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Globalization and Higher Education in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Mixed Blessing?

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In the past three decades, higher education systems have been in transition, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. One manifestation of the changes is the explosive growth of tertiary institutions, both for-profit and state run. According to the World Bank (2008), between 1990 and 2001, the number of public universities doubled from roughly 100 to nearly 200 but the number of private tertiary institutions exploded during the same period from two dozen to an estimated 468. This visible increase in the number of ‘non-profit’ and for profit universities was established without any planned attempt to meet actual demands for higher education in a period of unregulated growth. As a result, tertiary enrollments in sub-Saharan Africa more than tripled between 1991 and 2005, expanding at an annual rate of 8.7%- one of the highest regional growth rates in the world. Between 1999 and 2005, higher education enrollment in Africa rose by some 60%. Despite the growth, the average enrollment rate is still a mere 5% according to UNESCO (2008). According to UNESCO there had been five-fold increase in student numbers worldwide in four decades and 53% growth since 2000 to reach a total of nearly 153 million tertiary students in 2007. The pace of enrollment growth quickened to 7% a year after 1999. By 2025, higher education could enroll more than 262 million students, with demand expanding especially in developing countries (UNESCO 2010).

Public funding, however, have not kept up with enrollment and spending per student plummeted over 25 years from an average of US $6,800 a year to just US $981 in 2005 for 33 countries (World Bank, 2008). Most of the rapid enrollment of students has been disproportionally into the less expensive “soft” discipline, thereby siphoning off funding to cover the cost of more students. It is estimated that in 2004, just 28% of tertiary students were enrolled in science and technology fields (World Bank, 2008). Through a critical analysis of published materials and texts on universities and a field study of actual universities, including subjects’ (students, professors, parents, policy makers, and proprietors) responses, this paper discusses some of the higher education policy changes and their impact on university education. The paper re-examines the new focus on tertiary education, in particular the trends, policy directions and their implications for sub-Saharan Africa; the issue surrounding assurance (quality); and the dilemma of student underemployment and unemployment. The paper ends with policy recommendations for improving tertiary education in the region.

Keywords: globalization; sub-Saharan Africa; teachers; tertiary institution

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Misericordia University

Publication date: 2010-01-01

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  • World Studies in Education is a bi-annual, refereed, international journal offering a global overview of significant international and comparative education research. Its focus is on educational reforms and policy affecting institutions in the global economy.
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