Africa Summit 2016: ‘overcome’ public-private 'divide'

Distinction between two types of institution ‘not helpful’ for continent, say senior African university figures

April 29, 2016
Marcia Grant, Ashesi University College
Source: iSoft Pixels
Marcia Grant, provost of Ashesi University College, speaking at the summit alongside Paul Effah, president of Radford University College and Gerald Wangenge-Ouma of the University of Pretoria

Africa must overcome “silly notions of competition” between public and private institutions in order to create a strong higher education network, Times Higher Education’s Africa Universities Summit has heard.

Marcia Grant, provost of Ashesi University College, a private non-profit liberal arts institution in Ghana, said that there are many ways in which public and private universities “can share their networks” and collaborate. She cited an example of international students at her institution staying in student accommodation at the publicly funded University of Ghana over the Christmas holidays. 

“If we can overcome these silly notions of competition and see how we can work together, that would be very important for the continent,” she said.

Speaking as part of a panel debate titled, “Public and private – are both essential to a strong university sector in Africa?”, on 28 April, Dr Grant said that she “looks forward” to a future where there are partnerships between public and private universities “so we don’t misuse our resources and replicate them”.

She said that one of the key challenges for both types of institution in Africa over the next couple of decades will be dealing with a “doubling of the population” to “2.4 billion people by 2050”.

“Unfortunately in the past...universities around the world have not thought about job creation. But we are different from the rest of the world in mortality. Our birth rates are not going down,” she said.

Gerald Wangenge-Ouma, director of institutional planning at the University of Pretoria, who also spoke on the panel, agreed that the “binary between public and private is not helpful” and there are an increasing number of cases where governments are supporting private universities, by qualifying students at those institutions for loans and scholarships.

“The fact is [private institutions] are universities and they have a very important role,” he said. “Private universities are not incapable of supporting the public good, even though some are for-profit.

“There are ways of supporting private universities other than giving money. At the moment, many don’t get rebates for equipment. That is the kind of support that could be given.”

He added that the higher education sector across the continent must be more coordinated so that each institution has a clear and distinctive role that complements the others.

“What we see in the continent is new institutions offering the very programmes that current institutions are struggling to manage. We have to steer the sector so we know our particular roles,” he said.

During his keynote speech earlier in the day, Ernest Aryeetey, vice-chancellor of the University of Ghana, noted that UK universities franchised “like McDonald’s”, by providing degrees to other universities “without much involvement”.

But Dr Grant said: "We don't believe in [a] McDonald's [model]. We don't want to replicate ourselves."

She added: "Many people have said: 'Won't you start up in Kenya? Won't you start up in Rwanda?' No, it's hard to make a really good job of one campus."

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