A SNAPSHOT of the World Bank’s current portfolio in tertiary education shows that Africa has been receiving the biggest slice, US$3.8 billion, of a total of about US$9.8 billion that is being invested in the sector globally.
This figure is expected to grow, said Dr Roberta Bassett, the World Bank’s global lead for tertiary education.
Her presentation, ‘Tertiary education in Sub-Saharan Africa in the time of COVID-19’ was part of the African Network for Internationalization of Education’s conference on 25 November. The event focused on regional and global cooperation in higher education and adaptive strategies for the future of Africa’s higher education post-COVID.
The World Bank invested about US$3.8 billion in Africa, followed by US$2.341 million in South Asia, US$1.604 billion in Latin America and the Caribbean, US$894 million in East Asia, US$855 million in Europe and Central Asia and US$199 million in the Middle East and North Africa respectively, making Africa the biggest beneficiary. The total operational financing available to tertiary education during 2015-20 was approximately US$9.8 billion.
Despite the investments by the World Bank, other funders and governments that are spending, on average, about 21% of their budgets on tertiary education (compared to 43% on primary and 27% on secondary education) the current gross tertiary enrolment ratio in Sub-Saharan Africa stands at 9.4%, the lowest in the world.
“Even though Sub-Saharan Africa has been doubling its enrolment every 20 years, [during] the past 45 years, the gap has been growing, something [that is] of significant concern for those of us who support investment in tertiary education,” Bassett said.
In the context of COVID-19 and returning to normalcy and adaptability to learning, Bassett noted that African tertiary institutions have quickly returned to operations in comparison with other parts of the world.
Said Bassett: “We put out lots of money to support COVID-19 responses across all levels of education, supporting remote learning, building capacity in institutions to accelerate training, especially for the medical technicians, that were [involved] in cross-border interventions at the World Bank level.
“We are moving into the resilient phase, supporting countries to help students return to universities physically, and we connected students more, thinking about labour market outcomes, because we know there are financial shortcomings to support the social protection element of students’ experience,” she added.
Her presentation highlighted that, during COVID’s remote learning phase, only 0.44% of the population in Sub-Saharan Africa had access to fixed broadband and 25% to the internet. However, 97% of tertiary students have access to mobile phones, suggesting they could be harnessed more to expand learning platforms and apps.
She said that the pandemic crisis highlighted opportunities for higher learning, for instance, re-thinking internationalisation to expand awareness and opportunities beyond study and academic exchanges abroad through cross-border online delivery, learning from and partnering with peer nations, recognising regional students and exchanges as international and bringing international concepts and perspectives into local curricula.
She added that embedding international and regional ideas into the curricula, even if the mobility is not in place, is important to enhance internationalisation.
Transformation and internationalisation
On transformation and the future of internationalisation of higher education in Africa, Professor Olusola Oyewole, the secretary general of the Association of African Universities, emphasised the smart university concept, saying that change is imperative, hence the need for new thinking on how universities operate.
“The smart university concept involves technological advances for the effective management, administration and delivery of the main functions and services of the university. The concept of the smart university is an emerging and fast-evolving area that represents the creative integration of innovative concepts using smart software and hardware systems,” he said.
Components of smart universities, he added, include university stakeholders, curricula, pedagogy, software and hardware, technologies, resources, libraries, security and infrastructure.
Oyewole added that African universities ought to embrace the smart university concept as it has various benefits, including enhanced student learning experiences and campus safety, reduction in operation costs, support in data-based decisions, promotion of efficiency, flexibility for learners, advances for university reputation, and it helps with the promotion of internationalisation and knowledge mobility.
Smart universities can, therefore, advance internationalisation, which help to create world-class institutions that attract foreign students and staff into higher education systems for cross-cultural education.
Developments that would foster internationalisation are virtual learning across borders, which could be enhanced by the smart university concept, but also through universities with common values, diaspora involvement, and virtual supervision.
To foster internationalisation in the pandemic period, African universities need to install programmes like instant student exchanges abroad and also embrace staff mobility programmes for lecturers through partnerships and networks, both virtual and institutional, he suggested.