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University enrolment rates in Sub-Saharan Africa are among the lowest in the world, and yet they have soared over the last 40 years. From fewer than 200 000 students in 1970 to some 4.5 million in 2008 and around 10 million today, and at a rate of 73.9%, no other region has seen such a growth in higher education enrolment.
However, very few among 1 500 higher education institutions in the Sub-Saharan region have capacities to support this growing demand, and this is particularly true in the case of graduate and post-graduate programmes. Out of total university enrolments in the South African Development Community (SADC), the percentage of doctoral enrolments is a meagre 1%. Without South Africa, the figure plummets to 0.17% for the entire region. Despite some attempts to bring in innovation and create graduate programmes, universities in Sub-Saharan Africa still largely lack advanced academic training.
Challenges are numerous. To begin with, graduate programmes were not part of the curricula at universities because more advanced studies were supposed to be obtained abroad. Secondly, universities largely lack funding, resulting in scarce IT equipment, Internet or library services. The shortage of academic staff is another challenge that the region is facing, partly due to brain drain, partly because of little political will to support research. This does not mean that there is no political influence at universities whatsoever. Quite the contrary: academic setting is characterised by continual political interference. Combined with no policies and strategies at the institutional level, the autonomy and accountability of higher education institutions are significantly undermined, which further serves to weaken collegial relations and the atmosphere of collaboration. Not surprisingly, young researchers choose to pursue a professional path elsewhere in search of better conditions and more supportive working environments.
More about the challenges and possible ways to improve the state of graduate education in Sub-Saharan Africa can be found in the Chronicle of African Higher Education, in a recently published article titled “Confronting the Challenges of Graduate Education in Sub-Saharan Africa and Prospects for the Future”. The authors, Fred M. Hayward and Daniel J. Ncayiyana, propose a number of interventions for improving graduate education there locally, nationally and regionally. The article is part of a larger study that will appear in the maiden issue of the International Journal of African Higher Education and can be accessed here.