Inside Higher Education, the popular news and networking site for higher education enthusiasts like myself, recently posted an article about how African universities were perhaps just located in Africa but not really relevant to their communities. The article reports a recent Times Higher Education Universities Summit for BRICS and emerging economies, where Malegapuru Makgoba, the retiring vice-chancellor of the University of KwaZulu-Natal said:
“There is a major debate in South Africa about whether we have any African universities or just universities located in South Africa”.
This is a problem faced not only by African universities but also by universities in most of the developing world. Colonists established universities to train an elite class to serve in their Empires. After independence, most universities continued to draw curricula from the global North and faculty were sent abroad (this practice continues today) for graduate education. The African university, like other universities in the global South, continued to mimic the Oxbridges and the Harvards in a variety of different ways. Most markedly, it is the curriculum that has not kept abreast of the needs of the Continent.
Although the recent announcement about the establishment of the Pan-African University indicates a move in the right direction, only time will tell whether there will be a genuine shift towards more relevant curricula. More importantly, it is the often conflicting goals of research and service that will need to come together in a more harmonized fashion so that community needs are served whilst excellence in (relevant) research continues to be a goal.