Upfront tuition fees are essential if universities in sub-Saharan Africa are to improve academic standards, build postgraduate programmes and stem the loss of faculty, a World Bank conference in Accra, Ghana, has been told.
Akilagpa Sawyerr, general secretary of the Association of African Universities, said students must take responsibility for their education if their institutions were to survive the financial crisis.
Professor Sawyerr said cost sharing in higher education had failed in most countries and only a sharp increase in tuition fees would address the problems.
The conference was told that about 150 public universities in the region have been hit by reduced revenue. Most universities were said to be unable to retain or attract qualified lecturers.
"Academic standards have suffered as working and living conditions of professors have become constrained," Professor Sawyerr said.
The diminishing quality of higher education was also blamed for driving African students overseas. According to William Saint, a senior education specialist at the World Bank, there are 130,000 Africans studying overseas.
Bruce Johnstone, professor of higher and comparative education at State University of New York at Buffalo, warned: "Declining economies and high population growth have usurped many countries' capacity to provide quality higher education."
Ghana's minister for higher education, Elizabeth Ohene, called for speedy reforms. "Universities must discard irrelevant programmes and introduce demand-driven courses," she said.
Uganda's Makerere University, Kenya's University of Nairobi and Tanzania's University of Dar-es-Salaam were complimented for their initiatives to increase income and to provide quality education. About 72 per cent of Makerere's 21,000 students pay upfront fees, while fees comprise 51 per cent of revenues at Nairobi. Dar-es-Salaam is also putting in place measures to increase revenue. "The three universities have managed to retain and attract qualified academics," Professor Johnstone said.