By BURTON BOLLAG
Friday, February 9, 2001-Nairobi, Kenya
Universities from across Africa are expected to support a growing movement to introduce tuition in countries where higher education is traditionally free.
The support is expected to come in a resolution adopted today at the end of a five-day meeting here of the Association of
African Universities. The organization, which has more than 170 member institutions from 43 countries, meets every four years.
In the declaration, the universities are also expected to call on Africa's higher-education institutions to confront the AIDS epidemic on their campuses and in their countries.
The final declaration will point toward strategies that some of the continent's more enterprising institutions have already begun to employ, to varying degrees:
· Develop Internet access as a priority. Although connectivity has grown rapidly in the past two years, many institutions still have nothing more than a single e-mail account. Access in many countries is limited by poor telephone lines and high cost. The association is offering its members technical assistance to improve connections to the Internet, assistance that will be supported financially by outside donors, but universities must first produce a strategic plan. The A.A.U. president, Andrew Siwela, formerly the vice chancellor at the University of Zambia, says connectivity is essential for university development. It allows institutions, which often have had no library acquisitions for years, to gain access to information and databases, and to communicate with other universities.
· Redress gender imbalance. In a number of countries, fewer girls than boys attend public school. In higher education the situation is most stark, with women heavily outnumbered by men in total higher-education enrollment. A 1998 report from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization showed a range of participation by women, from 23 percent of the college students in Ivory Coast to 43 percent of the students in Algeria.
· Improve quality and relevance of education. Africa's low rate of higher-education enrollment -- about 5 percent of young people, compared with more than 50 percent in the United States -- is increasing fast. But so are the number of unemployed graduates. The continent's higher education is plagued by a shortage of faculty members. Tragically, the majority of young scholars sent with public financing to obtain advanced degrees at Western institutions don't return. The reason is miserably low wages and a severe lack of resources necessary for academics to advance in their careers: library materials, laboratory equipment, and research funds.
Along with the university officials, representatives of aid agencies were also present at the meeting: the World Bank, national overseas development agencies from industrialized countries, and private foundations. In recent years development agencies have been forging closer links with Africa's beleaguered and often impoverished universities.
A few institutions have begun developing new sources of financial support: providing training and research for businesses and public administrations, renting out facilities during academic breaks, and privatizing traditionally money-losing activities like cafeterias and student housing. Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, has won praise for creating study programs geared to the needs of the country's economy, and charging tuition. The new income has allowed the institution to substantially raise faculty salaries and retain more staff members. The declaration will offer muted support for such strategies by calling for consideration of "cost-sharing initiatives." "Our countries can't sustain free education anymore," says the A.A.U.'s Mr. Siwela.
"And most governments now agree."
Copyright © 2001 by The Chronicle of Higher Education