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Partnering For Greatness: Rethinking University Education In Africa

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Dele Jegede In Conversation With Prince Yemisi Shyllon

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Toyin Falola

Between now and August 2022, I will be hosting over a hundred University administrators and scholars in major conferences. I will also be coordinating country researchers to conduct studies on five African countries—South Africa, Ghana, Libya, Nigeria, and Uganda. The first conference will hold in Nigeria in the first week of January, and will have influential figures comprising founders of private universities, managers of both private and public universities, students, staff and faculty, as well as representatives of the private sector and labour unions in attendance. The vision is big. The mission is revolutionary, and the ambition pushes will to the extremities of boundaries. Two arrowheads—the University of Texas at Austin, with support from Carnegie Corporation of New York—and impressive arrays of universities and national regulators are being drawn into a continental network of progress.

University of Texas at Austin

University of Texas at Austin

I do not have to provide any long justification for a pioneer project on how we have to determine and measure the impact of private universities on public ones. As of today, no one knows, save for third-rate speculations. But the broader canvas is much clearer. Higher education in Africa has been many things. For many African countries, it was a means of liberation and announcement of the propensity towards self-rule. The concept of formal education in Africa was majorly hinged on the commercial gains the European colonialists stood to acquire from educating Africans. However, it is not always about the means; sometimes, the end does more than enough justice.

Carnegie Corporation of New York

Though formal education started on a wrong note in Africa, it has evolved into the most important tool for nationalism across many states on the continent, as well as the agency for fighting the apartheid government in South Africa. Many of the foremost African nationalists who were vanguards for the independence push and calls were trained abroad. They witnessed first-hand what quality education was and clamoured to replicate this in their home countries. The agitation for universities in Africa and the inevitably imminent independence of many African states resulted in the establishment of universities across the continent.

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It has been decades since the clamour for the establishment of universities in Africa, and since then, there has been a shift in the preoccupations and concerns of these universities. They have evolved beyond institutions where national activists are bred. The paradigm has shifted, and African universities no longer primarily serve to breed and supply adequate labour for the government. Interests have changed, new needs have arisen, and the universities have grown into new ecosystems — where willing academics can find a home for their numerous questions and research; where studies are carried out and solutions are sought; a home for developers and shapers of a new world.

However, have African universities lived up to those characteristics mentioned above? The bulk of the universities in Africa does not measure up to their counterparts on other continents. Year in, year out, we see several world rankings of universities, and the struggle to see an African country among the top 100 is real. While it is easy to quickly blame the lateness of African universities to the scene as the cause of this seeming drag behind the line of academic quality, several recently founded universities now rank among the top universities in the world. For example, the National University of Singapore, which, according to the 2021 Times Higher Education rankings, is the 21st best university globally, was founded in 1980 — over forty-one years ago.

University of Texas at Austin

University of Cape Town

According to this same ranking, the best Africa could do is have some of its universities rank among the best 200, with the University of Cape Town ranking 183rd. The best rank West African universities could pull was by the University of Cape Coast, which ranked 301st among the world’s 350 best universities. These rankings indicate one thing: African universities, whether private or public, are underperforming in their capacities as higher institutions of learning. If considering teaching, industry revenue from innovation and inventions, international outcomes, research, and citations, these are the best African universities could do, then a convergence of African scholars to rethink and re-strategize is germane.

In collaboration with five top researchers—Professor Samuel Oloruntoba, Professor Sati Fwatshak, Professor Peter Wekesa, Professor John Mary Kanyamurwa, and Dr George Bob-Milliar—we have embarked on a research study on the impact of private universities on public universities in five African countries, namely Nigeria, South Africa, Ghana, Uganda, and Kenya. Preliminary findings show a disparity in experiences on how private universities affect public universities. Private universities became popular and exponentially increased in Africa around the 1990s. Before then, however, universities such as the American University of Cairo (founded in 1919) functioned amidst the popularity and seeming intimidation of public universities.

READ ALSO: 2021: A Year Without Resolutions

Through two major conferences, we aim to forge a development-focused alliance between Africa’s private and public universities, using the selected countries as a case study. I am the convener of this epoch-making conference, with tremendous logistical and administrative support from an army of leaders, notably Martha Gonzalez, Prof. Olajumoke Yacob-Haliso, and Wale Gazhal. The convener and the organising university plan to bring together both convergent and divergent African scholarly voices on universities in Africa, the frameworks of public university education in Africa, the models of private university governance in Africa, and how both the public and private universities can form a synergy to deliver quality university education to Africans and non-African scholars. The conference schedule is designed to accommodate extensive research into different aspects of the administration and operations of both private and public universities, as well as how the strategies used in one system can be adapted to make the other system function better.

This regional convening aims to explore how private universities influence the operations of public universities on the continent, among other things. Evidently, public universities in Africa cannot fully satisfy the higher education needs on the continent; therefore, private universities serve a complementary role in higher education by creating access to many qualified applicants and breaking new grounds in research and innovation. However, innovation and strategic management are more popular concepts among private universities than public universities.

Another pertinent issue that will be explored during the conference is the public’s perceptions of private universities in Africa. The African people’s level of acceptance of private universities, which will invariably affect how well students apply to private schools, and the level at which private schools complement public schools in higher education, are all hinged on the people’s perceptions of the quality of education at private universities, the relative cost of acquiring such education as compared to attending a public university, among many other factors. All these will be discussed at the conference.

Of a truth, private universities in Africa have shown the potential for exponential growth. In less than thirty years of operations, many private universities have registered themselves as counterparts or even superiors to many public universities across the continent. Thus, the conference and its outcomes will greatly benefit efforts geared towards a strategic reform of public university education in Africa. Public education in Africa needs restructuring and reforms to position African public universities as worthy contenders with other universities across the world. If private universities have existed for less time and are beginning to make their mark, then a study of their operations on the continent would go a long way in helping administrators of public universities on the best practices for developing a university that can compete with the best peers in different parts of the world.

This is a holistic conference that will regroup stakeholders — university owners, vice-chancellors, professors and other academics, administrators, researchers, and students — to generate diverse views on the topics presented at the conference. Following the two-day conference, it is expected that research papers on private and public university education and the interrelations between them would be reviewed and published into books that can be useful for policymakers and other stakeholders in the higher education sector in Africa. We will facilitate research into previously unexplored or scarcely explored fields to shed light on the impacts of the formation and growth of African private universities on African public universities.

Babcock University

Scholarly conferences serve many purposes, and one of the most meaningful contributions the conference will make to the academic world is a recommendation of action plans and strategies. Expectedly, these would serve as a guide for investors and stakeholders in public universities in Africa. The goal transcends holding a conference or gathering scholars and stakeholders from five countries in Africa; it is to put working systems in place to bring about the desired outcomes. Come January 6, 2022, selected scholars from five African countries will convey on the Babcock University campus in a first-of-its-kind conference for the good of higher education in Africa. The conference will include reports from researchers who have spent the past two years working in the selected countries of study. Following that would be some panel sessions on the pertinent questions and issues. There is also a students’ forum, where important but often side-lined stakeholders in higher education will talk about their perceptions and expectations of the universities of the future.

The promise of the conference is the promise of Africa!

Falola is a Nigerian historian and professor of African Studies. He is currently the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at the University of Texas at Austin.

 

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Opinion

Sabelo Ndlovu-Gatsheni: A Relentless Intellectual Warrior

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Dele Jegede In Conversation With Prince Yemisi Shyllon
Prof. Toyin Falola

By Toyin Falola

Anthropological insights into human activities in this jungle called the world have illuminated our understanding that the act of bravery, at some point in time, is demonstrated in an individual’s (or animal’s) ability to exert a destructive influence on the other forms of life that threaten their life and existence. This concept of bravery, coupled with knowledge, is particularly significant in the context of African intellectual history. From foraging in the wild to get maximum consumables and remain at the top of the food chain to facing daring ecological conditions that demand adaptive and coping strategies for survival, acts of bravery are demonstrated in different capacities based on the realities of the time.

Today, humans have successfully confronted these challenges, thanks to the emergence of strong individuals when the world needed them the most. Interestingly, in periods preceding “the age of reason,” these knowledgeable individuals were also considered brave, although they often received less recognition than their physically strong counterparts. However, every phase of the human journey requires the intelligence of such individuals to overcome its inherent challenges. In the current age, not only has it become an incredible mark of bravery to be knowledgeable, but it has also become a sole indicator of serious and uncompromising individuals.

While some people possess knowledge that could potentially save the world, it takes a special kind of courage to share this knowledge, especially when doing so might put one’s safety at risk. Fela Kuti’s poignant observation that many Africans shy away from confronting oppressive forces due to fear of death rings true. To be knowledgeable and to boldly speak the truth, regardless of the circumstances, is a mark of true bravery. It is a height that Fela believed was difficult for the average African to reach. Sabelo Ndlovu-Gatsheni, however, exemplifies this kind of bravery, inspiring others to follow suit.

Due to their adjacent position to the global power economy, academic institutions have become laboratories for intellectual experiments where ideas are manufactured and configured to satisfy preconceived desires. The African individual comes into such institutions, which are genealogically linked to Western epistemic foundations, and becomes Westernized or Europeanized to the extent that they lose their cultural identity as a matter of rational thought generation and self-awareness. The profound impact of these Western epistemic foundations on African identity is undeniable. Consequently, their thinking appears anti-African because the resources or their thinking are not extracted from their indigenous epistemic foundations. This leads to a civilization identity that alienates them completely from global calculations and misleads them to believe atrocious things about themselves.

As such, the average African who argues for the appropriation of most Western ideas in advancing their collective aspirations believes erroneously that these contributions are the best things to happen to the continent, not realizing they are merely expressing Western ideas and ideals through an African lens. Sabelo Ndlovu-Gatsheni recognized this early enough and deployed his intellectual arsenal to challenge the establishment, earning him the reputation of an intellectual warrior who is relentless and bold. His consistent efforts to reclaim the African mind from the encampment of its usurpers demonstrate his commitment to the collective emancipation of Black people. While he is not the first to undertake such a mission, it is reassuring to find such an illuminating mind in an age when the tendency to show confidence in this fight has continued to dwindle.

Before launching his intellectual crusade against the political complexities that have long dominated African leadership, Ndlovu-Gatsheni made remarkable efforts to confront African educational institutions, which have become leviathans that everyone is afraid of. Remarkably, his efforts are yielding incredible results. Ndlovu-Gatsheni launched himself into decades-long research engagements and has discovered that any true emancipation of Africans and Africa must begin by repositioning their epistemic values and traditions. He believes that repudiating the knowledge methods inscribed by Western ideologues is necessary and pivotal for delinking the African thought system from Western programming.

To become that vocal against a system inherited from racist imperialists can make an individual a target for attacks that will undermine their relevance, especially economic relevance. Historians would agree that individuals who verbally challenge institutions and establishments that exploit people’s resources–intellectual, social, political, economic and philosophical–often face the wrath of these establishments. Despite these risks, Sabelo remains unwavering in his determination to liberate the continent from the unseen hands holding Africa’s epistemic inheritance hostage, earning him the admiration of those committed to this emancipatory assignment.

When examining African universities, one might wonder if there are inferior intellectual resources there that have made it impossible to disengage the students’ thoughts from Westernized imaginations that make them perpetually loaded with self-hate. This intellectual of inestimable value has consistently argued that capitalists’ aspirations extend far beyond the commercialization of material resources. He predicted early on that capitalists are afflicted by insidious diseases that are difficult to cure. Their understanding that they could extend their corporate reach into people’s educational systems reveals their deep commitment to commercializing everything, including knowledge. The infiltration of capitalist ideology into the continent’s knowledge system has brought the people to a level where they cannot compete with others for several reasons.

Primarily, the commercialization of education has created a division among its consumers, where one group can afford it because of their better economic conditions, and others cannot, owing to poverty and indigence. Meanwhile, the privileged few who have access to education are themselves beneficiaries of the skewed systems that have operated on the continent for ages. To reach this level, it is apparent that the future of the continent is perpetually challenged by contemporary capitalist greed. Therefore, it is reassuring to see someone like Ndlovu-Gatsheni dedicating his energy and zeal to addressing this problem with the hope of genuinely bringing about true change for the African people.

Africa desperately needs the liberation that Sabelo advocates for, as that would eventually bring about the structuration of their political, social, economic, epistemic and philosophical identities in ways that are beneficial to the people. One remarkable aspect of his bravery is that he minces no words when addressing issues that he believes need immediate intervention. He is adept at connecting the dots that might seem obscure to others, an ingenious ability that highlights his intelligent mind. The fact that he articulates these connections without hesitation underscores his compelling qualities.

Global right-wing ideologues are critical of anything that obstructs their hegemonic politicking and will stop at nothing to achieve their goals. The proliferation of wars and the relentless pursuit of capitalist aspirations at the detriment of global peace and stability reveal how irredeemable their conscience is in the scheme of things. Their desperation is evident in their willingness to pursue their devious ambition, regardless of the detrimental impact on global peace. Meanwhile, they continue to enjoy tremendous support because many people are unaware of the connections between them and the numerous attacks occurring in different parts of the world. Ndlovu-Gatsheni serves as the conscience and the consciousness for a large population of the subalterns–those who are unassuming and unaware of the hegemon’s eroding power and its destructive escapades in the human world.

From real-life events to various unpopular places, these conservative groups have consistently challenged the fact that others can muster the confidence to call them out or stand up against their exploitative aspirations. They vehemently oppose anything that comes in the colour of freedom, to the extent that they demonized Negritude, attacked decolonization, and challenged any effort that could threaten their overlordship position. Nothing further proves the emancipatory potential of these movements, marked for destruction and despoliation, than the restless efforts of the hegemons to destroy them. They believe that global power dynamics should always favour them, to the detriment of numerous innocent people across the globe. They are quick to denounce others, attributing all manner of inconceivable and demeaning atrocities to them. Without confronting this mammoth of a monster through epistemic reorientation and reinvention, it will remain ultimately difficult, if not impossible, to achieve the emancipation of the African people.

In his academic trajectory, Ndlovu-Gatsheni has established himself as a tireless leader who continues to anchor the academic safety and political wellness of the continent through his mind-blowing engagements. He demonstrated the necessity of combating these problems starting from the university, the central power point where Africans can reclaim maximum intellectual resources to elevate themselves after liberation and freedom.

PS: This piece was composed at UNISA. I thank Stevens Mohapi for his care and affection.

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Opinion

Modelling Success: Dr Adedeji Adeleke And Adeleke University

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Dele Jegede In Conversation With Prince Yemisi Shyllon
Prof. Toyin Falola

By Toyin Falola

Success is a broad concept that has been widely researched and discussed for many years. While there is no specific formula for achieving success, certain principles are commonly observed among individuals deemed to be successful. Success transcends mere material wealth or professional achievements; it is a phenomenon shaped by intrinsic belief, goal setting, dignity, and respect for divine will. Dr. Adedeji Adeleke, a Nigerian businessman and philanthropist, exemplifies the principles of success through his life and impact on individual and societal growth and development, serving as a beacon of inspiration to many and reflecting these values through his accomplishments.

Success is believing in one’s capabilities and potential. Successful people have an innate sense of self-efficacy, confidently believing in their ability to take actions that will lead to the attainment of set goals. Such a belief is a powerful source of motivation, as it pushes one to remain consistent even in the face of adversity and to approach tasks proactively and with a positive outlook. Successful people also understand the significance of setting clear, specific, and attainable goals.

It is worth noting that while the path to success is often super-frustrating and challenging, it is achievable with well-defined goals and persistent efforts. As such, one must continually aim forward, transition step by step, and ultimately weave together a remarkable success story through various engagements by preparing detailed actions that translate into bigger ambitions. The journey to success begins with unwavering self-belief, which is not merely about confidence; rather, it is a deep-rooted conviction in one’s ability to achieve their dreams. This resilience is required to face life’s ups and downs with a positive mindset, seeing opportunities where others see obstacles.

Success is not only due to human will and actions but is also influenced by environmental factors that can pose significant challenges. These factors can become potential stumbling blocks if the individual does not believe in the power of their dreams. Dr. Adeleke’s story is indeed one of belief in self and in the guiding influence of divine will. Despite the numerous challenges he encountered on his way to achieving his set goals, he believed in himself and his immense potential, also trusting in the divine purpose for his life. This propelled him forward, enabling him to build a legacy that cuts across different areas, including education, business, and philanthropy.

Accepting divine will means a careful, responsible acceptance without succumbing to extraneous rules or laws that rob us of our confidence and authenticity. This perspective fosters humility and gratitude and an acknowledgement that our achievements are not solely ours but are also gifts and opportunities that come from a higher source. Dr. Adeleke exemplifies humility and a powerful sense of purpose. Despite his immense success, he remains grounded and attributes his accomplishments to divine guidance.

His philanthropic efforts include huge contributions to education and community development, demonstrating his commitment to giving back and serving the greater good. Dr. Adeleke’s story indicates that true success is a harmonious blend of self-belief, goal setting, and submission to a higher purpose. It is about striving for excellence while remaining humble and purposeful.

From Dr. Adeleke, we learn that the idea of success is personal and varies from individual to individual. It is not defined by societal standards or criteria but by one’s own goals and values. Through inspired actions, individuals can realise that success is achievable for anyone who believes in themselves, sets clear goals, and respects divine will. Modelling success requires more than ambition and hard work; it involves an inherent belief in oneself, discipline in setting and pursuing goals, and a humble recognition of the divine influences in our lives. Dr. Adeleke’s life is a testimony to this whole process of success, demonstrating that success is both an internal and external journey.

Dr. Adeleke exemplifies that success is achieved through belief, goal-setting goals, and respect for divine will. He has shown that his achievements stem not merely from external factors but from nurtured internal qualities. For everyone to be successful, they must follow these prescripts and approach their goals with belief, intention, and reverence toward the divine. Belief provides the motivation, while goal setting charts the course. Goals, when clear and well-defined, act as a blueprint and a guiding light, directing actions and decisions and making the path to success easier. Goals break down the seemingly insurmountable journey into manageable steps, making the path to success more navigable.

Remarkably, Dr. Adeleke’s success in business and life is proof of his strategic mindset and commitment to setting goals. His achievements with Adeleke University and other ventures illustrate how his endeavours have successfully evolved through effective planning. Milestones play a crucial role in goal planning and maintaining focus, and Dr. Adeleke’s invaluable achievements in different spheres of life epitomise that setting realistic goals and pursuing them with dedication and hard work yields significant rewards.

 

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Opinion

Sogolo’s Moral Values And Social Change In Nigeria (5)

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Readers’ Showers Of Encouragement
Prof. Tony Afejuku

By Tony Afejuku

Our reading of Professor Godwin Sogolo’s mature opinions on our moral values and human situation in general terminates today.

Read it!

Moral Imperatives of the 4TH Industrial Revolution (4IR)

The 4th Industrial Revolution is already transforming the way we live, work, and interact. One of the key areas in which moral values will have a significant impact is in the development and implementation of emerging technologies – artificial intelligence, automation, big data analytics, genetic engineering, etc. These technologies have the potential to revolutionise industries and societies, for good! But, they also raise complex ethical dilemmas and challenges. For example, the fear is that the widespread use of artificial intelligence and automation in the workplace would lead to job displacement and economic inequality. While these technologies have the potential to increase productivity and efficiency, they also have implications for workers’ rights, fair distribution of wealth, and human dignity. Moral considerations for justice, equality, and respect for human rights must be the guiding principles in the development and deployment of the new technologies. 

Furthermore, the collection and analysis of massive amounts of personal data raise concerns about privacy, consent, and the potential for surveillance and manipulation. Moral values such as privacy, autonomy, and informed consent are essential in ensuring the protection of individuals’ rights and freedoms in the digital age. As technologies continue to advance, it is important to consider the implications they have for our value systems, and to address potential ethical dilemmas before they become widespread. That assessment falls within the purview of the humanities in general, and philosophy in particular.

Another important function of moral values in the 4th Industrial Revolution is to address the socio-economic implications of the new technologies on employment, income inequality and social cohesion. Moral values such as compassion, solidarity, social justice, etc., are essential in ensuring that the benefits of the emerging technological progress are shared equitably, and that vulnerable populations are not left behind.

The 4th Industrial Revolution has the potential of either exacerbating or mitigating the ecological challenges that we currently face, depending on the strength of our moral values and the decisions and actions of individuals, groups, businesses, governments, etc., in connection with the issues of environmental sustainability. Technologies relating to renewable energy, smart grids and circular economic models offer promising solutions. But, they require a commitment to moral values such as environmental stewardship, intergenerational responsibility and sustainability. It is important to prioritise these values so as to minimize the negative environmental impact of the new technological advancements in furtherance of sustainable development.

In adapting to the new technologies, we must bear in mind that moral values also guide issues relating to personal ethics and the well-being of the individual. The constant connectivity, information overload, and digital distractions that come with the 4th Industrial Revolution pose serious challenges to the issue of personal identity and mental health of the individuals in matters of inter-personal relationships and group interactions. We need to develop faith and confidence that the human ingenuity that created the new technologies is also able to devise means of controlling its negative consequences. For instance, if you ask ChatGPT to provide information on how to prepare a nuclear bomb, the response will be that it cannot help because it is dangerous and illegal. That is how values can assist in controlling the negative and disastrous effects of the new technologies. What the people need are moral values such as empathy, compassion, mindfulness and digital responsibility, essential for cultivating a healthy and balanced digital life that puts premium on the collective interest.

Finally, although I have emphasized the role of Philosophy in this discussion, I must add that other disciplines in the humanities also have their unique roles to play in the 4th Industrial Revolution: the classical studies and history can provide models of  personalities, social institutions and historical events that have propelled human civilisations in the past: linguistics and the languages perform communicative functions that give the individual an understanding of human relations and the working of social institutions, while the creative, visual and performing arts recreate human models, personalities and events, both real or unreal, thereby informing and inspiring the people. And, of course, the discipline of religious studies helps the individual in coping with the vicissitudes of our confusing world, further complicated by the flux of unending changes.  Together, the humanities are designed to prepare the individual to understand, control and adapt to the new changes. Already, Western nations, led by the United States of America and some European nations, have shown the moral and political will by working together on ways of controlling and adjusting to the changes that will accompany the 4th Industrial Revolution. Very recently, the American President, Joe Biden, announced a joint project with Microsoft to setup an AI control Centre in the US. Africa, especially Nigeria, cannot afford to miss out, again, on the journey of moving to the next level.

Conclusion

Historical antecedents, years of bad governance, misplaced values and ill-conceived education system, have led to a state of moral crisis in Nigeria. The social ills have had the most severe impact on Nigerian youths who, today, lack the moral foundation needed to transform the animal (Aristotle’s tabula rasa) into a human person. Not only is a large proportion of our youths denied access to basic education, the few that are lucky to have access, have been taught nothing but techniques that are bereft of positive moral values and integrity. It is obvious that Nigerian youths are ill-prepared for the arduous and compelling demands of a changing world. Surely, there is an urgent need for  retooling  our educational curricula, with emphasis on the inculcation of moral values in our youths, to save the nation from descending into the Hobbesian state of nature, anarchy  and more importantly, to enable our society to  keep pace with the changes that are coming with the 4th Industrial Revolution.

Concluded.

Afejuku can be reached on 

08055213059.

 

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