The world’s top universities list as ranked by the Times Higher Education is out, and surprise, surprise, no African university figures in its top 10. Or even in its top 100. The University of Cape Town in South Africa comes in at no 120. For a continent that is rising and being touted as the continent of the future, that is not good news.
Emphasising global scholarship and reputation, it comes then as no surprise that institutions like Oxford or Cambridge universities in the UK, or Harvard or even Princeton in the United States will dominate the list. These are institutions that have been going before any African nation in its current form, to not speak of universities, was set up. The universities in the top ten have had the time and the opportunities to consolidate their position.
Of course, a top university may necessarily not be a good university. As Phil Baty, the Times Higher Education’s rankings editor said, “our list is really about producing new ideas, about innovating, about attracting skills and talented people into a country.” As such, the list doesn’t consider data such as graduation rates or even professor ratings by students; criteria that may be a determining factor for a student for whom a good higher education in a prestigious establishment that takes into account his voice is important.
That is not to say that African countries are off the hook. For many young Africans, the dream is to go abroad – and by abroad, the US or the UK is the target – to pursue their higher education. And sometimes, if not most of the time, not necessarily at the universities making the top 10, or even the top 100. Most African pockets are not deep enough for the $60,000 yearly tuition fee and expenses Harvard requires for instance. But there are other universities. Other universities with the teaching, the “international outlook” but even more so, the knowledge transfer that is lacking in many African universities.
Much of the complaints of African managers for instance points to the fact that the graduates who leave their CVs on their desks, are just not trained for the world of business. The consequence then is that many of these graduates join the queue of unemployed people growing in number every year. It is no wonder perhaps then that the Africa Rising narrative tends to focus on the returning diaspora. Having studied in those universities making up the list, they are better skilled to work in a world that is more and more global.
The challenge then for African governments is to heed the message a list like the Times Higher Education is spreading. As Phil Baty said, the list is about “attracting talented people into a country.” Countries like India and Russia have understood and their presidents have invited Baty to discuss the rankings. One hopes African governments will follow suit.