Private higher education
Private higher education could also provide graduates with opportunities to take advantage of the continent’s economic potential. The low number of graduates in agriculture is striking, for instance. According to a 2011 study by the World Bank, only 2 percent of African students specialized in agriculture in 2010, though the sector contributed 13 percent to Africa’s GDP.
Finding high-level managerial candidates for agribusiness is almost impossible in Africa, a senior manager at a large recruitment firm who required to be anonymous told Africa in Fact. The lack of graduates in extractive industries was also striking, given the important role they play in many African countries. Private education could fill this void, leaving the government with the duties of quality control and oversight.
David Hornsby, Professor of International Relations at the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa, told Africa in Fact African governments are facing pressure to increase their investment in higher education, but they are cash-strapped. Private funding will be required if tertiary education around the continent is to be extended.
Critics say that private institutions, particularly forprofit ones, offer courses that require limited infrastructural investment and are cheaper to deliver. They often rely on part-time academics from public institutions. And their profit-making motivation may affect the quality of the courses offered, as well as the degrees awarded. In 2013, for instance, some 66 doctorates awarded by the Kampala International University in the previous two years had not met required academic standards and were declared invalid by the Uganda National Council for Higher Education, according to a report published last year on the Scidev.net website.
To be effective, private universities will need to be subjected to public regulation and monitoring. If governments across the continent permit private universities to be established, they will need to commit to establishing a robust monitoring and evaluation framework to protect the integrity of the system.
Private universities can play an important role in raising the continent’s educational profile if they are seen as complementary to public institutions, rather than as in competition with them.
(This is an edited version of the article that first appeared in Africa in Fact, the journal of Good Governance Africa, a South Africa-based research and advocacy organization) (The author is head of country risk at Rand Merchant Bank in Johannesburg, South Africa)