African Universities and the Global Rankings

Should African universities be concerned with the global league tables?

Inside Higher Ed has a really good piece on African universities and the impact of the international rankings. Essentially the challenge for Africa is that the global league tables use metrics which simply don’t favour the continent’s institutions:

Any observer of higher education in Africa would immediately realize that African universities, with the exception of a handful, stand no chance of appearing under the THE Rankings; or for that matter under other global university rankings such that the Shanghai Jiao Tong Ranking or the QS World University Rankings, which equally use criteria with a heavy bias on research, publications in international refereed journals and citations. African universities have to cope with huge student enrolment with limited financial and physical resources. They are short of academic staff, a large proportion of whom do not have a PhD. Not surprisingly, their research output and performance in postgraduate education are poor. It is clear that in the rankings race, they are playing on a non-level field.

But the more pertinent question is: should African universities attempt to be globally ranked? I believe not. It would be not only a waste of resources but also inappropriate. The priority for African universities at the moment should be to provide the skilled manpower required for their country’s development; to undertake research to solve the myriad problems facing Africa and to communicate their findings to the stakeholders in the most appropriate form, not necessarily through publications in international journals; and to engage with their community to meet the Millennium Development Goals and the Education For All targets. These do not fit the criteria for global rankings. They do, however, need assistance to improve the quality of their teaching provision, their research output and their service to the community. Their aim, and that of their government, should be that they be quality assured, not globally ranked.

Notwithstanding the recent success in the THE rankings of the University of Cape Town’s Medical Faculty (as reported in Business Day Live), this advice seems to me to be eminently sensible. Rather than chasing the rankings, where they will always be at a disadvantage, African universities should focus on delivering their regional and national missions in teaching, research and knowledge transfer. Improvements will happen over time and, hopefully, with support from universities in other parts of the world which will ultimately mean that institutions in Africa will be able to compete on the global stage. But chasing the rankings is not the way to go.

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2 thoughts on “African Universities and the Global Rankings

  1. Reblogged this on Emma Sabzalieva and commented:
    Interesting post, but there’s always the possibility to interpret what I am sure is well-meaning advice with a post-imperial hat on and ask: why shouldn’t African universities aim for the best? Universities in some formerly developing South East Asian countries (I’m thinking of particularly South Korea and Singapore) didn’t sit down in the latter years of the last millennium and decide to take the “slowly-slowly” approach. No, they aimed straight for the top. Ambition and drive to be the best does not equate to league table ranking (and nor should it, which I do think is a good point made in the article Paul has quoted) but it shouldn’t be undermined or forgotten.

    So as well as adding these considerations, I also think the article is interesting comparative reading for Central Asian HEIs. I’d argue that Kazakhstan has got the quality message right and has the money to pump into creating quality (see my various posts about Nazarbayev University). As for the other Central Asian nations, should they start with ensuring quality or driving for greater recognition? Thoughts welcome!

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