In a recent paper I presented at a Conference hosted by the University of Johannesburg, themed “From Zero to Hero: Rising to the challenge in a time of crisis,” I opined that African Universities were not quite where they needed to be at this stage of the process. In order words, and looking back at the conversations of that day, African Universities, it seems, are still operating in a space of agile fragility. Yes, they are not fragile in a space of agility. Most African Universities are doing their best to engage with the international higher education trends, which makes them agile so to speak. However, the infrastructure on the ground in that geographical space remains rather fragile.
Using this as a point of departure, I am of the opinion that the noble event organised by the University of Johannesburg Library, presents an opportunity to document, archive, store and retrieve the HE resources that would bring African Universities closer to their international peers. Besides the clamour for international rankings, and the perceptions of marginalisation as the highest-ranked African University falls outside of the top-300 globally, there doesn’t seem to be enough collaborations and networking between African Universities – either offline or online (virtually). The current lockdowns due to the ongoing pandemic has meant that agility seems to have been stepped up even in the face of the existing fragility.
Four African countries and their HE systems are worth mentioning for a variety of reasons – Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa. In the case of Ghana, the country ranks quite highly albeit the small number of Universities in that region. I have been privileged to engage in a range of activities organised by the University of Ghana in particular. In the case of Kenya, there has been a recent strategic plan put in place by the Kenyan National Qualifications Agency with a view to vetting the qualifications of academics online. In Nigeria, the private universities have been at the forefront, performing much better than the old, traditional and public universities – i.e. University of Ibadan, University of Nigeria and the Obafemi Awolowo University. The likes of Covenant University is a case in point. For South Africa, the country boasts over 50 percent of the top-10 universities in Africa – with the likes of the University of Cape Town, University of Witwatersrand and the University of Pretoria under the visionary leadership and virtual lecture engagements of Professor Tawana Kupe, its Vice Chancellor.
In a previous article I published on the University World News, Chequered value chain of academic research and publishing (25 July 2020), I highlighted China’s shifts from Anglo-Saxon publication outlets and what this might mean for African scholarship. In my argument, I pointed out “Quality, process and impact” to be the unholy trinity of academic research and their chequered value chain when it comes to service to society. It was against that backdrop that reiterated the significance of international collaborations/ partnerships and the need to align this with the sustainable development goals, especially SDG17.
Besides having published extensively in the context of higher education from the 2015 Special Issue on the Middle East, through the lack of attention to indigenously published HE texts, to the review of one such attempt on Marketing in Nigeria. I have also recently attended a worth virtual conference organised by the University of Johannesburg Library in September 2020 where some good practice lessons were highlighted.
Where does all this leave African Universities? Celebrations, in my view, are a bit premature even as African universities have been celebrating inclusion on the Times Higher Education (THE) World University rankings with only the University of Cape Town in the top-200, and the highest entrant from Nigeria placing outside the top-400 globally.
Nnamdi Madichie is currently Research Fellow at the Bloomsbury Institute. Prior to this, I was the Director of the Centre for Research and Enterprise at the Institute between 2015 and 2019. He had also previously held senior academic positions across institutions and geographies such as the University of East London (2003-2008), University of Sharjah, UAE (2008-2013), and the Canadian University Dubai (2013-2015). Madichie is also Visiting Professor of Marketing & Entrepreneurship at the Unizik Business School, Awka (Nigeria), Visiting Professor at the Coal City University, Enugu, Nigeria, and External Examiner of the MSc. The entrepreneurship programme at the Liverpool Business School, Liverpool John Moore’s University. He is a Fellow of the Chartered Management Institute (FCMI) and Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy of England & Wales.