African universities: Education with a purpose

In the last two decades, university rankings have gained prominence as a standard for benchmarking the quality of universities across the world.

These rankings measure the performance of universities based on key factors needed in the production of graduates, scientific knowledge or technology — whether they involve financial, human, social or even reputational capital. Building a ranking system on such premises encourages universities to focus their energies on “input” factors such as financing, the number of professors, the research facilities, the number of books in an institution’s library, the number of research publications, and so on.

Within this system, there are gaping methodological problems. The most obvious is the false premise that the amount of resources expended on education is a good indicator of the quality of graduates. These problems beg the question of what purpose university rankings serve.

What Africa needs is a ranking system that measures universities relative to their success in achieving Africa’s own goals, not one that aims to replicate institutions that were built for a different context and different time.