Published 9 years ago

The economic and political transformation of a country directly correlates with the education level of its demographics. With national priorities like health care, infrastructure, housing etc, it’s impossible for countries to manage supporting the entire value chain of education, from primary to secondary to vocational and tertiary. Add infrastructure and skills-development to the need for integrated research-based learning synonymous with quality education and what you have is a glaring resource gap.

This dilemma is consistent across most countries in the world, particularly those with low GDP per capita. Rather than concerted efforts, governments have spread themselves thin trying to do everything with limited resources. This has unfortunately resulted in mismanagement, no accountability, corruption and disillusionment. The intangible destruction of long-term wealth creation is in excess of the annual financial allocation as there is a widening gap between skills needed and the output from the efforts.

A growing question therefore is: where does a government allocate its resources and how does it integrate private sector investments? The answer is complex and not a one-size-fits-all solution.


During my travels in Africa over the last ten years, I have interacted with heads of state, ministers of education, regulators, and educational faculty. The maze of bureaucracy, legislation and processes created using historic models of education is shocking. It’s small wonder no one is willing to grab the bull by its horns and bring changes to help Africa leapfrog into the future rather than dwell in the past.

I will reflect on the tertiary sector. Looking at Africa, South Africa excluded, one sees a lack of good quality universities. It’s no surprise to see some 400,000 students going abroad for post-secondary programs annually, with nearly 300,000 originating from sub-Saharan Africa. With continuing growth of populations, economic output, and school and post-secondary enrolment rates, it’s expected one in five outbound mobile students will originate from Africa within the next 20 years.

It’s evident the business models of universities globally factor international students as a revenue source. These students pay higher fees. The irony is poor African countries are in many ways subsidizing the education of students of developed countries. The most unfortunate impact of this dichotomy is less than half the students return to the continent to add any value to the country that not only paid for their education but also subsidized their peers and for their pains, suffer a

brain drain.


Let’s put this in the context of the future. United Nations’ world population projections see it increasing to 9.6 billion by 2050, up by 2.4 billion from the current population. More than 50% of this growth will come from Africa (source: The Size of it, The Economist; June 18, 2013). Africa’s population will increase from about 10% of the world’s population to over 20% by 2050. It will undoubtedly have the youngest population on the planet and if transformation in the education sector is not made on a war-footing, the outcome is going to be catastrophic.

To cater to the population and given the overflow in current institutions, there is need to establish between 450 to 500 colleges and universities in Africa over the next 10 years. This growth needs investments in billions of dollars that governments clearly do not have. Firstly, legislation needs to be amended for foreign universities to establish on the continent. This is just one step to build capacity.

There are multifold advantages of bringing quality education brands to the continent. Firstly, these institutions are highly-ranked and bring with them best practices, systems, faculty, research capacity and world-class curriculum. The model should entail that the quality of academic delivery and entry requirements on the African campus should be the same as the home campus. It should allow students to transfer freely between various campuses for a global experience. The accreditations of these institutions should be based on degrees being offered by the home campus.

Secondly, there will be a slowdown of students going abroad focused mainly towards specialized training and not routine undergraduate or post-graduate courses. This will help retain skills in the region and conserve the foreign exchange drain. Thirdly, over time, the African branches of foreign universities will attract global students. Given the lower costs, excellent weather and natural beauty of Africa, there is no reason why education cannot become part of the continent’s export ecosystem. This will become increasingly important as universities in developed countries find it difficult to invest in new facilities owing to costs.


Another step governments must institute immediately is an offset program. All large defence, infrastructure, energy, mining and other contracts given to international or local companies should require a contribution towards setting up an international university in the country either through direct investment or through a centralized education fund. Similarly, all students sent to foreign universities through state funding must require the beneficiary university to offer some of their programs.

The other vital need is innovation. Education is no longer going to be about land and building. Consumption patterns of education are changing and with technology and broadband infrastructure development will emerge the opportunity for African states to bring about the latest delivery platforms. Changes from innovations are already being implemented by well-established universities in developed countries. Partnerships with them will help shorten the learning curve.

These illustrations demonstrate the need for the education ecosystem in Africa to be catalyzed. This can only happen through proactive steps for dynamic reforms from our leaders.



– Rakesh Wahi is Vice-Chairman and

Co-founder of ABN Group.