply distort the discussion.
3
Data is from the annual Unesco Statistical Yearbook for the years 1980 and 1999.
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The fact is that the remarkable quantitative progress that African higher education
has registered to date, sadly, masks a proportionate qualitative degeneration on a massive,
massive scale. It is symptomatic of the emergence (to varying degrees, of course,
depending on what part of Africa one is looking at) of an enduring pattern of woes:
crippling budgetary constraints as institutions are starved of funds; large scale
deterioration of physical plant; overflowing classrooms; poorly equipped laboratories and
other similar facilities set against a logistical background of intermittent supply of even
such basics as water and electricity (not to mention consumables like chemicals); shrinking
and outdated libraries as collection development has come to a virtual standstill against a
backdrop of widespread looting of holdings; overworked and underpaid faculty who often
must moonlight to make ends meet; inefficient administrations as talented and able
administrators have left for greener pastures; teaching, learning and research that is bereft
of even the most basic logistical support (such as chalk, textbooks, photocopy machines,
etc.); almost complete loss of autonomy as governments vilify and obliterate academic
freedom; and the list goes on. 4
As for the quality of the teaching and learning enterprise itself, given this awful state
of affairs, one can only assume the worst. Reporting as far back as in 1988 (and the
situation since then, as all who have visited a number of African countries in recent years
know from first hand, has worsened considerably), this is what the World Bank observed
on this matter: "The low (and possibly declining) standard in African higher education is
now pervasively bemoaned by teacher, student, employer, and government official alike.
Nor could the situation be otherwise, since indirect evidence of a crisis of quality in African
education is overwhelming." The report goes on to state:
The most immediate consequences of the drying up of nonsalary inputs to higher
education are that research ceases and instruction is reduced to little more than
rote learning of theory from professorial lectures and chalked notes on blackboards.
Chemists who have not done a titration; biologists who have not done a dissection;
physicists who have never measured an electrical current;...engineers who have
never disassembled the machinery they are called upon to operate; social scientists
of all types who have never collected, or conducted an analysis, of their own
empirical data;...lawyers who do not have access to recent judicial opinions; medical
doctors whose only knowledge of laboratory test procedures is from hearing them
described in a lecture hall--qualitatively deprived graduates such as these are now
appearing in countries that have been hardest hit by the scarcity of nonsalary inputs.
(World Bank, 1988:74-75)
Now, just as much as the future is always a product of the present, so the present is
4
For more details and examples regarding these woes see see Ajayi, Goma and Johnson, 1996;
Amonoo-Neizer, 1998; Assie-Lumumba, 1996; Giudice, 1999; Hoffman, 1995-1996; Shabani, 1995; U.S.
Government, 1994.
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always a product of the past. To what extent, then, can the current circumstances of
African universities be credited to the specifics of the history of its development? This is
the central question that this chapter will explore. Before proceeding to do this, however, it
is necessary first to point to the elephant in the room that few concerned with African
universities have exhibited any willingness to openly discuss: the total collapse or close to
total collapse in many African countries of civil society.5 Anyhow, for the purposes of this
chapter the term civil society refers to all the major voluntary democratic social, political
and economic processes/ activities that the citizenry undertake in the public domain, but
outside the state dominated arena, for the sole purpose of creating a better society for all.
By definition, then, these processes rest on social trust and reciprocity; acceptance of
diversity in all areas: political, social and economic; and voluntary public activism for the
good of the community. It also follows, then, that there is a dialectical relationship between
civil society and democracy: one cannot exist without the other. Of course, it goes without
saying that while definitionally civil society is outside the state dominated arena, in
practice, it is never completely outside it for the simple reason that the State can not leave
untouched any activity anywhere in society that has the potential to threaten it or its
agenda. In other words, civil society is yet one more site of struggle between the citizenry
and the State. For a good overview of this concept see Bratton, 1994. For a critique of the
concept as it has been applied in the African context see Hearn, 2001. Clearly, one does
not have to be a rocket scientist to surmise the grim consequences for the educational
enterprise as a whole at any level (primary, secondary or tertiary) in such a context.
Widespread chaos, in whatever arena (social, political or economic) is not conducive to
teaching and learning. How difficult can it be to grasp this simple fact? Now, an
inkling--only an inkling--of the gravity of the situation can be best assessed by comparing
what the author of this chapter wrote seventeen years ago with what is happening today:
...nations such as those in Africa are saddled with a legacy of, among other things,
steeply spiraling mass poverty; deep ethnic/ regional conflagratory cleavages that
threaten to destroy national integrity, heavily debt-ridden stagflation economies;
endemic military takeovers; and a spreading pattern of gross violations of the mass
of the citizenry's basic human rights by states dominated by increasingly cynical and
5
The term ‘civil society’ is a new buzz word in the lexicon of Western development experts and aid donors.
It is as if all of a sudden they have woken up to discover that things like a vibrant civil society and ‘good
governance’ (another new buzz word) are necessary after all for development to take place. Consider, for
example, the following statement which is almost laughable in its obviousness made by the African
Development Bank, an affiliate of the World Bank, in its most recent report:
“Governance is now one of the cornerstones of economic development. Good governance, in its political,
social, and economic dimensions, underpins sustainable human development and the reduction of poverty
in that it defines the processes and structures that guide political and socio-economic relationships.”
(African Development Bank, 2001) Of course, despite calls for good governance there is a palpable absence
of accompanying analysis of why good governance has been absent in most of Africa all these years. Could it
be that one factor (among many, it goes without saying) has been the role played by external agents: Cold
War super powers, former colonial masters, foreign multinational corporations, and, yes, even multilateral
agencies such as the Bretton Woods institutions (the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund).
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corrupt elites. Furthermore, as we approach the year 2000, whereas the majority of
the people in the WINs [Western Industrialized Nations] will continue to enjoy a
materially superabundant life (based on an immensely wasteful system that
requires two-thirds of the world's key finite resources to keep it going) the people of
the African nations (i.e. those who will have survived the present large-scale famine
ravaging huge areas in Africa and estimated to threaten nearly one-quarter of the
entire African population with starvation)...will face even greater levels of
deterioration in their standards of living. (Lulat, 1985:555)
If those were the circumstances of Africa seventeen years ago, today in the year 2002, the
situation is even more grim. Witness, for example: the mercilessly and horrifyingly savage,
kleptocratic, ethnic-based armed conflicts in Congo, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Somalia and
Sudan; the senseless and vicious blood-letting in the civil wars of Algeria, Sudan and
Angola; the grisly genocidal murders of Burundi and Rwanda; and the equally senseless
cross-border armed violence between Uganda and Congo or between Eritrea and
Ethiopia, etc. Even, however, in the absence of armed conflict, many African states are
reeling from the ever-mounting and crushing debt burden; an epidemic of the disease
AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) that has consumed thousands of people
and cruelly wrenched from thousands of orphaned children their childhood (as they are
forcibly thrust overnight into adult roles); and the continuation of widespread kleptocratic
and political corruption, spiraling mass poverty in the context of disintegrating stagflation
economies, massive and persistent gross violations of human rights of the citizenry; (and
the list goes on and on).6 There is a new phrase that has begun to come into vogue in the
discourse on Africa’s future: ‘Afropessimism.’ This chapter is not an exercise in Afropessism,
but rather ‘Afrorealism.’ In other words, the perspective that infuses this chapter is one
captured in the admonition of one of the most important figures in the pantheon of African
political leaders, Amicar Cabral: “tell no lies and claim no easy victories.” Therefore, lest
there are charges of hyperbole from the unaware, for more information on Africa’s current
circumstances, see, for example: African Development Bank, 2001; Amoako, 2000; Ayittey,
1998; Bayart, Ellis and Hibou, 1999; Braathen, Bas and Sther, 1999; Chabal and Daloz, 1999;
Collier, 2000; Daniel, 2000; Global Coalition for Africa, 1997, 1998, and 1999; Gourevitch,
1998; Ng, 1999/2000; Giudice, 1999; Hope and Chikulo, 2000; Human Rights Watch, 1998,
1999, 2000, 20001; McPherson and Goldsmith, 1998; Shaeffer, 1994; World Bank, 2000(a);
plus the various issues of that irreverant, no-holds barred, but highly credible newsletter,
Africa Confidential.
In other words, then, in the seventeen years that have elapsed the state of the
African continent–especially sub-Saharan Africa--has not improved; on the contrary it has
6
Tragically, as if the human-engineered disasters are not enough, nature has also persisted to conspire to
add its part to the human misery: large parts of Africa continue to be engulfed by widespread famines and
floods of cataclysmic proportions (the latest occurring as recently as in 1999/2000).
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become worse.7 To be sure, there are some bright spots in Africa, but they are few, very
few. In fact, even in their case, the watchword must remain ‘ultracautious optimism.’ As
Rieff (1998) astutely observes: “Unfortunately, for all the promising signs that could lead an
African or a sympathetic foreign observer to believe in the reality of an ‘African
renaissance,’ it is far more likely that the new ‘Afro-optimism’ is, tragically, yet another false
dawn, based on little more than some promising but unrepresentative social
developments, a move toward formal democracy that has not and shows no real promise
of being translated into grass-roots democracy, a brief and transient spike in Africa's
economic fortunes, and a vast overestimation of the qualities and commitment to
democracy of a new generation of African rulers who, however different stylistically they
are from their predecessors, are cut from very much the same basic mold - the African ‘Big
Man’ (p. 11). Under these circumstances, as one can only imagine, the fate of the
universities (as with the education sector as a whole), has been one of a relentless
downward qualitative spiral. However, to blame the current circumstances of African
universities on the awful vicissitudes of the present does not represent the whole truth, but
only a partial one. To get at the whole truth, one must also examine the historical path of
7
Consider the following simple, but awful statistic: for most of the past three decades, the annual average
percentage growth rate of per capita GDP for the African continent as a whole has never made it into
positive territory! Or consider this fact: in 1965 the per capita GDP for sub-Saharan Africa was at 841
dollars while that of East Asia and the Pacific stood at 632 dollars. Compare these figures 30 years later: in
1995, 933 dollars for sub-Saharan Africa and 2,253 for East Asia and the Pacific! [World Bank, 2000:131]
Not surprisingly, on the Human Development Index sub-Saharan Africa is at the very bottom. Note also:
data just presented for sub-Saharan Africa also includes South Africa. If South Africa was not included the
figures would be even more astounding and depressing.
What is more: it is not simply that the economic circumstances of the majority of the African
population have deteriorated since independence, but as if to add insult to injury, the population has been
subjected to political thuggery of the worst kind on a relentless scale since independence. Life has been
incredibly hard for the majority of them to simply put bread on the table, but it has been made worse by the
oppressive political developments they have been forced to endure over the years. Only the slightest hint–it
can not be any more than that–at this circumstance can be elicited from considering these stark facts
compiled by the African Development Bank in its latest report: Between 1963 and 2000 there were 180
leadership successions in Africa. Of these over 50% took place through coups, wars or invasions. The rest
involved retirement, assassinations or impeachment. Only about 7% occurred because the incumbent lost an
election. During this same period, to look at this matter from a different angle, the political life over 200
regimes was terminated by means of coups, civil wars or invasions. The report from which this data comes
(African Development Bank, 2001), further observes:
“Africa is famous for leaders with long tenure. Fourteen present national heads in the region have
been in office for between ten and 20 years; nine have served more than 20 years. The mean tenure
for all former African leaders is 7.2 years, and about twice that for leaders who died in office or
retired....
Of the 101 past leaders who left office due to a coup or similar unauthorized event, roughly
two-thirds were killed, imprisoned, or banished to a foreign country. Twenty-seven former rulers
died violently, counting five whose deaths appear to have been independent of a coup or coup
attempt. The remaining 22 leaders in this category clearly perished as a direct result of coups. Of
Africa’s overthrown leaders who were not executed or assassinated, 37 were detained and held in jail
or placed under house arrest. Twenty-nine other ex-leaders were forced into exile, at least
temporarily. That figure does not include nine ex-leaders who experienced periods of both
imprisonment and banishment.”
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development that African universities have taken since independence. To restate this point
differently: it is the thesis of this chapter that the capacity of African universities to
withstand the tyranny of the present has been greatly compromised by the burden of the
past. Among the debilitating characteristics that are rooted in the past that this chapter will
concentrate on are those that are absolutely central to the survival of universities in Africa
as credible institutions of higher learning capable of contributing to the meaningful
development of, both, the individual and society at large as the present century unfolds,
namely: (1) the extremely high unit cost of universities, even when compared to other
developing regions; (2) an insufficient emphasis on the development of a science and
technology infrastructure; and (3) the relative neglect of university development in
educational planning.8 The three sections that comprise this chapter, besides this
introduction (section I) and the conclusion (section VI), correspond to these three critical
factors.
II High Unit Costs
Without any doubt, one of the most crippling, historically rooted factors that sub-Saharan
universities face today is the question of the extremely high unit costs. In a continent
where private higher education is still a rarity, the burdens placed on the public purse of
high unit costs can be severe. Moreover, it leads to a gross imbalance in resource
allocation across the different sub-sectors of the education sector with profound
implications for, both, equity and efficient use of scarce resources. Of course, those familiar
with the present deep predicament of universities in Africa will not miss the apparent irony
here: amidst the very real crippling budgetary constraints that they face, there is the issue
of excessive expenditures in the form of high unit costs. However, upon reflection one will
conclude that the contradiction is only apparent: the renewal of the fortunes of universities
in Africa from a financial point of view is a two step process: lowering unit costs is the first
step, increasing budgetary allocations judiciously is the second step. (Unfortunately, the
latter step is almost never mentioned by most international aid agencies.)
8
These, of course, are not the only problems that face African universities: for example four very serious
problems that are not discussed in this chapter are sex inequality in universities (where males are over
represented relative to female students), the impact of the disease AIDS on them, the frequent assault by
African governments on university autonomy and academic freedom (which often culminates in unplanned
shutdown of universities for temporary but extended periods of time); and the threat of the digital
information revolution bypassing the African universities. The first is not discussed here because no matter
how important it may be from the perspective of equity and the general national development effort, it is a
problem that does not threaten the basic survival of the university as an institution of higher learning. The
problem of AIDS is not discussed because it is a recent problem that has emerged from outside the
education sector; in other words it is not rooted in past university practices, which is what this chapter is
about. The third problem is not covered (though it is mentioned tangentially below) because it has less to do
with university policies per se than with such factors as the nature of the African state as it has developed
in the post-independence period; the particular configuration of class development; the trajectory of
economic development; and so on. The fourth problem is a recent problem, and like AIDS has little to do
with past historical practices other than the general neglect of science and technology to be discussed below.
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The best measure available to gauge how high this unit cost is, is to look at the per
student expenditure in higher education as a percentage of per capita GNP for Sub-
Saharan Africa and compare it with that for other parts of the world. The figures are
startling and sobering: in 1995 (latest year for which such data is available) the percentage
for the world as a whole was 77%, but for Sub-Saharan Africa it was 422%! Furthermore,
compare the Sub-Saharan figure with that of low and middle-income countries taken
together (91%), or South Asia (74%), or Latin America and the Caribbean (43%), or the high
income countries taken together (26%) (source: World Bank, 2000: 123). Now, it is of course
true that per capita income for sub-Saharan Africa is also relatively low compared to other
parts of the world, but that alone does not explain the astronomical figure of 422% The fact
is that quite clearly, the provision of university education in Africa is simply a very, very
expensive undertaking–more so than anywhere else in the world. Not surprisingly,
government after government is no longer willing or even able to fund it to the extent
warranted by their needs.
Why is the unit cost of universities in Africa so high? There are many factors that
explain this circumstance and almost all have their origins in policies and practices
established in the past, which while well-intentioned (for the most part) at that time have
led today to the proverbial chickens coming home to roost. They include: (a) The
wholesale transplantation of institutions from abroad requiring the creation of physical
infrastructures (almost in the form of alien mini-cities) that were not organically linked to
the local economy and society, and therefore requiring huge capital and recurrent
expenditures. (b) The decision to insist on free on-campus residence of all students,
thereby requiring the building and maintenance of expensive dormitories, as well as
provision of tax-payer funded board. Coupled with this approach was the decision to
provide tuition-free education to all students--without even requiring a means test. (c) The
decision to retain high salary levels (relative to salaries for similar positions in the rest of
society) for teaching staff and administrators; even going to the extent of seeking foreign
aid to maintain these levels, coupled with heavy subsidization of living expenses. (d) The
use of universities as employment generators by governments for their supporters
(symptomatic of which is the comparatively high teaching staff to student and
non-teaching staff to student ratios). (e) The failure to maximize the impact of resources by
not devising programs for non-traditional students (part-time students, evening students,
intercession students, etc.) (f) The failure to engage in meaningful cross-border
cooperation by developing regional university systems (rather than small, atomistic
systems) and thereby foregoing savings that arise from economies of scale, not to mention
such other benefits as permitting concentration of scholarly expertise–thereby facilitating
research specialization. (g) The existence of high student wastage rates in many African
universities arising from, both, political causes as well as traditional educational practices
within the universities. (h) The endemic unscheduled closures of universities by
governments arising out of conflicts with the university–principally students.
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Wholesale Transplantation of Institutions
With the onset of independence, almost every African country came to view the provision
of HED as not only a necessity beyond question, but also as a marker of their entry into the
world arena as independent nations. Universities were not simply educational institutions,
but they were also national status symbols; that is, symbols of sovereignty. Added to this
perception was the psychological burden of living down that ubiquitous racist view that
colonialist propaganda had perpetuated for centuries: that the black person was an
intellectually inferior human being incapable of taking advantage of authentic (meaning
Western style) higher education (See Nwauwa, 1997:149 and King, 1971). Under these
circumstances it was not surprising that country after country in Africa insisted that the
new universities and colleges that were being established in their countries should not be
watered down versions of the universities in the metropole, but rather be exact replicas to
the extent possible (though not necessarily in terms of architectural facade–however, in
reality, it came down to this too). (Note the term metropole is used in this chapter in place
of metropolis which itself would be used in place of the clumsy phrase ‘former colonialist
countries.’)
Of course, the departing colonial powers on their part were only too happy to oblige.
After all, they too believed–naturally enough--in the superiority of their institutions as
institutional models, and they were cognizant of African concerns in this regard. For
example, even as early as the beginning of the establishment of the forerunners of the
modern university in British colonial Africa, the university college, a warning had been
sounded on this matter in these words: “[a]bove all, it would be necessary to clear the
native mind of any suspicion that the African Universities were a sham, designed merely to
side-track native ambitions” (Currie Report, reproduced in the documents section of Ashby,
1966:479). Further, the evolution of the African universities was planned to reproduce the
path taken by such British Universities as the University of London, and that it would occur
under their tutelage. The plan that was implemented through out most of British colonial
Africa, following the Second World War, did not deviate from this basic principle. The new
institutions that were established were university colleges (often referred to as the ‘Asquith
colleges’) that were envisioned to eventually become full universities. Their governance
involved British universities (principally, the University of London) and the Inter-University
Council for Higher Education in the Colonies. Graduates of the Asquith colleges received
their degrees from the University of London on the basis of their affiliation to the university.
The basic mechanism of the affiliation was that while the Council was responsible for
recruiting staff, the University, in cooperation with the faculty of the colleges, set the
curricular and examination standards. Nwauwa (1997: 202-203) refers to this phenomenon
as “educational imperialism,” but it was a type that the Africans willingly accepted, of
course. As Ashby (1964) explains: “Clearly the pioneers had no choice but to adopt the
pattern of an English university. Equally clearly this was the pattern which the Africans
themselves wanted. The African intellectual, educated in London or Cambridge or
Manchester, would have been indignant at any softening of standards, any substitution of
easier options, any cheapened vesrion of higher education. So initially there was no
problem of adaptation. The African wanted a replica of the British university at its best; the
Page 9 of 61
expatriate staff had no other model to offer.” (p. 22)
Even following independence, general African opinion in Anglophone Africa was
that the British university model was the best model and that any modification of it would
imply a lowering of standards. In Ashby's words "Over standards and quality of education
the debate was overwhelmingly in favor of preserving the British academic heritage."
(1966:236) What is more, initially, at least, there was very strong support in most African
leadership circles (many of whom had obtained their degrees at universities abroad) of an
externally-awarded degree that the university colleges facilitated. To them, an indigenous
degree from the newly created colleges would have spelled inferior degrees. Even the
idea of adapting the curricula was, at the beginning, resisted by Africans for fear that it
meant dilution of quality and standards.
If one turns to the French colonial Africa, here the tradition that would evolve would
be one were the African universities were even more closely aligned to the French
universities than was the case in British colonial Africa. Beginning in the 1950s, the French
had become more cognizant of their university responsibilities in the colonies; prompted in
part by the increasing cost of educating Africans at French universities, and in part out of a
conscious and unabashed belief that they had to do more, by way of culturally binding the
colonies to the metropole, in preparation for the eventuality of some form of political
autonomy in the colonies. Concerning the latter point, consider the following prevailing
sentiment in French ruling circles--expressed as early as 1900 by the inspector general of
the French educational system (and who was also at the same time the vice-chairman of
the consultative committee on education in the French colonies): "If the administrative,
economic and financial autonomy of the colonies appears to me to be very desirable, it is
perhaps all the more necessary to attach them to the Metropole by a very solid
psychological bond, against the day when their progressive emancipation ends in a form
of federation, as is probable...that they be, and they remain, French in language, thought
and spirit." (Quoted in Ashby, 1966:365)
Consequently, France began to create overseas branches of French universities in
the African colonies--in a few instances beginning earlier in the preceding decades--in the
form of institutes of higher education that in time became the foundational basis for
national universities. In developing these universities, the French made absolutely sure
that they would not be autonomous institutions–from the perspective of French control
and influence. Given its "assimilationist" policy, and considering that the French university
system is highly bureaucratized this was, perhaps, to be expected. To clarify the latter
point: the French government plays a very intrusive role, through administrative decrees, in
the day to day operations of the university (a concept that, undoubtedly, would be viewed
with absolute horror by universities in most of the Anglophone world). When France
established universities in the colonies, therefore, they were virtually, in almost every
sense, the overseas campuses of French universities. So, for example, when the University
of Dakar was established, a decree from the French Ministry of Education promulgated it
as the 18th university in the French HED system. Initially, the Africans themselves too
would not have it any other way. Close administrative and curricular alliance with French
Page 10 of 61
Universities held the promise (which the Africans greatly cherished, even if not always
realized in practice) of fluid transitions, when necessary, between institutions in the former
colonies and the metropole of students and staff, as well as the equivalency of
educational qualifications in the Francophone world irrespective of the geographic
location of the awarding institutions.
In fact, after independence too, the universities in the former French colonies
continued to maintain strong administrative links with French universities where the French
Ministry of Education still retained considerable administrative responsibilities over
them--as provided by concordats that the independent countries signed with France for
this purpose. At least in the immediate post-independence period, then, one could state
without any hesitation (as, indeed, Ashby [1966:371] does) that the university in
Francophone Africa was a very close copy of the university in France, from whatever
perspective one looked at it: administrative, curricular, degree structure, academic culture,
etc. Moreover, France not only took care of staffing the institutions, but it was even
responsible for their financing, at least into the early part of the post-independence period
(Ajayi, Goma and Johnson, 1996).
Now, to come back to the matter of unit costs, if African universities were to model
themselves on universities in the metropole in matters of ‘software’ (curricula,
organizational structures, governance, etc.), then it stood to reason that they would also
replicate the ‘hardware’ (physical layout of buildings, types of buildings, equipment,
furnishings, etc.). This is precisely what happened. In other words, the creation of the
modern African university involved a physical infrastructure that had to be built entirely
from the ground-up, that is, wholly from scratch; thereby driving up the costs of creating
and maintaining these institutions to astronomical levels. Virtually new suburbs, almost
completely detached from the local environs, were created to host these universities--
which meant in effect the building of completely new infrastructures (roads, utilities, etc.).
Ashby (1966) describes the situation thus with respect to the establishment of the first
university colleges in West Africa (Ibadan–later to become University of Ibadan; and Gold
Coast–later to become University of Ghana): “On each site they had to build a town, for
both sites were in uncleared bush some way from the city. Roads, homes for staff, halls for
students, drainage, water supply, electricity, transport, schools, chapels, mosques, even a
cemetery, became the responsibility of academic administrators.” (p. 234) This pattern of
university development was repeated with almost every new university built in Africa. The
net effect of this circumstance, as Murphy (1976:14-15) points out, was the provision of a
host of ancillary infrastructural facilities on campus such as to render the campus self-
sufficient enough to divorce it from the local community. Now, while Murphy approvingly
describes the new university colleges as ‘proud institutions’ with buildings that were
“...handsome, often representing the most impressive architecture in their countries” and
possessing such amenities as dormitories that “...were spacious and comfortable, and at
many of the universities each student had a private room with a small study area, cleaned
by a troop of servants,” he can be forgiven–writing in the mid-1970s--for not realizing the
tremendous financial burden that these institutions would become to their countries only a
decade or so later.
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What is more: as if the skyrocketing capital costs this approach entailed (of building
self-contained, vertically integrated institutions, infrastructurally isolated from their local
communities) was not enough to give pause, even the fixtures and furnishings were often
imported from abroad, with no effort made to obtain them locally. In fact, on the contrary,
quality became synonymous with imports. Moreover, once created, the maintenance of
these artificial suburbs (artificial in the sense of being infrastructurally divorced from the
local community) ensured that the bill for recurrent expenditures would remain constantly
and exorbitantly high. In fact it was so high that most African countries could not meet it;
they had to turn to foreign aid for assistance. This practice has not completely ended and
continues to the present day. It ought to be noted here too that the planners of the new
post-independence institutions had deliberately emerged with the notion that HED was so
important to the development of Africa that its planning had to take place in the context of
money was no object. Consider the report that was produced by the Commission headed
by Sir Eric Ashby and funded by the British and the U.S. Americans to advise the new
Nigerian Government on how the HED system should be developed in Nigeria–a report
that would prove to be highly influential in other African countries as well. It would frankly
state that even if moneys were not available to finance the HED system that the Report
proposed, that should not be a constraining factor. Ashby himself explains:
In the short run it is prudent for a country to design an educational system it can
afford to pay for. But it was just this policy of prudence which had starved West
African education throughout the colonial period, at any rate until after the second
world war; and it was clear that there was no future for Nigeria unless she received
aid from more prosperous countries. So the commission deliberately recommended
an educational system which could not be sustained without massive outside aid in
the confident belief, which has turned out to be justified, that the more prosperous
countries would come to Nigeria’s assistance during the early years of
independence. (1966:269)
Needless to say, from the vantage point of the year 2002, with a West that long
abandoned its early optimism and altruism regarding the future of Africa, such a view
sounds so unbelievably naive. The damage, however, was done. African universities were
set on a course of unbridled and gargantuan appetite for money whose supply was never
guaranteed and within a short time would evaporate to a trickle with disastrous
consequences for them.
Student Welfare Subsidies
The high cost of recurrent expenditures was also fueled by the decision to provide on
campus, board and lodging for all students on government scholarships (comprising the
vast majority of the student body) enrolled at these universities, and what is more,
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practically free of charge at that. No effort was made to contract out this aspect of
university attendance to the private sector, though given the structural location of these
institutions this approach may not have worked out in practice. Of course, had this matter
of student welfare been approached differently, then perhaps the planners may have tried
to physically integrate the institutions into their local communities. Note that there are two
related but separate issues here: one is the assumption by the universities of providing
board and lodging for the entire student body on campus (thereby drastically pushing
capital costs upwards, as noted earlier); and the other is the matter of providing it free of
charge to almost all students since invariably they all have government scholarships, with
its obvious negative impact on recurrent expenditures.
Why did the African countries insist on providing free university education (in the
form of scholarships) that also included student welfare subsidies? Tuition-free university
education was in itself a major financial burden, so why add to it the costs of student
welfare subsidies, such as free board and lodge? There are several explanations for this
approach. First was the issue of equity. It was felt that no qualified student academically
eligible to attend a university should have to face the prospect of being denied admission
because of penury. In part this was an attempt to redress what was felt as an injustice that
colonialism had perpetrated on Africans by denying higher educational opportunities
(where these were available) to the academically deserving on grounds of financial
constraints--even while recognizing that most of these students came from family
backgrounds that simply did not have the requisite financial resources given the iniquitous
economic policies of the colonial governments themselves. Second, in the policy context
of the human-capital approach to educational planning, governments felt that the dire
need to develop human capital resources overrode such impediments as the inability to
finance one’s university education. Third, even where it became clear that many of the
students came from families who were now doing well in the post-independence era and
could afford to pay their own way, there lacked a tradition and an administrative
mechanism for cost recovery through (for example) student loans. After all, this approach
to the financing of universities was not common in the metropole either. Means-tested
cost-recovery approaches to university finance has historically been the preserve of the
one major Western power that did not have any colonies in Africa: the U.S.
The outcome of the foregoing set of factors was a kind of tax-payer funded
pampering that is unusual even for students in the developed countries of the West.
Consider, for example, the following examples common in most universities in Africa (at
least until recently when severe budgetary pressures began to force a movement–albeit
only in some countries--toward some form of modest cost-recovery through user-fees):
free meals three times a day, based on menus that only the country’s national elites could
afford; free lodging that included free cleaning and bed linen service, free tuition complete
with a textbook allowance and a stipend.
In the case of Francophone Africa specifically, the situation that continues to prevail
among most of them is even more dramatic: while the students also receive welfare
subsidies, what is unusual there is the magnitude of the scholarships (tuition plus stipend).
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They equal in size to income that is far above the national average for the modern sector --
which it should be pointed out hosts only a minority of a Francophone country’s population
(the vast majority, some 80-90%, are to be found in the traditional agricultural sector). The
consequence of this bizarre situation, as Orivel (1996) observes, is that instead of families
supporting students, students support families and other relatives--such is the level of
income that they derive from their scholarships. In many Francophone countries, students
who come from non-elite backgrounds are not just elites in the making, rather they are
already members of the elite the moment they accept university admission. In other
words, the mere fact of being a student translates into instant upward mobility long before
the appropriate credentials have been obtained. Under the circumstances, it is not
surprising that student aid (scholarships plus welfare subsidies) makes up more than 50%
of the entire HED budget in most of these countries (in Anglophone Africa it is about 15%
according to Orivel).
Relatively High Salary Levels
If students were to receive free education, then surely the faculty deserved a similar
treatment too in the sense of being paid salaries that bore no resemblance to salary rates
in the rest of the education sector (as well as receiving large subsidies associated with
their welfare: housing, recreation, etc). At this point the question immediately arises:
specifically what is meant by ‘high salary levels?’ After all, no faculty anywhere in the world
will accept that their salaries are adequate. Plus, there is no doubt that in the case of Africa,
faculty salaries when averaged across departments and institutions have shrunk
considerably in the face of steeply spiraling inflation. This is so much so, that many faculty
members moonlight in order to make ends meet. The charge of high salary levels stems
from considering this measure: the number of times per capita GNP the salary that primary
school teachers receive compared with the number of times per capita GNP that the salary
of university faculty is set at. The ratio in favor of university faculty can be as high as 14 in
sub-Saharan Africa (Orivel, 1996). Compare this ratio for the metropolitan countries: usually
not going much higher than 2.
Anyhow, despite the fact that faculty salaries constitute the single largest
component of an educational institution’s recurrent expenditure, every effort has been
made to keep this component large. Why? For primarily economic reasons initially, and
political reasons later. To explain: initially, because of a dearth of nationals who could staff
the new universities, like most of everything else about these institutions, their faculty
were also imported from abroad. This meant that the salary rates that would be in force
had to be commensurate with those found in the metropole; but not only that: they also
required some inflation to serve as an inducement for faculty to leave their countries to go
and teach in a foreign country–and a developing one at that (with all the attendant
inconveniences–real and/or imagined). In other words: the academic labor market
ensured that African Universities would maintain salary rates that were internationally
competitive. However, as Africanization of faculty staffing moved apace, in time it was not
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only economics per se that became the chief driving force behind the artificially high
salary rates, but politics as well. African faculty were not going to accept large salary
differentials that could easily be construed to suggest racial discrimination. Most of the
foreign faculty were usually from Europe–meaning that once in Africa they were racially
classified as ‘white’ in the tradition long established by colonialism. (What this also
suggests, of course, is that even if an African university were to experience full
Africanization of teaching personnel, it would have only a limited impact on decreasing the
percentage of the budget devoted to faculty salaries, unless the decimation of highly
talented faculty through brain drain is assumed to be of no consequence.)
Now, as if the high salary costs were not enough, the financial burden was further
weighted with the provision of subsidies to faculty through provision of free or subsidized
housing on campus grounds and attendant amenities (such as clinics, schools, clubs, etc.)
If the universities were to be separate but self-contained entities, how else could it be, the
planners reasoned. Hence, municipal, welfare and social services at subsidized rates came
to be regarded as standard accompaniment to subsidized housing.
It ought to be noted here that the responsibility for the bane of high salary levels
should also be laid at the door of foreign aid because too often such aid has been
forthcoming when it has been specifically ear-marked for salaries. Why have foreign
donors (both, foreign governments as well as private philanthropic foundations) been
eager to oblige in maintaining high salary levels? Mainly because they have used salary
scales prevalent in the metropole as a guide. Moreover, they have also had to face the
issue of inducement when it has come to recruiting personnel in the metropole to be sent
out to work on university projects in Africa.
High Staff to Student Ratios
If universities were to be allocated large portions of the nation’s educational budget, then it
stood to reason, in the eyes of the politicians, that the role of these institutions must also
be expanded to include generation of employment opportunities for government
supporters on a nepotistic basis. That is, they must also be made to join other state
institutions that would be sites of patronage dispensations at all levels: from the top to the
very bottom of the bureaucratic hierarchies. (A policy, for obvious reasons, usually
enunciated sotto voce since it bordered on nepotism and corruption.) After all, other state
institutions were already entrusted with this role in practice; why then should the
universities be exempt from it?
In almost all African countries the monopoly held by foreign entities over economic
opportunities (thanks to colonialism) ensured that economic upward mobility for the new
rulers would have to be sought in the state sector. In fact, the leader of the first Sub-
Saharan African country to become independent, Nkwame Nkrumah, had promulgated
this infamous line that went something like this: “Seek ye the political kingdom and all else
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shall follow.” Perhaps, it is not surprising, then, that among the earliest post-independence
conflicts in Africa between the university and the government took place in Ghana when
he was in charge. Nkrumah would demand direct government say in the affairs of the
University College of Ghana at Legon despite opposition from the university. The unstated
bone of contention was patronage: Nkrumah and his Convention People's Party wanted to
commandeer the College as one more avenue for conferring patronage on favored
associates through appointments to key positions (including teaching positions). The
stated criticism (which by no means was entirely unjustified) by Nkrumah and others in his
government, however, was that the College was not adapting to the needs of the country
in terms of indigenization of, both, the curricula, as well as the teaching and administrative
staff. Resistance from the academic community to the criticism was perceived as
intolerable arrogance on the part of foreigners (the British expatriate personnel). A partial
denouement to the simmering conflict came with the reconstitution of the College into the
University of Ghana in 1962 and the concurrent installation of Nkrumah as the Chancellor
of the University; the firing of vocal critics in 1964; the resignation of the Vice-Chancellor
(Dr. Connor Cruise O'Brien) in 1965; and the military coup in 1966 that deposed Nkrumah
and banished him into obscure exile in Egypt.
Under this circumstance (of the need for patronage sites), the consequence has
been the transformation of the post-independence State into the largest employer in
country after country in Africa with little regard to the actual needs of the country. What
has been the net effect on universities of this circumstance: unnecessarily high faculty to
student ratios on one hand and equally unnecessarily high non-teaching staff to student
ratios. Student to faculty ratios ranging from 3 to 1 on the low side to 12 to 1 on the high
side have been common in many universities. In industrial countries, by comparison, the
ratios are usually double these. (World Bank, 1988:76) Now, the implication of this liberal
staffing of universities is that it not only pushes up the salary cost, but it also leads to
considerable duplication of courses and programs, thereby further enhancing costs.9 In
addition to the matter of large faculties, there is also the problem of large non-academic
staff hired to minister to the needs of the students (clean dorm rooms, do the bed-linen
laundry, prepare and serve food, etc.) as well as help maintain the physical plant. It is not
unusual to have non-teaching staff exceed in number the total student population on the
high side or on the low side approach two-thirds of the student population (World Bank,
1988).
Failure to Optimize Resource Use
9
One caveat: today in some universities in some countries in certain departments there is a reversal going on
of the traditionally high faculty to student ratios. It is due to faculty leaving for greener pastures elsewhere in
the face of deteriorating budgetary conditions in the home institutions.
It should also be noted that the problem of high faculty-student ratios is a problem that is localized
within institutions. Not all departments face this problem; on the contrary, some departments (especially in
the arts and social sciences) face a problem of too high student to faculty ratios because of over enrollments.
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One of the consequences of building isolated suburban campuses has been the inability to
exploit that component of the student market that can have a positive impact on lowering
unit costs: the non-traditional student. Non-traditional students (part-time students,
evening students, vacation students, etc.) help to lower unit costs by maximizing the use of
expensive resources (ranging from teaching staff to laboratories and libraries to physical
plant). With rare exception, the tradition that was established in most African universities
was to allow the university facilities to remain unused during evenings and during the long
vacations. Of course the geographic isolation of the universities did not help matters, but
there was also the issue of a conscious policy of not cultivating the non-traditional student
market. This was an outcome of an erroneous perception that unless a student was a full
time student, he/she could not possibly be a serious student worthy of the university’s
attention.
The idea that you could simultaneously have work/family responsibilities and still
go to university was considered infeasible because university education was (laughable as
this idea may be) too serious and too sophisticated to require anything less than full-time
university attendance. This notion was not original to the African university; it had emerged
in the traditions of the universities in the metropole. In fact to this day, the only Western
country that has sought to consciously and maximally exploit the non-traditional student
market remains the U.S. The luxury of foregoing the non-traditional student market, it may
also be added, is only affordable when it is the taxpayer funding the institution. In other
words, publicly funded institutions are less likely to find ways of using resources optimally,
than privately funded institutions (which were and are uncommon in, both, in Africa and in
the metropole.)
It ought to be noted that the use of university facilities for non-traditional students is
one facet of a larger dimension of higher education that falls outside the traditional:
namely, distance education. Yet, even here, most governments in Africa have historically
done little to exploit the cost-savings potential of this type of higher educational provision.
In fact, the indictment that Jenkins (1989) levels at sub-Saharan Africa, following her survey
of distance education there, sadly, continues to remain valid:
...[D]istance education on the continent remains underdeveloped and undervalued....
Until now, few politicians and ministry of education officials have demonstrated any
strong commitment to distance education. Despite its extensive use, in most
countries it has low status and remains on the periphery. Solid but unadventurous,
reflecting the formal system in both its good and bad points—that is the main
picture. Opportunities for innovative developments have been missed, although it is
hard to make such a criticism when resources of all kinds have been so scarce.
Underresourced and sluggish, it has nevertheless persisted.
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Failure to Exploit Economies of Scale
There is absolutely no question about it: the nature of the university enterprise is such that
it is among those institutions whose operations can benefit considerably from economies
of scale. Not surprisingly, then, the idea of interterritorial universities, has always had some
appeal in some political and university circles in the metropole and in the African colonies,
beginning with the proposal for a University of West Africa by African nationalists like
James Africanus Beale Horton (a medical doctor and a graduate of Fourah Bay College) as
early as 1862. Now, whereas the idea never came to pass in West Africa, it was
implemented in three other parts of Anglophone Africa: in East Africa, in Central East Africa
and in southern Africa.
East Africa saw the creation in 1963 of an autonomous degree granting federated
university (but still supervised to some extent by the Inter-University Council in London),
the Federal University of East Africa, out of three constituent colleges: The Royal
University College (formerly a technical college) in Kenya, Makerere University College in
Uganda, and the newly established University College of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. To the
architects of the university, the 1958 working party appointed by the Colonial Office and
led by University of London's Sir John Lockwood, it made sense to have a federated
university. Among other things, such a university would serve as an important symbol of
unification in the new East African Community--a political and economic union that the
British created out of the three geographically contiguous former colonies of Kenya,
Uganda and Tanganyika, that not only shared political boundaries but also some elements
of colonial and pre-colonial history. In Central East Africa the political union in 1952 of the
countries of Northern Rhodesia, Southern Rhodesia and Malawi to form the Federation of
Rhodesia and Nyasaland became the basis for the establishment of a federal university
based in Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia. Going further South, the protectorates of
Basutoland, Bechuanaland and Swaziland gave rise in 1964 to the University of Basutoland,
Bechuanaland Protectorate and Swaziland (to be renamed two years later, with the
achievement of political independence by the first two countries, as University of
Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland).
Yet, in both cases, in East Africa and in Central East Africa, with independence came
the fragmentation of the political unions, which in turn caused the universities to fragment
as well. Even in the case of the Protectorates who had seen the wisdom of creating a
federated institution, given the extremely small size of their countries, independence did
not spare their university from disintegration into independent country-based entities.
Whatever the merits of the dissolution of the political unions, the political leadership in
these countries lacked the foresight to retain common institutions, such as a common
university. But then again, one ought not to be surprised: independence saw the
attachment to universities of non-educational values, principal among them as national
symbols of sovereignty. Consequently, every African country, no matter what its size,
would clamor for its own university–giving rise to the phenomenon of single university
countries. However, this development has not been in their best interests. Regional cross-
border universities make a great deal of sense, single universities in small countries do not.
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However, the problem does not stop there. Where a country has been large enough
(as in the case of Nigeria) to support a number of universities, little effort has been
expended to build consortias that can take advantage of economies of scale.10 The point
here, then, is this: the high unit cost of universities in Africa is also attributable to the small
size of many African countries making it economically inefficient for them to have
independent universities within their borders. Enrollments of less than 5000 students is not
uncommon at many institutions. Under these circumstances, they would have been much
better off, from the perspective of optimum use of resources, to have a federated multiple
country university system where different functions and responsibilities could be shared.
High Rates of Student Wastage
The World Bank reports that a study of some seven African countries revealed that
student wastage was extremely high where between 33% and 66% of the students either
dropped out of university altogether or completed their studies behind schedule. In other
words, here is yet another source of high unit costs: wastage (World Bank, 1988). This high
level of wastage is both a political problem and an educational problem. From a political
point of view, the problem has been the historical pressure on a country’s national
university to accept as many applicants as possible without regard to careful screening for
suitability for university education. The educational problem has been the absence of
mechanisms to assist students who are struggling to survive academically to remain on-
track, rather than drop out or repeat their studies. The idea that an institution has an
obligation to assist its low-achieving students with motivational and/or remedial programs
has never caught on in much of Africa since such an approach has generally not been
practiced in the metropole either. (In pointing to the high levels of inefficiency that the high
wastage rates represent, one would be remiss in not noting a desirable irony: the
insistence by institutions in maintaining standards.)
Unscheduled Shutdowns of Universities
It may come as a surprise to those unfamiliar with universities in Africa, that among the
major problems that universities have had to deal with, almost from the beginning of
their inception, is the unscheduled shutdowns that are forced on them by governments
on a regular basis, even in times of peace. These closures in more recent years, under the
regime of structural adjustment and the accompanying erosion of government financed
10
An example of a regional consortium that appears to hold out much promise is the University Science,
Humanities and Engineering Partnerships in Africa (commonly referred by its acronym USHEPIA). The
purpose of the consortium is to enable postgraduate research by allowing student interchange within
universities in Africa. For example, the first USHEPIA fellowships awarded in 1994 enabled graduate
students from Botswana, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe to study at the University of Cape Town
in a variety of fields.
Page 19 of 61
university budgets, have been the result of conflict between university students and the
government that have arisen primarily over perceptions that each is threatening the
interests of the other. However, sometimes the conflict has been over the very real issue of
university autonomy and academic freedom where the students have set themselves up
as the conscience of their nations and as such insist on their duty to voice their concerns.11
In any case, it will suffice to note here that regular disruptions of university business
through government interventions does not only have academic consequences, but it also
has financial implications. Specifically, each day lost from a closure represents an
unnecessary increase in operating costs because some expenditures have to continue: e.g.
payment of staff salaries, maintenance of plant facilities, etc. At the same time, the
lengthening of the period for graduation for each student represents a further cost (since
students are often financed by the government). The net result of these closures, then, is
an increase in unit costs.
III. The Neglect of Science and Technology
There is almost no report that surveys the state of higher education in Africa that does not
make its obligatory call for a greater emphasis on the development of the science and
technology infrastructure.12 As a report written for the Association of African Universities
(Ajayi, Goma and Johnson, 1996) observes: ‘The literature is replete with calls for the
countries of Africa to strive determinedly to become active and significant contributors to
scientific and technological advancement; to refuse to be mere recipients of or mere
spectators to, the rapidly emerging sciences and technologies; and to struggle to promote
a culture of science-inspired creativity and technology innovation linked to the
entrepreneurial enterprise.” (p. 213) They then further ask: “But how can the African
continent move beyond rhetoric? There is a challenge here for the universities of Africa
within the time frame of ‘before the end of the first decade of the twenty first century.’”
11
The typical pattern that culminates in university closures common throughout Africa involves the
following steps: students either issue a collective statement or go on a demonstration regarding a specific
concern (it could be bread and butter issues like imposition of tuition fees or it could be some aspect of
national politics such as corruption and or human rights violations); the State responds with a heavy hand
and invades the campus to arrest suspected ring leaders (this action may also be accompanied by thuggery–
beatings, rapes, torture, and even killings inflicted on the students by armed police or soldiers); the outcome
of this State action in turn generates more student demonstrations and, now, condemnations of the State by
the university authorities. The State then simply closes the institution for an indefinite period and when it
allows the institution to reopen its doors forces all students (and some times even faculty too) to reapply, so
as to permit the State to weed out those whom it considers as mischief makers. For a chronology of
university/State conflicts during the period 1985 to 1998 see Federici and Caffentzis (2000). For an analysis
of issues of academic freedom and the factors that bring African students out into the streets year after year,
despite the inherently transient nature of the composition of the student body, see Burawoy (1971); Diouf
and Mamdani (1994); Federici (2000); Federici (2000[a]); Hanna, et. al (1975); and Lulat (1989).
12
The term ‘science and technology infrastructure’ is meant to encapsulate all the ‘software’ and ‘hardware’
elements of training, research and development in the areas of, both, basic and applied science and
technology: ranging from classroom courses and programs of study to laboratories to research and
development centers.
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Most recently, the latest World Bank report on Africa (World Bank, 2000 [a]) titled Can
Africa Claim the 21st Century, observes similarly: “At the university level religious studies and
civil service needs have resulted in the development of the humanities and the social
sciences and the neglect of the natural sciences, applied technology, business-related
skills, and research capabilities” (p. 106).
Now, while science and technology cannot solve all the problems of Africa, there is
absolutely no question that in, terms of the more narrower focus of economic
development, absolutely no success is possible without the massive (but appropriate) use
of science and technology. At the same time, in a context where there are almost no non-
university research institutions, the university is the only viable institution that can create
and sustain the necessary science and technology infrastructure. So, why then has the
matter remained more in the domain of rhetoric rather than actual policy implementation?
After all, one of the few claims to fame that African intellectuals concerned with higher
education say they have is in giving birth to the concept of the ‘developmental university.’13
First articulated in Accra (at a workshop sponsored by the Association of African
Universities on the emerging issues confronting African universities in the 1970s), in
response to the criticism that the development of African universities in the preceding
decade had rendered them to be “...hardly more than white elephants and flashy symbols
of modernization: ivory towers occupied by a minority elite, expensively educated, and as
expensively continuously maintained, at the expense of the vast majority of the population,
with whom they have little in common,” (Yesufu, 1973, p. 39) it demanded relevance from
the universities in terms of curricula and function. Relevance, in essence meant being
immediately and directly responsive to the development needs of the African countries
and therefore requiring a reorientation of the function of the university to, among other
things, emphasis on development-oriented research (which in essence meant the use of
science and technology to solve problems of development): “A university must be
dedicated to research–fundamental and applied. But again priority must be given to
research into local problems that will contribute to the amelioration, in particular, of the life
of the ordinary man and the rural poor. Emphasis must accordingly, be placed on such
topics as: rural health; the problems of poverty in its varying contexts; the conflict of
cultures in multi-ethnic societies and the basis for unity and agricultural and rural
13
In reality, the concept was a rehash of the U.S. land-grant university concept, and therefore, was hardly
original. It may be remembered that the concept of the land-grant university was one that rested on the
issue of immediate practical relevance to the needs of the majority of the population. It was a concept that
emerged from the establishment in the 19th century of publicly funded universities in each of the states that
made up the U.S. through the agency of bills introduced by Vermont's representative, Justin Smith Morrill,
in the U.S. Congress--and which passed them in 1862 and 1890 to become the Morrill (or Land-Grant)
Acts. The purpose of the legislation was to enable states to raise revenue through, initially, federal grants of
land to each state and later through direct cash disbursements on an annual basis by Congress for, in the
words of the oft-quoted passage from the 1862 Act "...the endowment, support, and maintenance of at least
one college where the leading object shall be, without excluding other scientific and classical studies, and
including military tactics, to teach other branches of learning as are related to agriculture and mechanic
arts...in order to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits
and professions in life." See also the discussion by Coleman (1984) regarding the concept of the
developmental university.
Page 21 of 61
development” (p. 42).
Leaving aside the matter of costs (it is very expensive to train scientific and
technological personnel) the surprising answer as to why African universities have not
given science and technology the kind of emphasis demanded by the long tradition of
rhetoric as well as, of course, the practical realities of the African condition, is that, very
simply, there has been a relative absence of domestic will and foreign support, coupled
with misguided educational planning. That is, while African leaders and intellectuals have
always been aware of the tight relationship between science and technology on one hand,
and on the other, modernization and development, there has been no concerted effort
expended to translate this awareness into practice–both, on their part as well as on the
part of foreign aid donors. Why? There are, at least six factors that, when considered
together, explain this circumstance: (1) The wholesale importation of the metropolitan
university curricular model; (2) The narrow focus on growth versus structural change in the
development of human resource capacity: the manpower planning approach; (3) the
erroneous rates-of-return approach to educational planning that downgraded the
importance of higher education (which in turn had obvious negative implications for the
development of a science and technology infrastructure); (4) the poor development of
math and science in the educational tributaries upstream; (5) the neglect of doctoral level
graduate education; and (6) the adherence to misguided strategies of economic
development.
1. The Metropolitan University Model: Applied Science and Technology in the Backseat
The wholesale importation of the metropolitan university model discussed above in
relation to the physical infrastructure also had implications for the curriculum. The
curriculum (classical liberal arts) that came with the metropolitan model was not
sympathetic toward applied science and technology (e.g. medicine, agriculture,
engineering, pharmacy, etc.); nor, of course, the vocational arts (business, accounting,
journalism, etc.) The reason is that this model was designed for education in the arts and
humanities primarily, with the social sciences and basic sciences (biology, physics,
chemistry) following in tow. Applied science and technology was not considered to be the
proper domain of universities; rather, it belonged to lower level higher education
institutions: colleges, institutes, medical schools (attached to hospitals), etc. The
explanation for this approach lies in the curricular traditions of the metropolitan universities
where their development had begun in the pre-industrial age and hence their association
of vocational or mechanical arts with the working classes (therefore not befitting
institutions that served primarily an upper class clientele).
Bullough (1961), in the course of exploring the social structural force of class at work
in the development of the medical profession in medieval Europe, makes a very telling
point when he observes that in the past technology was the mother of science (later, of
course, the roles would reverse). Now, so long as there was no status conflict between
those involved with technology (the practitioners of the mechanical arts–members of the
laboring classes) and those who were scientists (practitioners of the speculative arts--
Page 22 of 61
members or aspiring members of the upper classes) the development of science and
technology would move hand in hand. This certainly was the case prior to the full
institutionalization of intellectual labor in universities; and the visible fruits of which were
such significant medieval inventions as “the water wheel, windmills, counterweight,
artillery, mechanical clocks, gunpowder, and so forth.” (p. 204) To the extent, then, that
technology (the applied dimension of science) was associated with manual labor and
hence the laboring classes, the institutionalization of science in the academy would lead to
a neglect of technology in preference for science. This is precisely what happened after
the middle of the fourteenth century as the development of the medieval universities
moved apace (the first few universities appeared in the 12th century).
However, with the onset of the industrial revolution some four hundred years later,
one would assume that the disdain for the applied sciences within the academy would
have evaporated–especially among the newer universities that emerged during the
industrial revolution (such as the civic universities of Britain–Manchester, London, etc.–that
in time would become the models for export to the British colonies in Africa [Ashby, 1996]).
This did occur, but only to a very limited extent. Why? The weight of tradition was simply
too hard to overcome, especially in the context of the university.14 Consequently, the
establishment of colonial universities in Africa did not take the route that would have led to
a greater emphasis in their curriculum on the applied sciences (together with such
vocational arts like accounting, business, etc.). As Ashby (1964) explains:
The idea that universities in tropical Africa might recapitulate the phylogeny of
universities in Europe, and begin (as universities in Salerno and Bologna began) as
societies primarily concerned with vocational training in technologies and
professions, was not part of the ‘Asquith doctrine.’ If it had been, one might have
seen in British West Africa a fresh and totally different pattern of higher education,
with agriculture, engineering, economics, medicine, and teacher training at the core
of the curriculum and ‘pure scholarship’ in science and the humanities arising as
natural consequences of these vocational studies. (p. 57-58)
Ashby further comments: “There was an opportunity to do for Africa in the 1960's what the
Morrill Act did for America in the 1860s, namely to make a new contribution to the idea of a
university. But the Asquith Commission took no account of American experience.” (p. 58)
The truth, however, is that even in the case of those few universities that at inception did
try and emulate the U.S. land-grant model, such as the University of Zambia, the pull of the
14
Universities, as those familiar with their histories will know, are notoriously (and paradoxically one may
add) conservative in their practices. Notice, however, that in contrast to the path of development taken by
the metropolitan universities, the universities in the U.S. in time took a different path where the speculative
sciences and the mechanical arts were brought under one roof in the guise of the ‘multiversity’ (a term
coined, albeit disapprovingly, by Kerr, [1966]) –the land grant university being the epitome. Clearly,
transplantation into a different culture can be a counterweight to tradition–but only when given time! The
US multiversity did not come into being until almost two centuries later.
Page 23 of 61
metropolitan curricular tradition was not completely irresistible: the applied sciences
would remain in the back seat. Consider the chronology of the founding of the various
schools that now make up the university (such were the priorities of the planners): at its
creation in 1966, the three schools of humanities and social sciences, education, and
natural sciences; and only later to be followed by the schools specializing in applied
sciences: engineering (1969), medicine (1970), agricultural sciences (1971), mines (1973),
veterinary medicine (1984), agricultural engineering (1986), and surveying (1988). As for the
schools of built environment, forestry and wood sciences, business, and technology, they
would have to wait until an entirely new university, the University of the Copperbelt, was
established in 1987. 15
2. The Limitations of the Manpower Planning Approach to Economic Development
One of the approaches to educational planning that a number of African countries
undertook at the time of independence to determine the size of their higher educational
facilities was to undertake manpower surveys (or to coin a gender neutral term human
resource surveys). These surveys, conducted often with the help of external assistance,
were aimed at taking stock of the available human resources (in terms of skilled and
educated personnel) and calculating the present and future needs of the country in
question. There were three basic steps involved in these surveys: preparing demand
projections by calculating base year employment data (which included calculations for
suboptimality), calculating demand growths on the basis of projections of economic
growth, etc.; preparing supply projections by looking at such factors as gross supply from
educational facilities, labor force participation rates, wastage from death and migration,
etc.; and examining such variables of balance, costs and sensitivity as adjustment rates for
supply and demand for a given target year, education/ training costs, policy outcomes of
variations in key assumptions, etc. (See Jolly and Colclough, 1973, for an excellent review
of the methodology of some of these surveys).
Of the many weaknesses of the African human resource surveys (not least of which,
as Blaug [1974] reminds us, is the sheer foolhardiness of the presumption that economists
can accurately predict the economic future 5-10 years down the road), one that is of
particular importance here is the over-emphasis on growth rather than structural change
within the economy--not to mention the neglect of such other outcomes of education as
changes in fertility, income distribution, rates of entrepreneurial initiative, career
preferences, etc., etc. There was almost no willingness to consider that economic growth
could be based on a different skill mix than the one that had existed in the past or even
15
It ought to be also noted here that the neglect of the applied sciences (and the vocational arts) within the
curriculum of the metropolitan universities, without much detriment to the development of their scientific
and technological capacities, was only possible because of the parallel development of a robust system of
non-university, post-secondary educational and research institutions–which include private research
institutes of major business corporations. This course of development, however, was not to be easily
replicated in the African colonies where higher education of any kind came so late on the scene–practically
on the eve of independence. Consequently, it fell to the universities to incorporate these fields of study into
their curricula and which they did, but not to the levels required by the needs of their countries.
Page 24 of 61
the one obtaining currently. 16 One consequence of this emphasis was that in
determining the human resource needs, priority was accorded to the matter of
Africanization of personnel in government bureaucracies that the colonial administrations
had created and staffed. In other words, these surveys adopted a somewhat static view of
economic development (when considered from the perspective of the qualitative direction
of economic development–see discussion below) with the result that human resource
needs were largely seen in quantitative terms and not qualitative terms. The watch word
for future human resource needs was ‘more of the same.’ Scant attention was given to the
possibility of a qualitatively different type of economic development in which there would
be a need for scientists and technological personnel on a large scale.
Under these circumstances, the universities were geared toward production of
bureaucrats to replace the departing colonial government personnel (as well as fill new
posts that were being created as the bureaucracies expanded to take on new post-
independence functions). Consequently, it is the humanities and the social sciences
(including law) that received priority in universities; especially in a circumstance where
output in these areas had no problems of finding immediate employment upon
graduation–at least during the first decade of independence. About the latter point:
consider this situation: for many undergraduates the option of majoring in such fields as
biology, physics or chemistry was severely limited by the labor market in the immediate
post-independence period; for most of them the only avenue of employment upon
graduation would have been teaching in high schools which, of course, was not a highly
remunerative path to take compared to going into the civil service and the parastatal
sector. The pattern of employment earnings was highly skewed toward motivating
students to seek bureaucratic jobs even in the case of those who received professional
training in other fields (like engineering or medicine) because employment in the
bureaucracies was dependent simply on possession of an educational qualification–any
educational qualification. Now, the problem here is that the human resource plans did not
appear to emphasize that this distorted immediate post-independence labor market was
going to be a short-term phenomenon because there was a limit to, both, replacement of
expatriate personnel, and the expansion of government bureaucracies. Given this short-
sightedness, it is not surprising, then, that the plans that emerged for expanding human
resource capacity in many African countries did not prioritize the production of scientific
and technological personnel.
3. ‘Rates-of-Return’ Approach to Educational Planning
More will be said about this issue in another section of this chapter below. At this point, it
16
To take an example from today: who could ever predicated that the internet would become so
economically important as to create overnight a whole new category of employee skills that education would
have to produce. However, even when viewed from the perspective of their narrow focus (growth versus
structural change), these surveys were seriously flawed in methodological terms (data collection methods,
quality of data, data processing, statistical techniques used, etc.) See Jolly and Colclough, 1973.
Page 25 of 61
will suffice to say that when educational planners have gotten into their heads that a
country does not need to devote much attention to the development of higher education,
relative to other sub-sectors of the educational system, then the obvious consequence for
such areas of higher education as science and technology will be comparative neglect.
For, whatever development that does take place at the higher education level, the
propensity will be toward concentration on developing only those parts that are the least
expensive to develop and maintain: specifically, the arts and the social sciences.
4. Poor Development of Math and Science Infrastructure in High Schools and Primary
Schools
If you wish to build a science and technology infrastructure then you can not simply
concentrate on the tertiary level of the educational system; you must also devote attention
to the development of science and math infrastructure upstream, that is in the primary and
secondary level educational tributaries. The reason is simple: a high school output with a
high concentration of properly trained math and science students implies a readily
available pool of qualified undergraduate students who can be recruited for the science
and technology programs of study in the universities. Similarly, going further upstream, the
quality of the high school output is directly related to the quality of the primary school
output who become the intake for high schools. Yet, the sad truth is that in most of Africa
the development of math and science infrastructure (qualified teachers, appropriate
curriculum and pedagogy, laboratory and other plant facilities, etc.) is even further behind
that of the universities.17 In fact, it would be true to say that in many instances such
infrastructure is almost absent altogether. The factors that account for this are many; they
include: (a) the low level of development, from a qualitative point of view, of the entire
primary/secondary school system during the colonial period and with little improvement
in the post-independence period; (b) the existence of poor teacher training facilities at
teacher training colleges; (c) the dialectical impact of the state of the science and
technology infrastructure in the universities on the state of math and science in the high
17
It is instructive to note that the only country in Africa (outside of North Africa) to participate in the Third
International Mathematics and Science Study-Repeat (TIMSS-R--a successor to the 1995 TIMSS which evaluated
the mathematics and science achievement of eighth-grade students in participating nations) was South
Africa. What is more: it ranked last among the 38 participating nations. Its math performance score was 275
(international average 487), while its science performance score was 243 (international average 488) (see the
reports by Martin [2000]; and Mullis [2000]). One can only guess what the scores would have been of other
countries within sub-Saharan Africa had they chosen to participate (assuming they could have met the
study’s methodological criteria). While on the subject of the TIMMSS-R: it would not be out of place to also
mention this finding that is of relevance here: On average, there was a positive correlation between the
students’ mathematics and science achievement and the following factors (among others): (a) home
backgrounds endowed with educational resources (comprising home libraries with over 100 books, a study
desk and a dictionary, and the presence of least one parent who was a university graduate); (b) the level of
teachers’ confidence to teach in their subjects (which itself was positively correlated to possession of
appropriate credentials); and (c) schools that were sufficiently endowed with basic instructional resources
such as to ensure that their instructional capacity was not undermined by lack of them. As one can surmise,
on all of these variables, African students are at a terrible disadvantage.
Page 26 of 61
schools; (d) the corruption of pedagogy emanating from the demands of the national
examination selection system. Each of these points bears further discussion:
Prior to independence the state of education generally in Africa could be
characterized as one that was at a primitive level of development in both qualitative and
quantitative terms. This characterization is valid even for primary school level education
which had received some priority (relative to secondary and tertiary level education) in
most African countries. Initially, the provision of education was in the hands of Christian
European missionaries, and it is only much later that colonial governments took over this
responsibility. Now, leaving aside the issue of adequate funding for the development of
the school system that would have guaranteed full provision of quality education for all
Africans, it is ironic that what could have become a precursor for a science/math and
technology dominated curriculum in schools following independence, became instead the
basis for African apathy toward these same subjects. In other words, the early insistence of
the missionaries, their philanthropic supporters (such as the U.S. based Phelps-Stokes
Fund) and the colonial governments that African education be given a vocational
orientation as most suited to the needs of African societies was most vigorously resisted
by the Africans. They perceived this approach as nothing less than an effort to block
opportunities for upward mobility in a society that in practice valued education that was
academic (liberal arts) in orientation.
Africans were fully aware that it is education with an academic bent that could open
doors at higher levels of the formal sector of the colonial economy. Of course, the
inclusion by missionaries in their school programs of a heavy dose of unalloyed manual
labor (ostensibly to introduce their students to scientific practices in agriculture) did not
help matters. In many mission schools, it was the practice of the missionaries to require
their students to work in the school vegetable gardens which served to supplement the
income of the school. The students, for obvious reasons, resented this part of their school
curriculum and likened it to the forced labor that was imposed, from time to time, on their
parents by the colonial administrations.18 It ought to be also noted that in the colonial
period, labor of the manual variety came to be associated with one’s subordinate position
in colonial society because those at the top, the colonizers, did not engage in such labor.
The net result was a resistance to the vocational oriented curricula that was carried
through into the post independence period, with considerable negative implications for the
future development of a science and math based curricula in primary and secondary
schools. It is not only matters of the curriculum per se that had an impact on the future
development of the math/science infrastructure, but the general state of the overall
educational infrastructure itself. The sad truth is that quality education does not come
cheap: it requires funding of expensive inputs ranging from up-to-date textbooks through
adequate libraries to well provisioned laboratories (and today computer laboratories as
well). Add to that well qualified teachers and the stage is set for the pricing of quality
educational provision for all, well out of the reach of most African countries. This has
18
For more on early colonial education and African reactions to it see Berman, 1975; King, 1971; and
Ragsdale, 1986. For a general survey of education during the colonial period see Kitchen, 1962.
Page 27 of 61
almost always been true in the past, and it is certainly true today. In many African
countries, the circumstances of schools–especially those in the countryside where a
majority of them are located–can be best described in the following terms: Their
educational systems have slowly but resolutely come to the point, where they are now
undergoing what can only be termed as wholesale systemic decay.19 (In fact, writing a
decade and a half ago, Williams (1986) described African educational systems as under a
state ‘of siege’–the siege since then has gotten worse.)
This situation is nowhere more clearly manifest than at the micro-level, that is at the
level of individual schools. Thus at this level: classrooms are overcrowded; teachers are
overworked and underpaid, and some times not paid at all for months on end; the books
used in classrooms are often long out of date, and not enough to go around (it is not
uncommon in many schools to see a single textbook for a given subject shared by a whole
class); and the school equipment and buildings are in such a state of neglect, due to lack
of funds for maintenance and repair, that even their most basic functions, such as keeping
out inclement weather, have been severely compromised. For long periods of time
students and teachers have to go without the most rudimentary of classroom learning
tools: such as paper, pencils, and chalk, let alone such equipment as stencil duplicating
machines, and not to mention photocopiers, and personal computers that have now
become part of standard equipment for schools in the West. Midday school meals for
children is a luxury that is unheard of. Lack of housing for teachers in some of the more
remote schools has at times meant classrooms have had to be converted into living
quarters. As if all this is not enough, African schools must also grapple with the
consequences of HIV/AIDS that has been sweeping through large parts of Africa on a
pandemic scale. That any kind of learning is taking place in such circumstances is a
miracle in itself. Under these circumstances, even if there was a genuine desire on the part
of African governments to raise the profile of math and science education (which,
remember, is the most expensive part of any educational provision) in their schools must
appear to be nothing less than wishful thinking.
Without a well developed math/science infrastructure upstream there will be
problems downstream. But, such is the nature of the relationship between inputs and
outputs upstream and downstream in the education sector that, conversely, a poorly
developed math/science infrastructure downstream bodes ill for the infrastructure
upstream. To put the matter differently: if teacher training facilities–regardless of where
they are located: at specialized institutions (teacher-training colleges) or in schools of
19
Even in quantitative terms, the early remarkable progress made immediately following independence, has
now foundered on the twin scourges of shrinking government budgets and skyrocketing population growth.
Consider this: when the African ministers of education met at a well publicized Unesco sponsored
conference on African education in Addis Ababa in 1960, they set themselves such targets to be achieved by
1980 as these: universal and compulsory primary education for all children; secondary education access for
about one third of the children; and university education for one fifth of all those eligible. 1980 has come
and gone (and so has another well publicized Unesco conference held in 1990 at Jomtien, Thailand [March,
5-9], titled ‘World Conference on Education for All: Meeting Basic Learning Needs’), but the targets are
nowhere close to being met. In fact, in some countries, it appears that illiteracy is on the march.
Page 28 of 61
education within the universities–are not geared toward producing competent math and
science teachers, then of course the math/science education in the primary and
secondary schools will remain undeveloped. Everything is tied in together in a dialectical
fashion.20 Since the original issue here is the poor development of the science and
technology infrastructure in universities, no further comment is necessary regarding
teacher training in universities because of the obviousness of its negative impact on the
production of adequate (in, both, quantitative and qualitative terms) math and science
teachers for primary and secondary schools.
A word or two more, then, about teacher training colleges outside the universities.
These institutions, which one may note are not common in the West, began to proliferate
in Africa as a result of the absence of university level higher education during the colonial
period. Their founding continued in the post-independence period because universities
have not been able to fully meet all the teacher training needs. In other words, teacher
training colleges are a poor man’s version of a university based school or faculty of
education. In reality, they are little more than glorified high-schools, except that their
output are destined to be teachers, usually at the primary school level (however, some
also train secondary school level teachers). Consequently, most of these institutions have
not been able to perform as intended. There are three factors that have negatively
effected their overall ability to fulfill their missions over the years: first is the general
neglect of their infrastructural needs through inadequate funding–especially after the
arrival of universities in the educational landscape; second, is the nature of the quality of
input in terms of student recruits (usually rejects from the university undergraduate
admissions process); and three, the poor quality of teachers (usually they tend to be those
who do not have the qualifications to be hired to teach in universities). Turning specifically
to the matter of training competent math/science teachers, in addition to the above
problems, there has also been the problem of inappropriate pedagogy, which itself is a
symptom of poorly trained college teaching staff and inadequate teaching facilities (lack of
textbooks, laboratories, computers, etc.) Inappropriate pedagogy is also a function of the
demands of the national examination system. To explain this fact it is necessary to
describe the role of national exams in the educational systems of African countries. The
example of Zambia will do just as well as that of any other African country: In that country,
the general educational system (primary and secondary level education) has a 4-3-2-3
structure, comprising the following stages: primary level education, which usually begins
at the age of seven, is made up of two stages that together cover a seven year period:
lower primary lasting four years (grades 1 through 4) and upper primary lasting three years
20
The term ‘dialectical’ is of great importance in explicating the nature of the problem of quality
confronting African educational systems as a whole; therefore it bears elaboration. It is a word that is not
uncommon in philosophy, but it is not that ‘philosophical’ meaning of the word that is of direct relevance
here. Rather, its use here is more generic in the sense that it denotes the process where two seemingly
unrelated factors impinge on one another cyclically such as to permanently render the fate of each, to be in
the hands of the other. For example: factor A impinges on factor B such as to change factor B and thereby
enable B to impinge on factor A which in turn is altered, enhancing its capacity to continue impinging on
factor B. Now, B is further altered, enhancing its capacity to impinge on factor A--and so the cycle
continues.
The Present Predicament of African Universities:  Confronting the Burden of the Past
The Present Predicament of African Universities:  Confronting the Burden of the Past
The Present Predicament of African Universities:  Confronting the Burden of the Past
The Present Predicament of African Universities:  Confronting the Burden of the Past
The Present Predicament of African Universities:  Confronting the Burden of the Past
The Present Predicament of African Universities:  Confronting the Burden of the Past
The Present Predicament of African Universities:  Confronting the Burden of the Past
The Present Predicament of African Universities:  Confronting the Burden of the Past
The Present Predicament of African Universities:  Confronting the Burden of the Past
The Present Predicament of African Universities:  Confronting the Burden of the Past
The Present Predicament of African Universities:  Confronting the Burden of the Past
The Present Predicament of African Universities:  Confronting the Burden of the Past
The Present Predicament of African Universities:  Confronting the Burden of the Past
The Present Predicament of African Universities:  Confronting the Burden of the Past
The Present Predicament of African Universities:  Confronting the Burden of the Past
The Present Predicament of African Universities:  Confronting the Burden of the Past
The Present Predicament of African Universities:  Confronting the Burden of the Past
The Present Predicament of African Universities:  Confronting the Burden of the Past
The Present Predicament of African Universities:  Confronting the Burden of the Past
The Present Predicament of African Universities:  Confronting the Burden of the Past
The Present Predicament of African Universities:  Confronting the Burden of the Past
The Present Predicament of African Universities:  Confronting the Burden of the Past
The Present Predicament of African Universities:  Confronting the Burden of the Past
The Present Predicament of African Universities:  Confronting the Burden of the Past
The Present Predicament of African Universities:  Confronting the Burden of the Past
The Present Predicament of African Universities:  Confronting the Burden of the Past
The Present Predicament of African Universities:  Confronting the Burden of the Past
The Present Predicament of African Universities:  Confronting the Burden of the Past
The Present Predicament of African Universities:  Confronting the Burden of the Past
The Present Predicament of African Universities:  Confronting the Burden of the Past
The Present Predicament of African Universities:  Confronting the Burden of the Past
The Present Predicament of African Universities:  Confronting the Burden of the Past
The Present Predicament of African Universities:  Confronting the Burden of the Past

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The Present Predicament of African Universities: Confronting the Burden of the Past

  • 1. THE PRESENT PREDICAMENT OF AFRICAN UNIVERSITIES Confronting the Burden of the Past
  • 2. Page 1 of 61 The Present Predicament of African Universities: Confronting the Burden of the Past1 Y. G-M. Lulat I Introduction Modern universities arrived in Africa amidst a fanfare of great optimism; today, the sad truth is that in many parts of Africa much of that optimism is now on the wane, if it has not already evaporated completely. (Unless indicated differently, Africa for the purposes of this chapter refers to sub-Saharan Africa, comprising about 40 countries–not including island states like the Seychelles and South Africa.2) One may begin this chapter, then, with two observations that one can forthrightly render regarding the state of universities in much of Africa today: first, that they have come a long way from the time when most of Africa was ruled by Europe. That is, in quantitative terms, enormous progress has been achieved. Yet, at the same time, in qualitative terms, universities throughout most of sub-Saharan Africa are, to put it very, very mildly, under extreme stress. The magnitude of quantitative progress, taking two comparative benchmark years, 1960 (by which time most of Africa was on the verge of achieving independence) and 1997, is nothing short of miraculous, as the following numbers for higher education as a whole testify: in 1960, total enrollment was 21,000 and the gross enrollment ratio was 0.2%; in 1997 the respective figures were 1,802,000 and 6.9%.3 Qualitatively too, there was a time when the quality of undergraduate teaching and learning (graduate education was and still is relatively undeveloped) in African universities was internationally comparable. Whatever criticisms there were of African universities in the past, they rarely (if ever) included those about quality. To day, however, it is a different story. 1 A slightly revised version of this document, with a modified title, was published in Higher Education: A Handbook of Theory and Research, Vol. XVIII, ed. by John C. Smart and William G. Tierney, pp. 595-667. London and New York: Kluwer Academic, 2003. 2 South Africa is generally excluded from this chapter because of its Apartheid history and present circumstance. Consider this one simple fact to demonstrate the uniqueness of South Africa on the African continent: it alone accounts for two thirds of Sub-Saharan Africa’s entire GDP. Compared to other Sub- Saharan African countries, it is, clearly, in a league by itself. Including it in the discussion that follows will simply distort the discussion. 3 Data is from the annual Unesco Statistical Yearbook for the years 1980 and 1999.
  • 3. Page 2 of 61 The fact is that the remarkable quantitative progress that African higher education has registered to date, sadly, masks a proportionate qualitative degeneration on a massive, massive scale. It is symptomatic of the emergence (to varying degrees, of course, depending on what part of Africa one is looking at) of an enduring pattern of woes: crippling budgetary constraints as institutions are starved of funds; large scale deterioration of physical plant; overflowing classrooms; poorly equipped laboratories and other similar facilities set against a logistical background of intermittent supply of even such basics as water and electricity (not to mention consumables like chemicals); shrinking and outdated libraries as collection development has come to a virtual standstill against a backdrop of widespread looting of holdings; overworked and underpaid faculty who often must moonlight to make ends meet; inefficient administrations as talented and able administrators have left for greener pastures; teaching, learning and research that is bereft of even the most basic logistical support (such as chalk, textbooks, photocopy machines, etc.); almost complete loss of autonomy as governments vilify and obliterate academic freedom; and the list goes on. 4 As for the quality of the teaching and learning enterprise itself, given this awful state of affairs, one can only assume the worst. Reporting as far back as in 1988 (and the situation since then, as all who have visited a number of African countries in recent years know from first hand, has worsened considerably), this is what the World Bank observed on this matter: "The low (and possibly declining) standard in African higher education is now pervasively bemoaned by teacher, student, employer, and government official alike. Nor could the situation be otherwise, since indirect evidence of a crisis of quality in African education is overwhelming." The report goes on to state: The most immediate consequences of the drying up of nonsalary inputs to higher education are that research ceases and instruction is reduced to little more than rote learning of theory from professorial lectures and chalked notes on blackboards. Chemists who have not done a titration; biologists who have not done a dissection; physicists who have never measured an electrical current;...engineers who have never disassembled the machinery they are called upon to operate; social scientists of all types who have never collected, or conducted an analysis, of their own empirical data;...lawyers who do not have access to recent judicial opinions; medical doctors whose only knowledge of laboratory test procedures is from hearing them described in a lecture hall--qualitatively deprived graduates such as these are now appearing in countries that have been hardest hit by the scarcity of nonsalary inputs. (World Bank, 1988:74-75) Now, just as much as the future is always a product of the present, so the present is 4 For more details and examples regarding these woes see see Ajayi, Goma and Johnson, 1996; Amonoo-Neizer, 1998; Assie-Lumumba, 1996; Giudice, 1999; Hoffman, 1995-1996; Shabani, 1995; U.S. Government, 1994.
  • 4. Page 3 of 61 always a product of the past. To what extent, then, can the current circumstances of African universities be credited to the specifics of the history of its development? This is the central question that this chapter will explore. Before proceeding to do this, however, it is necessary first to point to the elephant in the room that few concerned with African universities have exhibited any willingness to openly discuss: the total collapse or close to total collapse in many African countries of civil society.5 Anyhow, for the purposes of this chapter the term civil society refers to all the major voluntary democratic social, political and economic processes/ activities that the citizenry undertake in the public domain, but outside the state dominated arena, for the sole purpose of creating a better society for all. By definition, then, these processes rest on social trust and reciprocity; acceptance of diversity in all areas: political, social and economic; and voluntary public activism for the good of the community. It also follows, then, that there is a dialectical relationship between civil society and democracy: one cannot exist without the other. Of course, it goes without saying that while definitionally civil society is outside the state dominated arena, in practice, it is never completely outside it for the simple reason that the State can not leave untouched any activity anywhere in society that has the potential to threaten it or its agenda. In other words, civil society is yet one more site of struggle between the citizenry and the State. For a good overview of this concept see Bratton, 1994. For a critique of the concept as it has been applied in the African context see Hearn, 2001. Clearly, one does not have to be a rocket scientist to surmise the grim consequences for the educational enterprise as a whole at any level (primary, secondary or tertiary) in such a context. Widespread chaos, in whatever arena (social, political or economic) is not conducive to teaching and learning. How difficult can it be to grasp this simple fact? Now, an inkling--only an inkling--of the gravity of the situation can be best assessed by comparing what the author of this chapter wrote seventeen years ago with what is happening today: ...nations such as those in Africa are saddled with a legacy of, among other things, steeply spiraling mass poverty; deep ethnic/ regional conflagratory cleavages that threaten to destroy national integrity, heavily debt-ridden stagflation economies; endemic military takeovers; and a spreading pattern of gross violations of the mass of the citizenry's basic human rights by states dominated by increasingly cynical and 5 The term ‘civil society’ is a new buzz word in the lexicon of Western development experts and aid donors. It is as if all of a sudden they have woken up to discover that things like a vibrant civil society and ‘good governance’ (another new buzz word) are necessary after all for development to take place. Consider, for example, the following statement which is almost laughable in its obviousness made by the African Development Bank, an affiliate of the World Bank, in its most recent report: “Governance is now one of the cornerstones of economic development. Good governance, in its political, social, and economic dimensions, underpins sustainable human development and the reduction of poverty in that it defines the processes and structures that guide political and socio-economic relationships.” (African Development Bank, 2001) Of course, despite calls for good governance there is a palpable absence of accompanying analysis of why good governance has been absent in most of Africa all these years. Could it be that one factor (among many, it goes without saying) has been the role played by external agents: Cold War super powers, former colonial masters, foreign multinational corporations, and, yes, even multilateral agencies such as the Bretton Woods institutions (the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund).
  • 5. Page 4 of 61 corrupt elites. Furthermore, as we approach the year 2000, whereas the majority of the people in the WINs [Western Industrialized Nations] will continue to enjoy a materially superabundant life (based on an immensely wasteful system that requires two-thirds of the world's key finite resources to keep it going) the people of the African nations (i.e. those who will have survived the present large-scale famine ravaging huge areas in Africa and estimated to threaten nearly one-quarter of the entire African population with starvation)...will face even greater levels of deterioration in their standards of living. (Lulat, 1985:555) If those were the circumstances of Africa seventeen years ago, today in the year 2002, the situation is even more grim. Witness, for example: the mercilessly and horrifyingly savage, kleptocratic, ethnic-based armed conflicts in Congo, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Somalia and Sudan; the senseless and vicious blood-letting in the civil wars of Algeria, Sudan and Angola; the grisly genocidal murders of Burundi and Rwanda; and the equally senseless cross-border armed violence between Uganda and Congo or between Eritrea and Ethiopia, etc. Even, however, in the absence of armed conflict, many African states are reeling from the ever-mounting and crushing debt burden; an epidemic of the disease AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) that has consumed thousands of people and cruelly wrenched from thousands of orphaned children their childhood (as they are forcibly thrust overnight into adult roles); and the continuation of widespread kleptocratic and political corruption, spiraling mass poverty in the context of disintegrating stagflation economies, massive and persistent gross violations of human rights of the citizenry; (and the list goes on and on).6 There is a new phrase that has begun to come into vogue in the discourse on Africa’s future: ‘Afropessimism.’ This chapter is not an exercise in Afropessism, but rather ‘Afrorealism.’ In other words, the perspective that infuses this chapter is one captured in the admonition of one of the most important figures in the pantheon of African political leaders, Amicar Cabral: “tell no lies and claim no easy victories.” Therefore, lest there are charges of hyperbole from the unaware, for more information on Africa’s current circumstances, see, for example: African Development Bank, 2001; Amoako, 2000; Ayittey, 1998; Bayart, Ellis and Hibou, 1999; Braathen, Bas and Sther, 1999; Chabal and Daloz, 1999; Collier, 2000; Daniel, 2000; Global Coalition for Africa, 1997, 1998, and 1999; Gourevitch, 1998; Ng, 1999/2000; Giudice, 1999; Hope and Chikulo, 2000; Human Rights Watch, 1998, 1999, 2000, 20001; McPherson and Goldsmith, 1998; Shaeffer, 1994; World Bank, 2000(a); plus the various issues of that irreverant, no-holds barred, but highly credible newsletter, Africa Confidential. In other words, then, in the seventeen years that have elapsed the state of the African continent–especially sub-Saharan Africa--has not improved; on the contrary it has 6 Tragically, as if the human-engineered disasters are not enough, nature has also persisted to conspire to add its part to the human misery: large parts of Africa continue to be engulfed by widespread famines and floods of cataclysmic proportions (the latest occurring as recently as in 1999/2000).
  • 6. Page 5 of 61 become worse.7 To be sure, there are some bright spots in Africa, but they are few, very few. In fact, even in their case, the watchword must remain ‘ultracautious optimism.’ As Rieff (1998) astutely observes: “Unfortunately, for all the promising signs that could lead an African or a sympathetic foreign observer to believe in the reality of an ‘African renaissance,’ it is far more likely that the new ‘Afro-optimism’ is, tragically, yet another false dawn, based on little more than some promising but unrepresentative social developments, a move toward formal democracy that has not and shows no real promise of being translated into grass-roots democracy, a brief and transient spike in Africa's economic fortunes, and a vast overestimation of the qualities and commitment to democracy of a new generation of African rulers who, however different stylistically they are from their predecessors, are cut from very much the same basic mold - the African ‘Big Man’ (p. 11). Under these circumstances, as one can only imagine, the fate of the universities (as with the education sector as a whole), has been one of a relentless downward qualitative spiral. However, to blame the current circumstances of African universities on the awful vicissitudes of the present does not represent the whole truth, but only a partial one. To get at the whole truth, one must also examine the historical path of 7 Consider the following simple, but awful statistic: for most of the past three decades, the annual average percentage growth rate of per capita GDP for the African continent as a whole has never made it into positive territory! Or consider this fact: in 1965 the per capita GDP for sub-Saharan Africa was at 841 dollars while that of East Asia and the Pacific stood at 632 dollars. Compare these figures 30 years later: in 1995, 933 dollars for sub-Saharan Africa and 2,253 for East Asia and the Pacific! [World Bank, 2000:131] Not surprisingly, on the Human Development Index sub-Saharan Africa is at the very bottom. Note also: data just presented for sub-Saharan Africa also includes South Africa. If South Africa was not included the figures would be even more astounding and depressing. What is more: it is not simply that the economic circumstances of the majority of the African population have deteriorated since independence, but as if to add insult to injury, the population has been subjected to political thuggery of the worst kind on a relentless scale since independence. Life has been incredibly hard for the majority of them to simply put bread on the table, but it has been made worse by the oppressive political developments they have been forced to endure over the years. Only the slightest hint–it can not be any more than that–at this circumstance can be elicited from considering these stark facts compiled by the African Development Bank in its latest report: Between 1963 and 2000 there were 180 leadership successions in Africa. Of these over 50% took place through coups, wars or invasions. The rest involved retirement, assassinations or impeachment. Only about 7% occurred because the incumbent lost an election. During this same period, to look at this matter from a different angle, the political life over 200 regimes was terminated by means of coups, civil wars or invasions. The report from which this data comes (African Development Bank, 2001), further observes: “Africa is famous for leaders with long tenure. Fourteen present national heads in the region have been in office for between ten and 20 years; nine have served more than 20 years. The mean tenure for all former African leaders is 7.2 years, and about twice that for leaders who died in office or retired.... Of the 101 past leaders who left office due to a coup or similar unauthorized event, roughly two-thirds were killed, imprisoned, or banished to a foreign country. Twenty-seven former rulers died violently, counting five whose deaths appear to have been independent of a coup or coup attempt. The remaining 22 leaders in this category clearly perished as a direct result of coups. Of Africa’s overthrown leaders who were not executed or assassinated, 37 were detained and held in jail or placed under house arrest. Twenty-nine other ex-leaders were forced into exile, at least temporarily. That figure does not include nine ex-leaders who experienced periods of both imprisonment and banishment.”
  • 7. Page 6 of 61 development that African universities have taken since independence. To restate this point differently: it is the thesis of this chapter that the capacity of African universities to withstand the tyranny of the present has been greatly compromised by the burden of the past. Among the debilitating characteristics that are rooted in the past that this chapter will concentrate on are those that are absolutely central to the survival of universities in Africa as credible institutions of higher learning capable of contributing to the meaningful development of, both, the individual and society at large as the present century unfolds, namely: (1) the extremely high unit cost of universities, even when compared to other developing regions; (2) an insufficient emphasis on the development of a science and technology infrastructure; and (3) the relative neglect of university development in educational planning.8 The three sections that comprise this chapter, besides this introduction (section I) and the conclusion (section VI), correspond to these three critical factors. II High Unit Costs Without any doubt, one of the most crippling, historically rooted factors that sub-Saharan universities face today is the question of the extremely high unit costs. In a continent where private higher education is still a rarity, the burdens placed on the public purse of high unit costs can be severe. Moreover, it leads to a gross imbalance in resource allocation across the different sub-sectors of the education sector with profound implications for, both, equity and efficient use of scarce resources. Of course, those familiar with the present deep predicament of universities in Africa will not miss the apparent irony here: amidst the very real crippling budgetary constraints that they face, there is the issue of excessive expenditures in the form of high unit costs. However, upon reflection one will conclude that the contradiction is only apparent: the renewal of the fortunes of universities in Africa from a financial point of view is a two step process: lowering unit costs is the first step, increasing budgetary allocations judiciously is the second step. (Unfortunately, the latter step is almost never mentioned by most international aid agencies.) 8 These, of course, are not the only problems that face African universities: for example four very serious problems that are not discussed in this chapter are sex inequality in universities (where males are over represented relative to female students), the impact of the disease AIDS on them, the frequent assault by African governments on university autonomy and academic freedom (which often culminates in unplanned shutdown of universities for temporary but extended periods of time); and the threat of the digital information revolution bypassing the African universities. The first is not discussed here because no matter how important it may be from the perspective of equity and the general national development effort, it is a problem that does not threaten the basic survival of the university as an institution of higher learning. The problem of AIDS is not discussed because it is a recent problem that has emerged from outside the education sector; in other words it is not rooted in past university practices, which is what this chapter is about. The third problem is not covered (though it is mentioned tangentially below) because it has less to do with university policies per se than with such factors as the nature of the African state as it has developed in the post-independence period; the particular configuration of class development; the trajectory of economic development; and so on. The fourth problem is a recent problem, and like AIDS has little to do with past historical practices other than the general neglect of science and technology to be discussed below.
  • 8. Page 7 of 61 The best measure available to gauge how high this unit cost is, is to look at the per student expenditure in higher education as a percentage of per capita GNP for Sub- Saharan Africa and compare it with that for other parts of the world. The figures are startling and sobering: in 1995 (latest year for which such data is available) the percentage for the world as a whole was 77%, but for Sub-Saharan Africa it was 422%! Furthermore, compare the Sub-Saharan figure with that of low and middle-income countries taken together (91%), or South Asia (74%), or Latin America and the Caribbean (43%), or the high income countries taken together (26%) (source: World Bank, 2000: 123). Now, it is of course true that per capita income for sub-Saharan Africa is also relatively low compared to other parts of the world, but that alone does not explain the astronomical figure of 422% The fact is that quite clearly, the provision of university education in Africa is simply a very, very expensive undertaking–more so than anywhere else in the world. Not surprisingly, government after government is no longer willing or even able to fund it to the extent warranted by their needs. Why is the unit cost of universities in Africa so high? There are many factors that explain this circumstance and almost all have their origins in policies and practices established in the past, which while well-intentioned (for the most part) at that time have led today to the proverbial chickens coming home to roost. They include: (a) The wholesale transplantation of institutions from abroad requiring the creation of physical infrastructures (almost in the form of alien mini-cities) that were not organically linked to the local economy and society, and therefore requiring huge capital and recurrent expenditures. (b) The decision to insist on free on-campus residence of all students, thereby requiring the building and maintenance of expensive dormitories, as well as provision of tax-payer funded board. Coupled with this approach was the decision to provide tuition-free education to all students--without even requiring a means test. (c) The decision to retain high salary levels (relative to salaries for similar positions in the rest of society) for teaching staff and administrators; even going to the extent of seeking foreign aid to maintain these levels, coupled with heavy subsidization of living expenses. (d) The use of universities as employment generators by governments for their supporters (symptomatic of which is the comparatively high teaching staff to student and non-teaching staff to student ratios). (e) The failure to maximize the impact of resources by not devising programs for non-traditional students (part-time students, evening students, intercession students, etc.) (f) The failure to engage in meaningful cross-border cooperation by developing regional university systems (rather than small, atomistic systems) and thereby foregoing savings that arise from economies of scale, not to mention such other benefits as permitting concentration of scholarly expertise–thereby facilitating research specialization. (g) The existence of high student wastage rates in many African universities arising from, both, political causes as well as traditional educational practices within the universities. (h) The endemic unscheduled closures of universities by governments arising out of conflicts with the university–principally students.
  • 9. Page 8 of 61 Wholesale Transplantation of Institutions With the onset of independence, almost every African country came to view the provision of HED as not only a necessity beyond question, but also as a marker of their entry into the world arena as independent nations. Universities were not simply educational institutions, but they were also national status symbols; that is, symbols of sovereignty. Added to this perception was the psychological burden of living down that ubiquitous racist view that colonialist propaganda had perpetuated for centuries: that the black person was an intellectually inferior human being incapable of taking advantage of authentic (meaning Western style) higher education (See Nwauwa, 1997:149 and King, 1971). Under these circumstances it was not surprising that country after country in Africa insisted that the new universities and colleges that were being established in their countries should not be watered down versions of the universities in the metropole, but rather be exact replicas to the extent possible (though not necessarily in terms of architectural facade–however, in reality, it came down to this too). (Note the term metropole is used in this chapter in place of metropolis which itself would be used in place of the clumsy phrase ‘former colonialist countries.’) Of course, the departing colonial powers on their part were only too happy to oblige. After all, they too believed–naturally enough--in the superiority of their institutions as institutional models, and they were cognizant of African concerns in this regard. For example, even as early as the beginning of the establishment of the forerunners of the modern university in British colonial Africa, the university college, a warning had been sounded on this matter in these words: “[a]bove all, it would be necessary to clear the native mind of any suspicion that the African Universities were a sham, designed merely to side-track native ambitions” (Currie Report, reproduced in the documents section of Ashby, 1966:479). Further, the evolution of the African universities was planned to reproduce the path taken by such British Universities as the University of London, and that it would occur under their tutelage. The plan that was implemented through out most of British colonial Africa, following the Second World War, did not deviate from this basic principle. The new institutions that were established were university colleges (often referred to as the ‘Asquith colleges’) that were envisioned to eventually become full universities. Their governance involved British universities (principally, the University of London) and the Inter-University Council for Higher Education in the Colonies. Graduates of the Asquith colleges received their degrees from the University of London on the basis of their affiliation to the university. The basic mechanism of the affiliation was that while the Council was responsible for recruiting staff, the University, in cooperation with the faculty of the colleges, set the curricular and examination standards. Nwauwa (1997: 202-203) refers to this phenomenon as “educational imperialism,” but it was a type that the Africans willingly accepted, of course. As Ashby (1964) explains: “Clearly the pioneers had no choice but to adopt the pattern of an English university. Equally clearly this was the pattern which the Africans themselves wanted. The African intellectual, educated in London or Cambridge or Manchester, would have been indignant at any softening of standards, any substitution of easier options, any cheapened vesrion of higher education. So initially there was no problem of adaptation. The African wanted a replica of the British university at its best; the
  • 10. Page 9 of 61 expatriate staff had no other model to offer.” (p. 22) Even following independence, general African opinion in Anglophone Africa was that the British university model was the best model and that any modification of it would imply a lowering of standards. In Ashby's words "Over standards and quality of education the debate was overwhelmingly in favor of preserving the British academic heritage." (1966:236) What is more, initially, at least, there was very strong support in most African leadership circles (many of whom had obtained their degrees at universities abroad) of an externally-awarded degree that the university colleges facilitated. To them, an indigenous degree from the newly created colleges would have spelled inferior degrees. Even the idea of adapting the curricula was, at the beginning, resisted by Africans for fear that it meant dilution of quality and standards. If one turns to the French colonial Africa, here the tradition that would evolve would be one were the African universities were even more closely aligned to the French universities than was the case in British colonial Africa. Beginning in the 1950s, the French had become more cognizant of their university responsibilities in the colonies; prompted in part by the increasing cost of educating Africans at French universities, and in part out of a conscious and unabashed belief that they had to do more, by way of culturally binding the colonies to the metropole, in preparation for the eventuality of some form of political autonomy in the colonies. Concerning the latter point, consider the following prevailing sentiment in French ruling circles--expressed as early as 1900 by the inspector general of the French educational system (and who was also at the same time the vice-chairman of the consultative committee on education in the French colonies): "If the administrative, economic and financial autonomy of the colonies appears to me to be very desirable, it is perhaps all the more necessary to attach them to the Metropole by a very solid psychological bond, against the day when their progressive emancipation ends in a form of federation, as is probable...that they be, and they remain, French in language, thought and spirit." (Quoted in Ashby, 1966:365) Consequently, France began to create overseas branches of French universities in the African colonies--in a few instances beginning earlier in the preceding decades--in the form of institutes of higher education that in time became the foundational basis for national universities. In developing these universities, the French made absolutely sure that they would not be autonomous institutions–from the perspective of French control and influence. Given its "assimilationist" policy, and considering that the French university system is highly bureaucratized this was, perhaps, to be expected. To clarify the latter point: the French government plays a very intrusive role, through administrative decrees, in the day to day operations of the university (a concept that, undoubtedly, would be viewed with absolute horror by universities in most of the Anglophone world). When France established universities in the colonies, therefore, they were virtually, in almost every sense, the overseas campuses of French universities. So, for example, when the University of Dakar was established, a decree from the French Ministry of Education promulgated it as the 18th university in the French HED system. Initially, the Africans themselves too would not have it any other way. Close administrative and curricular alliance with French
  • 11. Page 10 of 61 Universities held the promise (which the Africans greatly cherished, even if not always realized in practice) of fluid transitions, when necessary, between institutions in the former colonies and the metropole of students and staff, as well as the equivalency of educational qualifications in the Francophone world irrespective of the geographic location of the awarding institutions. In fact, after independence too, the universities in the former French colonies continued to maintain strong administrative links with French universities where the French Ministry of Education still retained considerable administrative responsibilities over them--as provided by concordats that the independent countries signed with France for this purpose. At least in the immediate post-independence period, then, one could state without any hesitation (as, indeed, Ashby [1966:371] does) that the university in Francophone Africa was a very close copy of the university in France, from whatever perspective one looked at it: administrative, curricular, degree structure, academic culture, etc. Moreover, France not only took care of staffing the institutions, but it was even responsible for their financing, at least into the early part of the post-independence period (Ajayi, Goma and Johnson, 1996). Now, to come back to the matter of unit costs, if African universities were to model themselves on universities in the metropole in matters of ‘software’ (curricula, organizational structures, governance, etc.), then it stood to reason that they would also replicate the ‘hardware’ (physical layout of buildings, types of buildings, equipment, furnishings, etc.). This is precisely what happened. In other words, the creation of the modern African university involved a physical infrastructure that had to be built entirely from the ground-up, that is, wholly from scratch; thereby driving up the costs of creating and maintaining these institutions to astronomical levels. Virtually new suburbs, almost completely detached from the local environs, were created to host these universities-- which meant in effect the building of completely new infrastructures (roads, utilities, etc.). Ashby (1966) describes the situation thus with respect to the establishment of the first university colleges in West Africa (Ibadan–later to become University of Ibadan; and Gold Coast–later to become University of Ghana): “On each site they had to build a town, for both sites were in uncleared bush some way from the city. Roads, homes for staff, halls for students, drainage, water supply, electricity, transport, schools, chapels, mosques, even a cemetery, became the responsibility of academic administrators.” (p. 234) This pattern of university development was repeated with almost every new university built in Africa. The net effect of this circumstance, as Murphy (1976:14-15) points out, was the provision of a host of ancillary infrastructural facilities on campus such as to render the campus self- sufficient enough to divorce it from the local community. Now, while Murphy approvingly describes the new university colleges as ‘proud institutions’ with buildings that were “...handsome, often representing the most impressive architecture in their countries” and possessing such amenities as dormitories that “...were spacious and comfortable, and at many of the universities each student had a private room with a small study area, cleaned by a troop of servants,” he can be forgiven–writing in the mid-1970s--for not realizing the tremendous financial burden that these institutions would become to their countries only a decade or so later.
  • 12. Page 11 of 61 What is more: as if the skyrocketing capital costs this approach entailed (of building self-contained, vertically integrated institutions, infrastructurally isolated from their local communities) was not enough to give pause, even the fixtures and furnishings were often imported from abroad, with no effort made to obtain them locally. In fact, on the contrary, quality became synonymous with imports. Moreover, once created, the maintenance of these artificial suburbs (artificial in the sense of being infrastructurally divorced from the local community) ensured that the bill for recurrent expenditures would remain constantly and exorbitantly high. In fact it was so high that most African countries could not meet it; they had to turn to foreign aid for assistance. This practice has not completely ended and continues to the present day. It ought to be noted here too that the planners of the new post-independence institutions had deliberately emerged with the notion that HED was so important to the development of Africa that its planning had to take place in the context of money was no object. Consider the report that was produced by the Commission headed by Sir Eric Ashby and funded by the British and the U.S. Americans to advise the new Nigerian Government on how the HED system should be developed in Nigeria–a report that would prove to be highly influential in other African countries as well. It would frankly state that even if moneys were not available to finance the HED system that the Report proposed, that should not be a constraining factor. Ashby himself explains: In the short run it is prudent for a country to design an educational system it can afford to pay for. But it was just this policy of prudence which had starved West African education throughout the colonial period, at any rate until after the second world war; and it was clear that there was no future for Nigeria unless she received aid from more prosperous countries. So the commission deliberately recommended an educational system which could not be sustained without massive outside aid in the confident belief, which has turned out to be justified, that the more prosperous countries would come to Nigeria’s assistance during the early years of independence. (1966:269) Needless to say, from the vantage point of the year 2002, with a West that long abandoned its early optimism and altruism regarding the future of Africa, such a view sounds so unbelievably naive. The damage, however, was done. African universities were set on a course of unbridled and gargantuan appetite for money whose supply was never guaranteed and within a short time would evaporate to a trickle with disastrous consequences for them. Student Welfare Subsidies The high cost of recurrent expenditures was also fueled by the decision to provide on campus, board and lodging for all students on government scholarships (comprising the vast majority of the student body) enrolled at these universities, and what is more,
  • 13. Page 12 of 61 practically free of charge at that. No effort was made to contract out this aspect of university attendance to the private sector, though given the structural location of these institutions this approach may not have worked out in practice. Of course, had this matter of student welfare been approached differently, then perhaps the planners may have tried to physically integrate the institutions into their local communities. Note that there are two related but separate issues here: one is the assumption by the universities of providing board and lodging for the entire student body on campus (thereby drastically pushing capital costs upwards, as noted earlier); and the other is the matter of providing it free of charge to almost all students since invariably they all have government scholarships, with its obvious negative impact on recurrent expenditures. Why did the African countries insist on providing free university education (in the form of scholarships) that also included student welfare subsidies? Tuition-free university education was in itself a major financial burden, so why add to it the costs of student welfare subsidies, such as free board and lodge? There are several explanations for this approach. First was the issue of equity. It was felt that no qualified student academically eligible to attend a university should have to face the prospect of being denied admission because of penury. In part this was an attempt to redress what was felt as an injustice that colonialism had perpetrated on Africans by denying higher educational opportunities (where these were available) to the academically deserving on grounds of financial constraints--even while recognizing that most of these students came from family backgrounds that simply did not have the requisite financial resources given the iniquitous economic policies of the colonial governments themselves. Second, in the policy context of the human-capital approach to educational planning, governments felt that the dire need to develop human capital resources overrode such impediments as the inability to finance one’s university education. Third, even where it became clear that many of the students came from families who were now doing well in the post-independence era and could afford to pay their own way, there lacked a tradition and an administrative mechanism for cost recovery through (for example) student loans. After all, this approach to the financing of universities was not common in the metropole either. Means-tested cost-recovery approaches to university finance has historically been the preserve of the one major Western power that did not have any colonies in Africa: the U.S. The outcome of the foregoing set of factors was a kind of tax-payer funded pampering that is unusual even for students in the developed countries of the West. Consider, for example, the following examples common in most universities in Africa (at least until recently when severe budgetary pressures began to force a movement–albeit only in some countries--toward some form of modest cost-recovery through user-fees): free meals three times a day, based on menus that only the country’s national elites could afford; free lodging that included free cleaning and bed linen service, free tuition complete with a textbook allowance and a stipend. In the case of Francophone Africa specifically, the situation that continues to prevail among most of them is even more dramatic: while the students also receive welfare subsidies, what is unusual there is the magnitude of the scholarships (tuition plus stipend).
  • 14. Page 13 of 61 They equal in size to income that is far above the national average for the modern sector -- which it should be pointed out hosts only a minority of a Francophone country’s population (the vast majority, some 80-90%, are to be found in the traditional agricultural sector). The consequence of this bizarre situation, as Orivel (1996) observes, is that instead of families supporting students, students support families and other relatives--such is the level of income that they derive from their scholarships. In many Francophone countries, students who come from non-elite backgrounds are not just elites in the making, rather they are already members of the elite the moment they accept university admission. In other words, the mere fact of being a student translates into instant upward mobility long before the appropriate credentials have been obtained. Under the circumstances, it is not surprising that student aid (scholarships plus welfare subsidies) makes up more than 50% of the entire HED budget in most of these countries (in Anglophone Africa it is about 15% according to Orivel). Relatively High Salary Levels If students were to receive free education, then surely the faculty deserved a similar treatment too in the sense of being paid salaries that bore no resemblance to salary rates in the rest of the education sector (as well as receiving large subsidies associated with their welfare: housing, recreation, etc). At this point the question immediately arises: specifically what is meant by ‘high salary levels?’ After all, no faculty anywhere in the world will accept that their salaries are adequate. Plus, there is no doubt that in the case of Africa, faculty salaries when averaged across departments and institutions have shrunk considerably in the face of steeply spiraling inflation. This is so much so, that many faculty members moonlight in order to make ends meet. The charge of high salary levels stems from considering this measure: the number of times per capita GNP the salary that primary school teachers receive compared with the number of times per capita GNP that the salary of university faculty is set at. The ratio in favor of university faculty can be as high as 14 in sub-Saharan Africa (Orivel, 1996). Compare this ratio for the metropolitan countries: usually not going much higher than 2. Anyhow, despite the fact that faculty salaries constitute the single largest component of an educational institution’s recurrent expenditure, every effort has been made to keep this component large. Why? For primarily economic reasons initially, and political reasons later. To explain: initially, because of a dearth of nationals who could staff the new universities, like most of everything else about these institutions, their faculty were also imported from abroad. This meant that the salary rates that would be in force had to be commensurate with those found in the metropole; but not only that: they also required some inflation to serve as an inducement for faculty to leave their countries to go and teach in a foreign country–and a developing one at that (with all the attendant inconveniences–real and/or imagined). In other words: the academic labor market ensured that African Universities would maintain salary rates that were internationally competitive. However, as Africanization of faculty staffing moved apace, in time it was not
  • 15. Page 14 of 61 only economics per se that became the chief driving force behind the artificially high salary rates, but politics as well. African faculty were not going to accept large salary differentials that could easily be construed to suggest racial discrimination. Most of the foreign faculty were usually from Europe–meaning that once in Africa they were racially classified as ‘white’ in the tradition long established by colonialism. (What this also suggests, of course, is that even if an African university were to experience full Africanization of teaching personnel, it would have only a limited impact on decreasing the percentage of the budget devoted to faculty salaries, unless the decimation of highly talented faculty through brain drain is assumed to be of no consequence.) Now, as if the high salary costs were not enough, the financial burden was further weighted with the provision of subsidies to faculty through provision of free or subsidized housing on campus grounds and attendant amenities (such as clinics, schools, clubs, etc.) If the universities were to be separate but self-contained entities, how else could it be, the planners reasoned. Hence, municipal, welfare and social services at subsidized rates came to be regarded as standard accompaniment to subsidized housing. It ought to be noted here that the responsibility for the bane of high salary levels should also be laid at the door of foreign aid because too often such aid has been forthcoming when it has been specifically ear-marked for salaries. Why have foreign donors (both, foreign governments as well as private philanthropic foundations) been eager to oblige in maintaining high salary levels? Mainly because they have used salary scales prevalent in the metropole as a guide. Moreover, they have also had to face the issue of inducement when it has come to recruiting personnel in the metropole to be sent out to work on university projects in Africa. High Staff to Student Ratios If universities were to be allocated large portions of the nation’s educational budget, then it stood to reason, in the eyes of the politicians, that the role of these institutions must also be expanded to include generation of employment opportunities for government supporters on a nepotistic basis. That is, they must also be made to join other state institutions that would be sites of patronage dispensations at all levels: from the top to the very bottom of the bureaucratic hierarchies. (A policy, for obvious reasons, usually enunciated sotto voce since it bordered on nepotism and corruption.) After all, other state institutions were already entrusted with this role in practice; why then should the universities be exempt from it? In almost all African countries the monopoly held by foreign entities over economic opportunities (thanks to colonialism) ensured that economic upward mobility for the new rulers would have to be sought in the state sector. In fact, the leader of the first Sub- Saharan African country to become independent, Nkwame Nkrumah, had promulgated this infamous line that went something like this: “Seek ye the political kingdom and all else
  • 16. Page 15 of 61 shall follow.” Perhaps, it is not surprising, then, that among the earliest post-independence conflicts in Africa between the university and the government took place in Ghana when he was in charge. Nkrumah would demand direct government say in the affairs of the University College of Ghana at Legon despite opposition from the university. The unstated bone of contention was patronage: Nkrumah and his Convention People's Party wanted to commandeer the College as one more avenue for conferring patronage on favored associates through appointments to key positions (including teaching positions). The stated criticism (which by no means was entirely unjustified) by Nkrumah and others in his government, however, was that the College was not adapting to the needs of the country in terms of indigenization of, both, the curricula, as well as the teaching and administrative staff. Resistance from the academic community to the criticism was perceived as intolerable arrogance on the part of foreigners (the British expatriate personnel). A partial denouement to the simmering conflict came with the reconstitution of the College into the University of Ghana in 1962 and the concurrent installation of Nkrumah as the Chancellor of the University; the firing of vocal critics in 1964; the resignation of the Vice-Chancellor (Dr. Connor Cruise O'Brien) in 1965; and the military coup in 1966 that deposed Nkrumah and banished him into obscure exile in Egypt. Under this circumstance (of the need for patronage sites), the consequence has been the transformation of the post-independence State into the largest employer in country after country in Africa with little regard to the actual needs of the country. What has been the net effect on universities of this circumstance: unnecessarily high faculty to student ratios on one hand and equally unnecessarily high non-teaching staff to student ratios. Student to faculty ratios ranging from 3 to 1 on the low side to 12 to 1 on the high side have been common in many universities. In industrial countries, by comparison, the ratios are usually double these. (World Bank, 1988:76) Now, the implication of this liberal staffing of universities is that it not only pushes up the salary cost, but it also leads to considerable duplication of courses and programs, thereby further enhancing costs.9 In addition to the matter of large faculties, there is also the problem of large non-academic staff hired to minister to the needs of the students (clean dorm rooms, do the bed-linen laundry, prepare and serve food, etc.) as well as help maintain the physical plant. It is not unusual to have non-teaching staff exceed in number the total student population on the high side or on the low side approach two-thirds of the student population (World Bank, 1988). Failure to Optimize Resource Use 9 One caveat: today in some universities in some countries in certain departments there is a reversal going on of the traditionally high faculty to student ratios. It is due to faculty leaving for greener pastures elsewhere in the face of deteriorating budgetary conditions in the home institutions. It should also be noted that the problem of high faculty-student ratios is a problem that is localized within institutions. Not all departments face this problem; on the contrary, some departments (especially in the arts and social sciences) face a problem of too high student to faculty ratios because of over enrollments.
  • 17. Page 16 of 61 One of the consequences of building isolated suburban campuses has been the inability to exploit that component of the student market that can have a positive impact on lowering unit costs: the non-traditional student. Non-traditional students (part-time students, evening students, vacation students, etc.) help to lower unit costs by maximizing the use of expensive resources (ranging from teaching staff to laboratories and libraries to physical plant). With rare exception, the tradition that was established in most African universities was to allow the university facilities to remain unused during evenings and during the long vacations. Of course the geographic isolation of the universities did not help matters, but there was also the issue of a conscious policy of not cultivating the non-traditional student market. This was an outcome of an erroneous perception that unless a student was a full time student, he/she could not possibly be a serious student worthy of the university’s attention. The idea that you could simultaneously have work/family responsibilities and still go to university was considered infeasible because university education was (laughable as this idea may be) too serious and too sophisticated to require anything less than full-time university attendance. This notion was not original to the African university; it had emerged in the traditions of the universities in the metropole. In fact to this day, the only Western country that has sought to consciously and maximally exploit the non-traditional student market remains the U.S. The luxury of foregoing the non-traditional student market, it may also be added, is only affordable when it is the taxpayer funding the institution. In other words, publicly funded institutions are less likely to find ways of using resources optimally, than privately funded institutions (which were and are uncommon in, both, in Africa and in the metropole.) It ought to be noted that the use of university facilities for non-traditional students is one facet of a larger dimension of higher education that falls outside the traditional: namely, distance education. Yet, even here, most governments in Africa have historically done little to exploit the cost-savings potential of this type of higher educational provision. In fact, the indictment that Jenkins (1989) levels at sub-Saharan Africa, following her survey of distance education there, sadly, continues to remain valid: ...[D]istance education on the continent remains underdeveloped and undervalued.... Until now, few politicians and ministry of education officials have demonstrated any strong commitment to distance education. Despite its extensive use, in most countries it has low status and remains on the periphery. Solid but unadventurous, reflecting the formal system in both its good and bad points—that is the main picture. Opportunities for innovative developments have been missed, although it is hard to make such a criticism when resources of all kinds have been so scarce. Underresourced and sluggish, it has nevertheless persisted.
  • 18. Page 17 of 61 Failure to Exploit Economies of Scale There is absolutely no question about it: the nature of the university enterprise is such that it is among those institutions whose operations can benefit considerably from economies of scale. Not surprisingly, then, the idea of interterritorial universities, has always had some appeal in some political and university circles in the metropole and in the African colonies, beginning with the proposal for a University of West Africa by African nationalists like James Africanus Beale Horton (a medical doctor and a graduate of Fourah Bay College) as early as 1862. Now, whereas the idea never came to pass in West Africa, it was implemented in three other parts of Anglophone Africa: in East Africa, in Central East Africa and in southern Africa. East Africa saw the creation in 1963 of an autonomous degree granting federated university (but still supervised to some extent by the Inter-University Council in London), the Federal University of East Africa, out of three constituent colleges: The Royal University College (formerly a technical college) in Kenya, Makerere University College in Uganda, and the newly established University College of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. To the architects of the university, the 1958 working party appointed by the Colonial Office and led by University of London's Sir John Lockwood, it made sense to have a federated university. Among other things, such a university would serve as an important symbol of unification in the new East African Community--a political and economic union that the British created out of the three geographically contiguous former colonies of Kenya, Uganda and Tanganyika, that not only shared political boundaries but also some elements of colonial and pre-colonial history. In Central East Africa the political union in 1952 of the countries of Northern Rhodesia, Southern Rhodesia and Malawi to form the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland became the basis for the establishment of a federal university based in Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia. Going further South, the protectorates of Basutoland, Bechuanaland and Swaziland gave rise in 1964 to the University of Basutoland, Bechuanaland Protectorate and Swaziland (to be renamed two years later, with the achievement of political independence by the first two countries, as University of Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland). Yet, in both cases, in East Africa and in Central East Africa, with independence came the fragmentation of the political unions, which in turn caused the universities to fragment as well. Even in the case of the Protectorates who had seen the wisdom of creating a federated institution, given the extremely small size of their countries, independence did not spare their university from disintegration into independent country-based entities. Whatever the merits of the dissolution of the political unions, the political leadership in these countries lacked the foresight to retain common institutions, such as a common university. But then again, one ought not to be surprised: independence saw the attachment to universities of non-educational values, principal among them as national symbols of sovereignty. Consequently, every African country, no matter what its size, would clamor for its own university–giving rise to the phenomenon of single university countries. However, this development has not been in their best interests. Regional cross- border universities make a great deal of sense, single universities in small countries do not.
  • 19. Page 18 of 61 However, the problem does not stop there. Where a country has been large enough (as in the case of Nigeria) to support a number of universities, little effort has been expended to build consortias that can take advantage of economies of scale.10 The point here, then, is this: the high unit cost of universities in Africa is also attributable to the small size of many African countries making it economically inefficient for them to have independent universities within their borders. Enrollments of less than 5000 students is not uncommon at many institutions. Under these circumstances, they would have been much better off, from the perspective of optimum use of resources, to have a federated multiple country university system where different functions and responsibilities could be shared. High Rates of Student Wastage The World Bank reports that a study of some seven African countries revealed that student wastage was extremely high where between 33% and 66% of the students either dropped out of university altogether or completed their studies behind schedule. In other words, here is yet another source of high unit costs: wastage (World Bank, 1988). This high level of wastage is both a political problem and an educational problem. From a political point of view, the problem has been the historical pressure on a country’s national university to accept as many applicants as possible without regard to careful screening for suitability for university education. The educational problem has been the absence of mechanisms to assist students who are struggling to survive academically to remain on- track, rather than drop out or repeat their studies. The idea that an institution has an obligation to assist its low-achieving students with motivational and/or remedial programs has never caught on in much of Africa since such an approach has generally not been practiced in the metropole either. (In pointing to the high levels of inefficiency that the high wastage rates represent, one would be remiss in not noting a desirable irony: the insistence by institutions in maintaining standards.) Unscheduled Shutdowns of Universities It may come as a surprise to those unfamiliar with universities in Africa, that among the major problems that universities have had to deal with, almost from the beginning of their inception, is the unscheduled shutdowns that are forced on them by governments on a regular basis, even in times of peace. These closures in more recent years, under the regime of structural adjustment and the accompanying erosion of government financed 10 An example of a regional consortium that appears to hold out much promise is the University Science, Humanities and Engineering Partnerships in Africa (commonly referred by its acronym USHEPIA). The purpose of the consortium is to enable postgraduate research by allowing student interchange within universities in Africa. For example, the first USHEPIA fellowships awarded in 1994 enabled graduate students from Botswana, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe to study at the University of Cape Town in a variety of fields.
  • 20. Page 19 of 61 university budgets, have been the result of conflict between university students and the government that have arisen primarily over perceptions that each is threatening the interests of the other. However, sometimes the conflict has been over the very real issue of university autonomy and academic freedom where the students have set themselves up as the conscience of their nations and as such insist on their duty to voice their concerns.11 In any case, it will suffice to note here that regular disruptions of university business through government interventions does not only have academic consequences, but it also has financial implications. Specifically, each day lost from a closure represents an unnecessary increase in operating costs because some expenditures have to continue: e.g. payment of staff salaries, maintenance of plant facilities, etc. At the same time, the lengthening of the period for graduation for each student represents a further cost (since students are often financed by the government). The net result of these closures, then, is an increase in unit costs. III. The Neglect of Science and Technology There is almost no report that surveys the state of higher education in Africa that does not make its obligatory call for a greater emphasis on the development of the science and technology infrastructure.12 As a report written for the Association of African Universities (Ajayi, Goma and Johnson, 1996) observes: ‘The literature is replete with calls for the countries of Africa to strive determinedly to become active and significant contributors to scientific and technological advancement; to refuse to be mere recipients of or mere spectators to, the rapidly emerging sciences and technologies; and to struggle to promote a culture of science-inspired creativity and technology innovation linked to the entrepreneurial enterprise.” (p. 213) They then further ask: “But how can the African continent move beyond rhetoric? There is a challenge here for the universities of Africa within the time frame of ‘before the end of the first decade of the twenty first century.’” 11 The typical pattern that culminates in university closures common throughout Africa involves the following steps: students either issue a collective statement or go on a demonstration regarding a specific concern (it could be bread and butter issues like imposition of tuition fees or it could be some aspect of national politics such as corruption and or human rights violations); the State responds with a heavy hand and invades the campus to arrest suspected ring leaders (this action may also be accompanied by thuggery– beatings, rapes, torture, and even killings inflicted on the students by armed police or soldiers); the outcome of this State action in turn generates more student demonstrations and, now, condemnations of the State by the university authorities. The State then simply closes the institution for an indefinite period and when it allows the institution to reopen its doors forces all students (and some times even faculty too) to reapply, so as to permit the State to weed out those whom it considers as mischief makers. For a chronology of university/State conflicts during the period 1985 to 1998 see Federici and Caffentzis (2000). For an analysis of issues of academic freedom and the factors that bring African students out into the streets year after year, despite the inherently transient nature of the composition of the student body, see Burawoy (1971); Diouf and Mamdani (1994); Federici (2000); Federici (2000[a]); Hanna, et. al (1975); and Lulat (1989). 12 The term ‘science and technology infrastructure’ is meant to encapsulate all the ‘software’ and ‘hardware’ elements of training, research and development in the areas of, both, basic and applied science and technology: ranging from classroom courses and programs of study to laboratories to research and development centers.
  • 21. Page 20 of 61 Most recently, the latest World Bank report on Africa (World Bank, 2000 [a]) titled Can Africa Claim the 21st Century, observes similarly: “At the university level religious studies and civil service needs have resulted in the development of the humanities and the social sciences and the neglect of the natural sciences, applied technology, business-related skills, and research capabilities” (p. 106). Now, while science and technology cannot solve all the problems of Africa, there is absolutely no question that in, terms of the more narrower focus of economic development, absolutely no success is possible without the massive (but appropriate) use of science and technology. At the same time, in a context where there are almost no non- university research institutions, the university is the only viable institution that can create and sustain the necessary science and technology infrastructure. So, why then has the matter remained more in the domain of rhetoric rather than actual policy implementation? After all, one of the few claims to fame that African intellectuals concerned with higher education say they have is in giving birth to the concept of the ‘developmental university.’13 First articulated in Accra (at a workshop sponsored by the Association of African Universities on the emerging issues confronting African universities in the 1970s), in response to the criticism that the development of African universities in the preceding decade had rendered them to be “...hardly more than white elephants and flashy symbols of modernization: ivory towers occupied by a minority elite, expensively educated, and as expensively continuously maintained, at the expense of the vast majority of the population, with whom they have little in common,” (Yesufu, 1973, p. 39) it demanded relevance from the universities in terms of curricula and function. Relevance, in essence meant being immediately and directly responsive to the development needs of the African countries and therefore requiring a reorientation of the function of the university to, among other things, emphasis on development-oriented research (which in essence meant the use of science and technology to solve problems of development): “A university must be dedicated to research–fundamental and applied. But again priority must be given to research into local problems that will contribute to the amelioration, in particular, of the life of the ordinary man and the rural poor. Emphasis must accordingly, be placed on such topics as: rural health; the problems of poverty in its varying contexts; the conflict of cultures in multi-ethnic societies and the basis for unity and agricultural and rural 13 In reality, the concept was a rehash of the U.S. land-grant university concept, and therefore, was hardly original. It may be remembered that the concept of the land-grant university was one that rested on the issue of immediate practical relevance to the needs of the majority of the population. It was a concept that emerged from the establishment in the 19th century of publicly funded universities in each of the states that made up the U.S. through the agency of bills introduced by Vermont's representative, Justin Smith Morrill, in the U.S. Congress--and which passed them in 1862 and 1890 to become the Morrill (or Land-Grant) Acts. The purpose of the legislation was to enable states to raise revenue through, initially, federal grants of land to each state and later through direct cash disbursements on an annual basis by Congress for, in the words of the oft-quoted passage from the 1862 Act "...the endowment, support, and maintenance of at least one college where the leading object shall be, without excluding other scientific and classical studies, and including military tactics, to teach other branches of learning as are related to agriculture and mechanic arts...in order to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions in life." See also the discussion by Coleman (1984) regarding the concept of the developmental university.
  • 22. Page 21 of 61 development” (p. 42). Leaving aside the matter of costs (it is very expensive to train scientific and technological personnel) the surprising answer as to why African universities have not given science and technology the kind of emphasis demanded by the long tradition of rhetoric as well as, of course, the practical realities of the African condition, is that, very simply, there has been a relative absence of domestic will and foreign support, coupled with misguided educational planning. That is, while African leaders and intellectuals have always been aware of the tight relationship between science and technology on one hand, and on the other, modernization and development, there has been no concerted effort expended to translate this awareness into practice–both, on their part as well as on the part of foreign aid donors. Why? There are, at least six factors that, when considered together, explain this circumstance: (1) The wholesale importation of the metropolitan university curricular model; (2) The narrow focus on growth versus structural change in the development of human resource capacity: the manpower planning approach; (3) the erroneous rates-of-return approach to educational planning that downgraded the importance of higher education (which in turn had obvious negative implications for the development of a science and technology infrastructure); (4) the poor development of math and science in the educational tributaries upstream; (5) the neglect of doctoral level graduate education; and (6) the adherence to misguided strategies of economic development. 1. The Metropolitan University Model: Applied Science and Technology in the Backseat The wholesale importation of the metropolitan university model discussed above in relation to the physical infrastructure also had implications for the curriculum. The curriculum (classical liberal arts) that came with the metropolitan model was not sympathetic toward applied science and technology (e.g. medicine, agriculture, engineering, pharmacy, etc.); nor, of course, the vocational arts (business, accounting, journalism, etc.) The reason is that this model was designed for education in the arts and humanities primarily, with the social sciences and basic sciences (biology, physics, chemistry) following in tow. Applied science and technology was not considered to be the proper domain of universities; rather, it belonged to lower level higher education institutions: colleges, institutes, medical schools (attached to hospitals), etc. The explanation for this approach lies in the curricular traditions of the metropolitan universities where their development had begun in the pre-industrial age and hence their association of vocational or mechanical arts with the working classes (therefore not befitting institutions that served primarily an upper class clientele). Bullough (1961), in the course of exploring the social structural force of class at work in the development of the medical profession in medieval Europe, makes a very telling point when he observes that in the past technology was the mother of science (later, of course, the roles would reverse). Now, so long as there was no status conflict between those involved with technology (the practitioners of the mechanical arts–members of the laboring classes) and those who were scientists (practitioners of the speculative arts--
  • 23. Page 22 of 61 members or aspiring members of the upper classes) the development of science and technology would move hand in hand. This certainly was the case prior to the full institutionalization of intellectual labor in universities; and the visible fruits of which were such significant medieval inventions as “the water wheel, windmills, counterweight, artillery, mechanical clocks, gunpowder, and so forth.” (p. 204) To the extent, then, that technology (the applied dimension of science) was associated with manual labor and hence the laboring classes, the institutionalization of science in the academy would lead to a neglect of technology in preference for science. This is precisely what happened after the middle of the fourteenth century as the development of the medieval universities moved apace (the first few universities appeared in the 12th century). However, with the onset of the industrial revolution some four hundred years later, one would assume that the disdain for the applied sciences within the academy would have evaporated–especially among the newer universities that emerged during the industrial revolution (such as the civic universities of Britain–Manchester, London, etc.–that in time would become the models for export to the British colonies in Africa [Ashby, 1996]). This did occur, but only to a very limited extent. Why? The weight of tradition was simply too hard to overcome, especially in the context of the university.14 Consequently, the establishment of colonial universities in Africa did not take the route that would have led to a greater emphasis in their curriculum on the applied sciences (together with such vocational arts like accounting, business, etc.). As Ashby (1964) explains: The idea that universities in tropical Africa might recapitulate the phylogeny of universities in Europe, and begin (as universities in Salerno and Bologna began) as societies primarily concerned with vocational training in technologies and professions, was not part of the ‘Asquith doctrine.’ If it had been, one might have seen in British West Africa a fresh and totally different pattern of higher education, with agriculture, engineering, economics, medicine, and teacher training at the core of the curriculum and ‘pure scholarship’ in science and the humanities arising as natural consequences of these vocational studies. (p. 57-58) Ashby further comments: “There was an opportunity to do for Africa in the 1960's what the Morrill Act did for America in the 1860s, namely to make a new contribution to the idea of a university. But the Asquith Commission took no account of American experience.” (p. 58) The truth, however, is that even in the case of those few universities that at inception did try and emulate the U.S. land-grant model, such as the University of Zambia, the pull of the 14 Universities, as those familiar with their histories will know, are notoriously (and paradoxically one may add) conservative in their practices. Notice, however, that in contrast to the path of development taken by the metropolitan universities, the universities in the U.S. in time took a different path where the speculative sciences and the mechanical arts were brought under one roof in the guise of the ‘multiversity’ (a term coined, albeit disapprovingly, by Kerr, [1966]) –the land grant university being the epitome. Clearly, transplantation into a different culture can be a counterweight to tradition–but only when given time! The US multiversity did not come into being until almost two centuries later.
  • 24. Page 23 of 61 metropolitan curricular tradition was not completely irresistible: the applied sciences would remain in the back seat. Consider the chronology of the founding of the various schools that now make up the university (such were the priorities of the planners): at its creation in 1966, the three schools of humanities and social sciences, education, and natural sciences; and only later to be followed by the schools specializing in applied sciences: engineering (1969), medicine (1970), agricultural sciences (1971), mines (1973), veterinary medicine (1984), agricultural engineering (1986), and surveying (1988). As for the schools of built environment, forestry and wood sciences, business, and technology, they would have to wait until an entirely new university, the University of the Copperbelt, was established in 1987. 15 2. The Limitations of the Manpower Planning Approach to Economic Development One of the approaches to educational planning that a number of African countries undertook at the time of independence to determine the size of their higher educational facilities was to undertake manpower surveys (or to coin a gender neutral term human resource surveys). These surveys, conducted often with the help of external assistance, were aimed at taking stock of the available human resources (in terms of skilled and educated personnel) and calculating the present and future needs of the country in question. There were three basic steps involved in these surveys: preparing demand projections by calculating base year employment data (which included calculations for suboptimality), calculating demand growths on the basis of projections of economic growth, etc.; preparing supply projections by looking at such factors as gross supply from educational facilities, labor force participation rates, wastage from death and migration, etc.; and examining such variables of balance, costs and sensitivity as adjustment rates for supply and demand for a given target year, education/ training costs, policy outcomes of variations in key assumptions, etc. (See Jolly and Colclough, 1973, for an excellent review of the methodology of some of these surveys). Of the many weaknesses of the African human resource surveys (not least of which, as Blaug [1974] reminds us, is the sheer foolhardiness of the presumption that economists can accurately predict the economic future 5-10 years down the road), one that is of particular importance here is the over-emphasis on growth rather than structural change within the economy--not to mention the neglect of such other outcomes of education as changes in fertility, income distribution, rates of entrepreneurial initiative, career preferences, etc., etc. There was almost no willingness to consider that economic growth could be based on a different skill mix than the one that had existed in the past or even 15 It ought to be also noted here that the neglect of the applied sciences (and the vocational arts) within the curriculum of the metropolitan universities, without much detriment to the development of their scientific and technological capacities, was only possible because of the parallel development of a robust system of non-university, post-secondary educational and research institutions–which include private research institutes of major business corporations. This course of development, however, was not to be easily replicated in the African colonies where higher education of any kind came so late on the scene–practically on the eve of independence. Consequently, it fell to the universities to incorporate these fields of study into their curricula and which they did, but not to the levels required by the needs of their countries.
  • 25. Page 24 of 61 the one obtaining currently. 16 One consequence of this emphasis was that in determining the human resource needs, priority was accorded to the matter of Africanization of personnel in government bureaucracies that the colonial administrations had created and staffed. In other words, these surveys adopted a somewhat static view of economic development (when considered from the perspective of the qualitative direction of economic development–see discussion below) with the result that human resource needs were largely seen in quantitative terms and not qualitative terms. The watch word for future human resource needs was ‘more of the same.’ Scant attention was given to the possibility of a qualitatively different type of economic development in which there would be a need for scientists and technological personnel on a large scale. Under these circumstances, the universities were geared toward production of bureaucrats to replace the departing colonial government personnel (as well as fill new posts that were being created as the bureaucracies expanded to take on new post- independence functions). Consequently, it is the humanities and the social sciences (including law) that received priority in universities; especially in a circumstance where output in these areas had no problems of finding immediate employment upon graduation–at least during the first decade of independence. About the latter point: consider this situation: for many undergraduates the option of majoring in such fields as biology, physics or chemistry was severely limited by the labor market in the immediate post-independence period; for most of them the only avenue of employment upon graduation would have been teaching in high schools which, of course, was not a highly remunerative path to take compared to going into the civil service and the parastatal sector. The pattern of employment earnings was highly skewed toward motivating students to seek bureaucratic jobs even in the case of those who received professional training in other fields (like engineering or medicine) because employment in the bureaucracies was dependent simply on possession of an educational qualification–any educational qualification. Now, the problem here is that the human resource plans did not appear to emphasize that this distorted immediate post-independence labor market was going to be a short-term phenomenon because there was a limit to, both, replacement of expatriate personnel, and the expansion of government bureaucracies. Given this short- sightedness, it is not surprising, then, that the plans that emerged for expanding human resource capacity in many African countries did not prioritize the production of scientific and technological personnel. 3. ‘Rates-of-Return’ Approach to Educational Planning More will be said about this issue in another section of this chapter below. At this point, it 16 To take an example from today: who could ever predicated that the internet would become so economically important as to create overnight a whole new category of employee skills that education would have to produce. However, even when viewed from the perspective of their narrow focus (growth versus structural change), these surveys were seriously flawed in methodological terms (data collection methods, quality of data, data processing, statistical techniques used, etc.) See Jolly and Colclough, 1973.
  • 26. Page 25 of 61 will suffice to say that when educational planners have gotten into their heads that a country does not need to devote much attention to the development of higher education, relative to other sub-sectors of the educational system, then the obvious consequence for such areas of higher education as science and technology will be comparative neglect. For, whatever development that does take place at the higher education level, the propensity will be toward concentration on developing only those parts that are the least expensive to develop and maintain: specifically, the arts and the social sciences. 4. Poor Development of Math and Science Infrastructure in High Schools and Primary Schools If you wish to build a science and technology infrastructure then you can not simply concentrate on the tertiary level of the educational system; you must also devote attention to the development of science and math infrastructure upstream, that is in the primary and secondary level educational tributaries. The reason is simple: a high school output with a high concentration of properly trained math and science students implies a readily available pool of qualified undergraduate students who can be recruited for the science and technology programs of study in the universities. Similarly, going further upstream, the quality of the high school output is directly related to the quality of the primary school output who become the intake for high schools. Yet, the sad truth is that in most of Africa the development of math and science infrastructure (qualified teachers, appropriate curriculum and pedagogy, laboratory and other plant facilities, etc.) is even further behind that of the universities.17 In fact, it would be true to say that in many instances such infrastructure is almost absent altogether. The factors that account for this are many; they include: (a) the low level of development, from a qualitative point of view, of the entire primary/secondary school system during the colonial period and with little improvement in the post-independence period; (b) the existence of poor teacher training facilities at teacher training colleges; (c) the dialectical impact of the state of the science and technology infrastructure in the universities on the state of math and science in the high 17 It is instructive to note that the only country in Africa (outside of North Africa) to participate in the Third International Mathematics and Science Study-Repeat (TIMSS-R--a successor to the 1995 TIMSS which evaluated the mathematics and science achievement of eighth-grade students in participating nations) was South Africa. What is more: it ranked last among the 38 participating nations. Its math performance score was 275 (international average 487), while its science performance score was 243 (international average 488) (see the reports by Martin [2000]; and Mullis [2000]). One can only guess what the scores would have been of other countries within sub-Saharan Africa had they chosen to participate (assuming they could have met the study’s methodological criteria). While on the subject of the TIMMSS-R: it would not be out of place to also mention this finding that is of relevance here: On average, there was a positive correlation between the students’ mathematics and science achievement and the following factors (among others): (a) home backgrounds endowed with educational resources (comprising home libraries with over 100 books, a study desk and a dictionary, and the presence of least one parent who was a university graduate); (b) the level of teachers’ confidence to teach in their subjects (which itself was positively correlated to possession of appropriate credentials); and (c) schools that were sufficiently endowed with basic instructional resources such as to ensure that their instructional capacity was not undermined by lack of them. As one can surmise, on all of these variables, African students are at a terrible disadvantage.
  • 27. Page 26 of 61 schools; (d) the corruption of pedagogy emanating from the demands of the national examination selection system. Each of these points bears further discussion: Prior to independence the state of education generally in Africa could be characterized as one that was at a primitive level of development in both qualitative and quantitative terms. This characterization is valid even for primary school level education which had received some priority (relative to secondary and tertiary level education) in most African countries. Initially, the provision of education was in the hands of Christian European missionaries, and it is only much later that colonial governments took over this responsibility. Now, leaving aside the issue of adequate funding for the development of the school system that would have guaranteed full provision of quality education for all Africans, it is ironic that what could have become a precursor for a science/math and technology dominated curriculum in schools following independence, became instead the basis for African apathy toward these same subjects. In other words, the early insistence of the missionaries, their philanthropic supporters (such as the U.S. based Phelps-Stokes Fund) and the colonial governments that African education be given a vocational orientation as most suited to the needs of African societies was most vigorously resisted by the Africans. They perceived this approach as nothing less than an effort to block opportunities for upward mobility in a society that in practice valued education that was academic (liberal arts) in orientation. Africans were fully aware that it is education with an academic bent that could open doors at higher levels of the formal sector of the colonial economy. Of course, the inclusion by missionaries in their school programs of a heavy dose of unalloyed manual labor (ostensibly to introduce their students to scientific practices in agriculture) did not help matters. In many mission schools, it was the practice of the missionaries to require their students to work in the school vegetable gardens which served to supplement the income of the school. The students, for obvious reasons, resented this part of their school curriculum and likened it to the forced labor that was imposed, from time to time, on their parents by the colonial administrations.18 It ought to be also noted that in the colonial period, labor of the manual variety came to be associated with one’s subordinate position in colonial society because those at the top, the colonizers, did not engage in such labor. The net result was a resistance to the vocational oriented curricula that was carried through into the post independence period, with considerable negative implications for the future development of a science and math based curricula in primary and secondary schools. It is not only matters of the curriculum per se that had an impact on the future development of the math/science infrastructure, but the general state of the overall educational infrastructure itself. The sad truth is that quality education does not come cheap: it requires funding of expensive inputs ranging from up-to-date textbooks through adequate libraries to well provisioned laboratories (and today computer laboratories as well). Add to that well qualified teachers and the stage is set for the pricing of quality educational provision for all, well out of the reach of most African countries. This has 18 For more on early colonial education and African reactions to it see Berman, 1975; King, 1971; and Ragsdale, 1986. For a general survey of education during the colonial period see Kitchen, 1962.
  • 28. Page 27 of 61 almost always been true in the past, and it is certainly true today. In many African countries, the circumstances of schools–especially those in the countryside where a majority of them are located–can be best described in the following terms: Their educational systems have slowly but resolutely come to the point, where they are now undergoing what can only be termed as wholesale systemic decay.19 (In fact, writing a decade and a half ago, Williams (1986) described African educational systems as under a state ‘of siege’–the siege since then has gotten worse.) This situation is nowhere more clearly manifest than at the micro-level, that is at the level of individual schools. Thus at this level: classrooms are overcrowded; teachers are overworked and underpaid, and some times not paid at all for months on end; the books used in classrooms are often long out of date, and not enough to go around (it is not uncommon in many schools to see a single textbook for a given subject shared by a whole class); and the school equipment and buildings are in such a state of neglect, due to lack of funds for maintenance and repair, that even their most basic functions, such as keeping out inclement weather, have been severely compromised. For long periods of time students and teachers have to go without the most rudimentary of classroom learning tools: such as paper, pencils, and chalk, let alone such equipment as stencil duplicating machines, and not to mention photocopiers, and personal computers that have now become part of standard equipment for schools in the West. Midday school meals for children is a luxury that is unheard of. Lack of housing for teachers in some of the more remote schools has at times meant classrooms have had to be converted into living quarters. As if all this is not enough, African schools must also grapple with the consequences of HIV/AIDS that has been sweeping through large parts of Africa on a pandemic scale. That any kind of learning is taking place in such circumstances is a miracle in itself. Under these circumstances, even if there was a genuine desire on the part of African governments to raise the profile of math and science education (which, remember, is the most expensive part of any educational provision) in their schools must appear to be nothing less than wishful thinking. Without a well developed math/science infrastructure upstream there will be problems downstream. But, such is the nature of the relationship between inputs and outputs upstream and downstream in the education sector that, conversely, a poorly developed math/science infrastructure downstream bodes ill for the infrastructure upstream. To put the matter differently: if teacher training facilities–regardless of where they are located: at specialized institutions (teacher-training colleges) or in schools of 19 Even in quantitative terms, the early remarkable progress made immediately following independence, has now foundered on the twin scourges of shrinking government budgets and skyrocketing population growth. Consider this: when the African ministers of education met at a well publicized Unesco sponsored conference on African education in Addis Ababa in 1960, they set themselves such targets to be achieved by 1980 as these: universal and compulsory primary education for all children; secondary education access for about one third of the children; and university education for one fifth of all those eligible. 1980 has come and gone (and so has another well publicized Unesco conference held in 1990 at Jomtien, Thailand [March, 5-9], titled ‘World Conference on Education for All: Meeting Basic Learning Needs’), but the targets are nowhere close to being met. In fact, in some countries, it appears that illiteracy is on the march.
  • 29. Page 28 of 61 education within the universities–are not geared toward producing competent math and science teachers, then of course the math/science education in the primary and secondary schools will remain undeveloped. Everything is tied in together in a dialectical fashion.20 Since the original issue here is the poor development of the science and technology infrastructure in universities, no further comment is necessary regarding teacher training in universities because of the obviousness of its negative impact on the production of adequate (in, both, quantitative and qualitative terms) math and science teachers for primary and secondary schools. A word or two more, then, about teacher training colleges outside the universities. These institutions, which one may note are not common in the West, began to proliferate in Africa as a result of the absence of university level higher education during the colonial period. Their founding continued in the post-independence period because universities have not been able to fully meet all the teacher training needs. In other words, teacher training colleges are a poor man’s version of a university based school or faculty of education. In reality, they are little more than glorified high-schools, except that their output are destined to be teachers, usually at the primary school level (however, some also train secondary school level teachers). Consequently, most of these institutions have not been able to perform as intended. There are three factors that have negatively effected their overall ability to fulfill their missions over the years: first is the general neglect of their infrastructural needs through inadequate funding–especially after the arrival of universities in the educational landscape; second, is the nature of the quality of input in terms of student recruits (usually rejects from the university undergraduate admissions process); and three, the poor quality of teachers (usually they tend to be those who do not have the qualifications to be hired to teach in universities). Turning specifically to the matter of training competent math/science teachers, in addition to the above problems, there has also been the problem of inappropriate pedagogy, which itself is a symptom of poorly trained college teaching staff and inadequate teaching facilities (lack of textbooks, laboratories, computers, etc.) Inappropriate pedagogy is also a function of the demands of the national examination system. To explain this fact it is necessary to describe the role of national exams in the educational systems of African countries. The example of Zambia will do just as well as that of any other African country: In that country, the general educational system (primary and secondary level education) has a 4-3-2-3 structure, comprising the following stages: primary level education, which usually begins at the age of seven, is made up of two stages that together cover a seven year period: lower primary lasting four years (grades 1 through 4) and upper primary lasting three years 20 The term ‘dialectical’ is of great importance in explicating the nature of the problem of quality confronting African educational systems as a whole; therefore it bears elaboration. It is a word that is not uncommon in philosophy, but it is not that ‘philosophical’ meaning of the word that is of direct relevance here. Rather, its use here is more generic in the sense that it denotes the process where two seemingly unrelated factors impinge on one another cyclically such as to permanently render the fate of each, to be in the hands of the other. For example: factor A impinges on factor B such as to change factor B and thereby enable B to impinge on factor A which in turn is altered, enhancing its capacity to continue impinging on factor B. Now, B is further altered, enhancing its capacity to impinge on factor A--and so the cycle continues.