Despite forty years of development efforts, the quality of life for the majority of people in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) is deteriorating. However, the emergence and combination of several powerful institutional forces -- the technology revolution, the end of the Cold War, the democratization of ideas -- are fundamentally changing the global economy by influencing the nature and relationship of markets, products, competition, trade, and sources of comparative advantage. This new global economy is significant because it offers the promise of allowing less developed countries the chance of leapfrogging over the traditional development processes in order to improve the quality of life for their citizens.
The ability to take advantage of this unique opportunity will depend on a country's capacity to tap the global system of generation and transmission of knowledge, generate indigenous knowledge, diffuse and transfer information, and utilize that knowledge in productive activity. If sub-Saharan Africa wishes to participate in the knowledge-intensive, global economy, it must be able to produce large numbers of scientifically and technologically-literate, innovation receptive, highly adaptable, and problem-solving minded people with predisposition to lifelong learning. And, it must be able to do this with an accelerated timeframe. On an even more basic level, Africans must have continual access to various forms of knowledge and information in a flexible and timely manner. The onus for producing this talented base of leaders and accessing various forms of knowledge and information falls on the system of higher education in SSA.
Problems Facing Tertiary Public Institutions in Sub-Sahara Africa (SSA)
Unfortunately, tertiary public institutions in their present form -- overwhelmed with problems related to access, finance, quality, and internal and external efficiency -- are not up to the challenge. Enrollment levels are shockingly low. Limited space and declining budgetary levels prevent universities from servicing the growing demand for higher education. As a result, universities in SSA suffer from:
- Low numbers of trained faculty
- Virtually non-existent levels of research
- Poor quality educational materials (e.g., African libraries have suffered immensely as collections have become out of date and laboratory equipment is old, in disrepair and out-of-date)
- And outmoded programs.
Much of the educational methodologies are based on the model of rote memorization and do not encourage critical thinking, problem-solving and creativity; all essential skills for promoting entrepreneurship. These constraints have prevented institutions of higher education from being able to link their graduates with the needs of the country.
The distribution of graduates is inconsistent with expected labor market needs. To a large extent, many public African universities have failed to remain relevant in a rapidly changing world as a disproportionate number of students graduate in the humanities rather than in the fields of science and engineering. It is thus highly questionable whether tertiary institutions can afford to continue to develop under this traditional model of higher education, particularly if the countries of SSA wish to expand -- more than marginally -- access to higher education while maintaining quality. On the other hand, the alternative of sending African students abroad for study is not a realistic option for meeting the needs of SSA. In addition, the cost of study abroad is too high for the majority of Africans.
The demand for all types of education at all levels has greatly outpaced the capacity of the public school system. Factors accounting for growth for private institutions in SSA are:
- Increase in the number of private schools and student enrollment in such schools
- Population growth and particularly urban population
- Fiscal constraint faced by the public sector (Structural Adjustment Programs)
- Deterioration of public schools’ infrastructure and quality of education
- Better image of private schools compared to public institutions
This has allowed “edupreneurs” to provide academic and vocational education, catering to many socioeconomic segments of the population. Although enrollment in private schools has been increasing rapidly, the supply-demand gap continues to grow.
After considerable research and analysis, we are convinced that the private education market is inadequately served. AIU will penetrate Africa through strategic recruiting, advertising, marketing, and public relations efforts aimed toward students, faculty, and businesses. Our initial geographic target market includes the 16 countries of West Africa, but will eventually include Africa in its entirety. After the second year of operations, we expect to expand our target market to South Africa.