General News of Tuesday, 23 September 2003

Source: IRIN

African Universities Discuss Falling Academic Standards

Education experts met in Ghana on Tuesday to discuss the problem of declining academic standards in Africa's universities and colleges, which are operating on shoe-string budgets, but are under pressure to admit more students.

The three-day conference in Accra is sponsored by the World Bank and has attracted several hundred participants from all over Sub-Saharan Africa.

According to the Association of African Universities (AAU), the pressure on cash-strapped colleges to enroll more students has adversely affected the quality of the graduates and research they produce.

"While there is a relative shortage of resources available to African knowledge institutions, there are heightened demands on them to increase enrolment, produce work-ready graduates and relevant knowledge of international quality," Professor Akilagpa Sawyerr, Secretary-General of the AAU, told delegates.

"The end result, in many cases, are universities with enormously expanded enrolments, but perceived weaknesses in the quality of research and their teaching and learning environments," he added.

Some African governments are currently initiating reforms within to the tertiary education sector with the help of donors, but the AAU fears that some of the initiatives are not having the desired effect.

Countries that are currently introducing major policy changes include Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Cameroon, Cote d'Ivoire, Ethiopia, Lesotho, Mauritania, Mozambique and Namibia. The conference will look in detail at several case studies.

It is taking place in Accra at a time when Ghana's own university students are protesting at increased costs, while their lecturers are complaining loudly about the meagre level of academic pay.

Ghana's Minister For Tertiary Education, Elizabeth Ohene, said these were "trying times for institutions of higher learning in sub-Saharan Africa" where only 3.5 per cent of the college-age population is able to study.

She highlighted common problems across the continent such as unsustainable financing schemes, weak poor internet communications facilities, aging lecturers and courses that are irrelevant to the most pressing needs of society.