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Less than 10 per cent black South African population has access to university education – Falola research group

A research group report, chaired by eminent Professor of History, Toyin Falola, has revealed that less than 10 per cent of black South African population has access to university education.

Professor of History, Toyin Falola

A research group report, chaired by eminent Professor of History, Toyin Falola, has revealed that less than 10 per cent of black South African population has access to university education.

This rather disturbing revelation was made known during a regional convention on higher education in Africa, held at Babcock University, Ogun State, on January 6 and 7, 2021.

The event, which was chaired by Professor
Falola as lead investigator, was organised by the University of Texas and supported by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Regional convention on higher education in Africa


The conference was part of a larger project aimed at studying the impact of private universities on public universities in Africa.

The focus research countries included Nigeria (represented by Professor Sati Fwatshak, University of Jos; Ghana (represented by Dr. George Bob-Millar, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology); Kenya (represented by Professor Peter Wekesa, Kenyatta University); South Africa (represented by Professor Samuel Ojo Oloruntoba, Carleton University, Canada); and Uganda (represented by Professor John Mary Kanyamurwa, Kyambogo University).

In his report on South Africa, Professor Oloruntoba, stunned the gathering when he said: “The resistant to private universities in South Africa is borne out of the history of exclusion that the apartheid regime foisted on that country.

For many years of settler/colonialist in South Africa, the black majority were not allowed access to the university system or in a very small number. Post-1994, the government made it part of the agenda to ensure there is access for everybody as much as possible.

“The whole essence of the university system in South Africa is dominated by public university and mainly in urban areas. There are private universities based on what we found out but they are not functional to the extent to which the public universities are functioning.

“Like any other African country, the demand for university education is very high in South Africa. The public university cannot afford all at the moment. The public universities are not providing enough access to them with the exception of the University of South Africa which has about 400,000 students.

Other universities in the country do not have the capacity to carry that number. Education is very expensive in South Africa; only the public universities, funded by the government, can attract more students.

The demand for university education is high but the cost of funding it is also prohibiting. This makes it difficult for majority of the black population to access it. You may be aware of the ‘Fee must fall’ campaign which started in 2015. It was a response to that. They are worried that they are in a democracy but they are unable to go to university. Less than 10 per cent of black South African population has access to university education. We have 90 private universities in South Africa but only 10 are in a status to be given accreditation. We don’t have the number that we have in Nigeria in terms of the number of enrolment of students in private university. There is need for more private universities in the country.”

Equally speaking on his findings, his Nigerian counterpart, Professor Fwatshak, said the Nigerian situation required a very intentional approach. According to him, “We need private universities because as we all know, the admission crisis in public universities is real. The spaces available cannot take up all the qualified applicants. We definitely need them; the only problem is the compromised access. The fees are so high for some that it becomes inaccessible. Access is seriously constrained by the high fees. Imagine in one of the universities that I visited, I was told that a medical student pays about N6 million. That is the two-year salary of a professor in Nigeria. It means that access is for a particular class of division of the economy of a country. Because of that cost, many candidates who qualify cannot get that alternative, and if they cannot get it, then the purpose of that access becomes a problem. The few rich people who can afford it do pay and that is why some of these universities are flourishing.

“In my study for example, about ten of these private universities are very stable. Then there are others that are struggling; they find it difficult to attract students. They are just there. Public universities cannot take all. For those who can afford private universities, they should go ahead. Let the public universities strive; let them be well funded so that private universities should be an option based on the preferences of individuals. When I read through the mission and vision of the private universities, they are offering what the public universities don’t have. They want to focus on godliness and morality. If a family wants godly children, morally upright children, they prefer to send their children there. Even in the US, some parents say that God is not mentioned in public schools. For those who want morality and other related things, let the public and private universities thrive. They are not a free enterprise economy; they are not a moral economy. But let the government fund the public ones so that they can have quality education that our children deserve.

“Very few private universities declared that they are not for profit. Some others did not declare whether they are for profit or not. But their fees suggest that they are for profit. Some are actually funded by the philanthropic gestures of their founders.”

Earlier in his address, Falola, the principal investigator, told the gathering that: “The regional convening is part of a larger project to study the impact of private universities on public universities in Africa. Through commissioned research and two regional stakeholder convenings in Nigeria and Kenya, the project seeks to explore the effects of private universities on public academic institutions in Uganda, Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya, and Ghana.

“Against the backdrop of the increasing wave of private universities, public universities are affected by the poaching of faculty members, competition for bright students, and changing public perception about the role of private universities. In some instances, the increasing relevance of private universities is underscored by the problems associated with public institutions, such as frequent strikes, reduced capacity to admit students, and limited technological infrastructures and facilities. At the same time, there are skepticisms around private universities, based on the perception that many of them lack faculty members of the requisite quality and quantity. This, in turn, affects research outputs as well as the competence or knowledge base of graduates, also resulting in low academic standards, limited programmes focused on expensive fields of study, and poor infrastructure. Policy approaches and theoretical perspectives on private universities vary, especially in Africa. Although some consider private education to be beneficial, complementing public universities, there are concerns that many institutions are profit-oriented, abandoning quality or ignoring the state’s social obligation to provide affordable education.

“Despite these concerns, private universities have made immense contributions to different African countries. They have alleviated the burden of access placed on public universities, contributed to innovations in curricula, led to increased employability t graduates, and provided new models of educational delivery and funding, Some have outpaced and out-performed public universities. Although the importance of private universities is growing, there is a paucity of research on the governance models of these universities and the additional burdens they place on public universities. This project seeks to fill the gap in research and enlighten higher education policymakers through two regional stakeholder convenings and publications.”

The regional convening will afford key stakeholders a unique opportunity to share perspectives and provide insights that may inform new policies and foster international support for managing the relationship between private and public universities. The overall objective is to improve the quality of research and teaching in the higher education sector in Africa.

Issues discussed were hinged upon factors responsible for the proliferation of private universities in Africa, typologies of private universities in Africa; mission of private universities and the public good; the past and present relationship between private and public universities; the gap between demand and availability of spaces in both private and public universities; governance models in private universities and implications for public universities; regulatory frameworks of private universities and implications on public universities; and quality assessment issues in private and public universities.

Professor Oluwatotin Ogundipe, Vice-Chancellor of the university, in his keynote address, raised the various concerns in public universities which necessitated the establishment of private universities. “Public universities in many regions of Africa have witnessed tremendous growth. However, concerns exist for the following: funding, relevance of curriculum to the needs of the country; the quality of program in relation to societal and industrial needs; capacity for sustainable research; declining condition of service; inadequate infrastructural facilities; enrolment beyond carrying capacity, and alternative routes to provide higher education is establishment of private universities.”

Prominent among the participants were academics and foremost educators from Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya, and South Africa. The conference enjoyed the various inputs of the participants, some of which include Professor Adigun Agbaje, Professor Aina Ayandiji, Professor Abeku Blankson, Professor Nyarko Boampong, Professor Francis Egbokhare, Professor Jibrin Ibrahim, Professor Osei Kwarteng, Professor Femi Mimiko, Dr. Hannah Muzee, Professor Abdul Rasheed Na’Allah, Professor Ayo Olukotun and Professor Jide Owoeye, among others.