Inaugural Lecture Explores African Higher Education in the 21st Century
With over 20 years of working on the frontlines of Higher Education, Professor Teferra took to the stage at the Howard College Theatre to deliver his inaugural lecture to a packed hall on the broader perspectives of Higher Education with a look at quality, productivity and remuneration with emphasis on South Africa.
‘Higher Education in Africa is undergoing major transformation wrought by massive expansion. Whether by design or popular demand, “massification” of Higher Education is the hallmark of the sector in virtually all parts of the world,’ he said.
According to Teferra, countries around the world are striving to build their Higher Education systems to meet mounting demand, as is the case in Africa, or as part of their strategic development plan to enhance global competitiveness, as is the case in the developed and emerging countries.
‘Unquestionably, building a strong Higher Education system is not a luxury for which countries can now be chastised for indulging, but a national imperative that is critical for national development and global competitiveness.’
‘What makes Africa’s growth unique is that it has seen a “flash flood” of growth with consequent implications that range from quality to funding, from governance to employment. Africa thus must do more in facing the dual and contradictory challenges of increased expansion and improved quality at the 21st Century.’
He went on further to share growth trends in Higher Education in Africa and pointed out that from 2004-2012, there has been an increase in enrolment at universities in South Africa but that institutions of Higher Education should be looking to improve the quality of PhD research outputs instead of looking at producing “lightweight” quantity PhD’s. Teferra highlighted that Africa itself only contributes 1% of the Global Knowledge system with South Africa being the largest knowledge producer on the African continent but it could lose out to Nigeria in the future. And that South Africa has only 28 Black women Professors in the country, which he believes needs to change to enable transformation and gender equality.
He then went on to discuss the financial crisis and implications associated with Higher Education in Africa and noted that Africa relies heavily on external funders with universities not even having the dedicated budget for research. ‘Funding in Higher Education availability does not tantamount to deploy-ability,’ he said.
Teferra even brought up the issue of current governance structures and management trends in African universities where the academic profession is increasingly losing its venerable tradition. ‘Vice-Chancellors are dressed as CEOs and students as clients and mentors as coaches.’
The academic productivity measurement was also brought to the table and dissected by the speaker where he proposed that there is a need for a national debate to challenge the status quo.
‘Research and publishing must be strengthened. Governments, major donor institutions, NGOs, and bilateral organisations should and must direct their policies toward prioritising the revitalisation of these important African institutions if Africa is to cope effectively with the challenges of the present and the future.’
He also noted, based on a comparative international study on academic salaries, South Africa stood as the second highest in the world in which academics were paid significantly, coming in just under India. He also raised the exorbitant benefits of university executives in the South African Higher Education sector. He also narrowed in on the responsibilities of South African academics and students owing the world in leadership, compassion and justice by reminding the global solidarity of academics and students at the time of the struggle.
Reaching the end of his lecture, Teferra focused on Academic Freedom stating that it makes it possible for new ideas, research, and opinions to emerge; for widely accepted views to be tested and challenged; and for critics to comment on and scrutinize the status quo.
‘Most African countries are still intolerant of dissent, criticism, nonconformity and free expression of controversial, new or unconventional ideas. The stability of a culture of academic freedom in a nation is measured by the nation’s tolerance of open and frank debates, criticism and comments. And in South Africa, you have that academic freedom and that should be guarded by all means necessary.’
* Damtew Teferra, is Professor of Higher Education at the Higher Education Training and Development (HETD) at UKZN and the Founding Director of the International Network for Higher Education in Africa, which is jointly hosted by HETD and the Center for International Higher Education, Boston College, USA - where he got his terminal degree and also served as an Associate Professor. Teferra is Founder and Editor-in-Chief of two African Higher Education journals - DHET recognised Journal of African Higher Education (formerly) and the just launched International Journal of African Higher Education which is supported by Carnegie Corporation of New York, Center for International Higher Education, Boston College and UKZN.
Teferra is an Editor and Author of more than 10 books, including the Conover-Porter Award of the African Studies Association based in the United States and numerous articles regionally and internationally. He is also the Editor of the Chronicle of African Higher Education and a member of a number of professional associations regionally and internationally. He was also featured on 60th Diamond Edition of Who is Who in America (2005).