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South Africa leads university rankings

Comments (0) Africa, Featured, Politics

University of Cape Town, in South Africa

Eight of the top 10 institutions of higher education in sub-Saharan Africa are located in a single country, according to new rankings.

South Africa wins the university sweepstakes according to new rankings: Eight of the top 10 institutions of higher education in sub-Saharan Africa are in that country while the other two are located in Kenya and Tanzania.

According to the 2016 University Web Rankings & Reviews by 4International Colleges & Universities, the University of Cape Town is the top university in Africa.

The 187-year-old public institution in the suburbs of Cape Town has an enrollment of more than 20,000 students.

Second in the rankings is the University of South Africa, in Pretoria with an enrollment of more than 45,000 students, followed by the Universiteit Stellenbosch (enrollment 25,000) and the University of Pretoria (enrollment 60,000), with the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg (enrollment 25,000) rounding out the top five.

The other South African universities on the list are: Rhodes University in Grahamstown with an enrollment of 7,000-8,000, the University of the Western Cape in Bellville with more than 15,000 students, and the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban with more than 40,000 students.

In Tanzania, the University of Dar es Salaam in that city also made the top 10 list. It has an enrollment of more than 15,000 students.

The University of Nairobi in Kenya rounded out the top rankings for the southern continent. With more than 45,000 students, the university also has branch campuses in Kikuyu, Parklands, Lower Kabete, Upper Kabete, Chiromo and Kismu.

Ratings favor graduate, research programs

Experts said South African Universities tend to do well on university rankings because the ratings tend to favor institutions that have significant numbers of doctoral students and faculty with doctoral degrees, and are recognized research centers.

University of Cape Town, for example, has made a point of becoming a “research-led flagship” university, according to Nico Cloete, director of the Centre for Higher Education Trust and coordinator of the Higher Education Research and Advocacy Network in Africa.

Students in a classroom at University of Cape Town

Students in a classroom at University of Cape Town

In a 2014 study, Cloete found that nearly a third of all students at the University of Cape Town in 2011 were postgraduate students and nearly two-thirds of the faculty had doctoral degrees.

In contrast, he found that institutions of higher education outside South Africa typically had low enrollments of graduate students and operated professional master’s degree programs rather than developing potential research leaders.

South African universities torn by protests

While South Africa’s universities receive high academic ratings, they have come under fire in recent years with students and faculty complaining about high fees and predominantly white faculties.

Violence erupted at several South African universities, including the University of Cape Town, earlier this year as students protested housing conditions and complained that white international students were given preference in accommodations. Several Cape Town students were arrested after protesters torched vehicles, burned artwork, invaded residences and petrol-bombed a vice chancellor’s office.

Leaders seek to increase participation

The rankings come against the backdrop of efforts to improve participation in higher education in Africa.

Higher education leaders have set a goal of 50% enrollment by 2063, the same level that is projected globally.

Currently, only 8% of sub-Saharan Africans of college age are enrolled, compared to 26% in the Middle East and 32% globally. In the developed world, the rate is more than 75%, according to 2012 data.

In setting the 50% target last year, the African Higher Education Summit called for a large increase in African investment in university education, greater research spending and stronger links to scholars in the African diaspora.

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Liberia will turn schools over to private operator

Comments (2) Africa, Business, Featured

bridge international academy school

Bridge International Academies, which runs schools in Kenya and Uganda, will pilot a program in Liberia’s troubled school system.

The government of Liberia plans to turn its troubled school system over to a private company, drawing objections from representatives of the United Nations and threats of a strike from the country’s teachers.

Education Minister George Werner said the country would launch a pilot project in September, when 50 of the nation’s 5,000 schools will be taken over by Bridge International Academies, a private company based in Kenya, which also operates schools in Kenya and Uganda.

Werner noted that the Liberian school system has been “in a state of decay for the last three decades.” He said he decided to turn to Bridge after realizing that incremental change by the government would not happen quickly enough for the system to benefit Liberia’s children.

Werner said education would still be free to Liberian students.

High rate of failure on exams

Disrupted by years of war and then the recent Ebola crisis, the school system was labeled “a mess” by Liberia’s president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in 2013 after 25,000 of country’s high school graduates failed their university entrance examination.

After Werner announced the pilot program, Liberian school teachers approved a resolution threatening to strike if the government goes ahead with the plan.

One Monrovia teacher said schools are underperforming in part because of the low teacher salaries the government pays, forcing teacher to take two jobs. Joseph Komoreah said Liberians should be in charge of their education, not an outside company.

Meanwhile, a United Nations official said the plan amounts to a “gross violation” of the Liberian government’s obligation to provide a right to education.

State should run schools, official says

Kinshore Singh, the U.N. special rapporteur on education, call the plan an “attack” on teachers and public schools.

Calling the scale of the plan “unprecedented,” Singh said a public education system is “a core function of the state and abandoning this to the commercial benefit of a private company constitutes a gross violation of the right to education.”

Singh argues Liberia would do better to invest in improving its own education system and could approach the United Nations for assistance.

A Bridge International Academy school

A Bridge International Academy school

Schools lack resources

About 1.5 million are enrolled in Liberia’s primary schools but only about 20 percent of them complete 12th grade. Classrooms are often overcrowded and under supplied, even lacking enough chairs for all the students.

Bridge operates more than 350 schools in Kenya and seven in Uganda, charging each student $6 per month. The World Bank invested $10 million in Bridge International in 2014 and social investors including Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg have also provided funding.

But the company has also been criticized for its teaching methods.

The company calls its approach the “Academy in a box.” Bridge develops teaching materials and delivers lessons to teachers on a tablet they can use in the classroom. Bridge also uses computers to monitor how the students are progressing so educators can intervene if there are issues.

More than 100 organizations object

After it received World Bank funding, more than 100 organizations supported a statement critical of Bridge and the privatization of education in Kenya and Uganda.

A Bridge International spokeswoman said the system enables teachers to give well prepared lessons and uses technology to streamline administrative processes.

She said Bridge pupils had a 22 percent higher pass rate on national exams in 2015 than other students.

In the pilot program, the Liberian government will continue to pay the teachers but Bridge International will vet and supervise them. The company said it is looking for outside funding for the pilot.

If the 2016-17 pilot goes well, Liberia may look for other private education providers to help run its schools.

Bridge International Academies said it is the world’s largest education innovation company with more than 100,000 students in more than 400 nursery and primary schools in Africa. The first Bridge school opened in Nairobi, Kenya in 2009. In addition to its African programs, Bridge is planning to expand into Asia.

Founded in 2007, the company hopes to operate more than 3,000 schools in Kenya, with more than two million students, by 2018. The company wants to reach 10 million students in a dozen countries by 2025 with its own schools or using its model in partner schools.

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