The African Higher Education Challenge

The Council for Higher Education Transformation (CHET) has embarked on an initiative to examine Higher Education and Economic Development in Africa, undertaken by the Higher Education Research and Advocacy Network in Africa (HERANA). The HERANA study[1] examined the role of higher education in development in three countries which have made successful transitions towards becoming knowledge based economies, namely Finland, South Korea and the United States of America.

These countries present evidence of a strong and close relationship between education and economic development in general, and higher education and economic development in particular. In addition, in all three systems a rethink of major economic policies was accompanied by a deliberate attempt to link higher education to economic development.

The following characteristics for harnessing higher education for promoting economic development were noted:

  • Higher education systems had been built on a foundation of equitable and quality schooling, and an emphasis on achieving high quality higher education;
  • Very high participation rates in higher education were achieved;
  • Higher education systems were diverse and characterised by high levels of institutional differentiation as part of achieving their human capital, research and innovation objectives for economic development;
  • Governments ensure that a close link between economic and (higher) education planning was established and maintained;
  • Functional partnerships and networks between government, higher education institutions and the private sector were established to ensure that effective education and training took place and to stimulate appropriate research and innovation;
  • Constructive government involvement in a number of other respects include adequate public funding for higher education; using funding to steer the higher education sector to respond to labour market requirements; and incentivizing research and innovation in the higher education sector;
  • Recognition that as a core knowledge institution, the university can only participate in the global knowledge economy and make a sustainable contribution to development if its academic core is quantitatively and qualitatively strong;
  • An agreement (pact) between government, universities and core socio-economic actors about the nature of the role of universities in development.

The achievement of the above conditions in which higher education can contribute effectively to economic development is closely linked to the institutional preparedness and capacity of such institutions to deliver the requisite management that would provide value for money, international performance standards, high quality academic content and sustainable support services. In a FutureLead paper[2] outlying experiences in developing capacity at higher education institutions in SADC it was noted that key prerequisites include:

  • Institutional planning that provides for the application of international norms and standards in respect of governance, academic, enrolment and infrastructure planning;
  • The performance of tertiary education requires the development of a set of system and institutional indicators, a successfully implemented management information system and the availability of at least 3-4 years’ tertiary education data;
  • A research and innovation strategy that outlines knowledge economy requirements, and provides for research co-ordination and capacity-building , adequate funding and performance assessment functions;
  • Delivering support services efficiently and effectively in order to meet value for money and quality criteria.

[1] Centre for Higher Education Transformation. Higher Education and Research Advocacy Network in Africa. Universities and economic development in Africa: Synthesis and key case study findings. (N Cloete, T Bailey, P Maassen). 2011. Cape Town.
[2] FutureLead. Higher education institutional revitalisation, Cape Town 2011