Address by the Minister of Education, Naledi Pandor MP, at the Southern African Regional Universities Association (SARUA) Workshop, Sunnyside Park Hotel, Johannesburg.
2 April 2009
Chief Executive Officer of SARUA, Ms Piyushi Kotecha
Chairperson of SARUA, Prof BJ Otlhogile
Members of SARUA's Executive Committee
Ladies and gentlemen
Thank you for inviting me to this important workshop.
Let me start by congratulating SARUA on the achievements of this organisation after such a short period of its existence.
SARUA gives effect to the SADC Protocol on Education and Training signed in 1997 by more than ten member countries.
The key objective of this Protocol is to provide a framework for regional cooperation in addressing regional educational needs.
The Protocol was signed two years before the Europeans signed the Bologna Declaration, which has similar aims to our Protocol.
The studies conducted by SARUA, which will be reported at this workshop in the next two days, are the first in a series that should guide us on what we should be doing to give effect to the protocol. The studies should also guide us on how we strengthen higher education more broadly by pooling our collective strengths.
They deal with important issues.
First of all, access to higher education is far too low in all our countries.
Access to higher education has been a challenge in developing countries for many years.
According to the latest figures of the World Bank, the gross participation rate in tertiary education in sub-Saharan Africa is only 6.1%, whereas that of North Africa is 26.6%.
The average SADC higher-education participation rate is approximately 5%.1
UNESCO has reported that the growth rate in enrolments in higher education in sub-Saharan Africa is among the highest in the world.
Yet participation rates remain very low.
The other side to the access challenge is that too many students are leaving SADC countries to study abroad. Within our own region, the movement of students is largely in the direction of South Africa , which we welcome but is cause for concern.
South African universities currently enrol some 60,000 international students. Of these, more than 40,000 are from the SADC region.
Internationalisation is good for knowledge and skills transfer, and can be beneficial for the higher education system in the region.
However, there is a ‘brain-drain' problem. Currently we do not have proper systems in place to monitor the mobility of people in and out of the region. Of course, it is not only students who leave their countries, but also academics and other professionals such as nurses, teachers and engineers.
My view has always been that we should try to improve the conditions within our own borders to make sure that we retain the best of our students and academics in our countries. We should also pay attention to ensuring that within SADC, we promote genuine ‘brain-circulation'.
It's encouraging to note that many SADC countries have in place or are in the process of setting up higher education quality assurance structures. Strong national quality assurance structures and processes are a precondition for the building of regional quality assurance systems.
Quality is a many-sided process. But a lack of adequate infrastructure is a problem in many of our universities. For instance, it is still common in some institutions to find more students per class than the capacity of the lecture room. Therefore, in the ideal situation, the increase in enrolments should be followed by necessary infrastructural change.
Of course, quality improvement is dependent on funding.
Several countries within the African continent have increased investment towards developing the higher education system in the past decades.
According to a report that was presented last year to African Ministers of Finance, enrolments in African universities tripled between 1991 and 2005, expanding at an annual rate of 8.7%, which is one of the highest regional growth rates in the world. However, over a 25 year period, the spending per student declined from an average of US $6,800 per year to a low of US $981 in 2005 for 33 countries.2
One of the very substantial achievements of the South African government has been to halt the decline in per capita funding that occurred in the ten years before 2006.
We need to take stock of our funding policies to make sure that they respond to the needs of the region. In the SADC region, the national expenditure on education as a percentage of gross national income varies between 2% and 10%.
The case for improved funding provision for higher education will certainly be strengthened if, as a region we work hard to ensure that we have strong and stable institutions that are able to respond to the many challenges that we face, including the contribution of higher education to the economic and social development of our nations and region.
This brings me to the issue of leadership.
It's important that we develop good, visionary leadership across our institutions.
At the same time, we need to be mindful of the equity aspect amongst our leaders.
Currently, leadership in higher education across the SADC region, and to a certain extent, elsewhere in the world, is dominated by males. Comparative research shows that there is a notable under-representation of women at senior and leadership levels of universities even in developed countries such as the United States and Australia . The male domination trend is also evident within the academic staff profile.
Institutions should therefore begin to take cognisance of this in their succession planning.
As a region we also need to increase our postgraduate student production. Currently, the number of postgraduate students that graduate from our institutions annually, particularly at doctoral level, is very low compared to that of developed countries.
We need to build capacity in all areas of research.
One of the obvious capacity constraints is a lack of PhD supervisors.
For us to increase the number of PhD graduates, we must first develop the supervisory capacity at our institutions. The situation now is that we have too many academics without doctoral qualifications. This is, of course, why many postgraduate students go abroad.
Postgraduate studies can also be supported by way of regional collaboration, through, amongst others, joint programmes and supervision. Such collaboration can also be extended to include international partner institutions. A number of models exist of such partnerships including the South Africa-Norway Tertiary Education Programme which has promoted joint postgraduate programme development by universities in the region.
I am also aware that the issue of internet connectivity is high on SARUA's agenda. Access to high speed connectivity for all of our universities is key to strengthening teaching and learning and enabling collaborative partnerships in the region and beyond.
In closing, I would like to re-iterate the importance of the publication that is launched and discussed here today, and I have no doubt that the publication will have a positive impact on the higher education landscape in the region. I hope that many more studies will emerge as a result, even from researchers from outside the SARUA association.
2Accelerating Catch-up - Tertiary education for growth in Sub-Saharan Africa