So how have these African universities bucked the trend, and made their voices heard outside Africa?
Six key factors
In researching the issue, I identified six lessons that can be learnt from these successful African universities:
Research excellence: The University of Witwatersrand has driven a 37% increase in its scholarly outputs over the last five years, with an emphasis on quality. The university has also adopted a strategic focus on increasing the number of post-graduate students. It aims to have post-graduates as 45% of its student population by 2022. This, in turn, has helped drive the surge in scholarly output. The university also has a clear focus on priority research areas where it can make a significant impact. An example is clinical research to manage AIDS.
Research support infrastructure: Research productivity is crucial for academic promotions within the universities. The University of Cape Town in particular has invested heavily in a pro-research infrastructure. This comes with extensive research administrative support and guidance. In Nigeria, the University of Ibadan recently established a new leadership role to focus on research and innovation.
A balance between the teaching and research workloads, possibly by restricting student intake: The University of Ibadan, for example, has adopted an approach of rigorously maintaining a student-staff ratio that ensures academic workloads allow time for research. The university has maintained an annual undergraduate intake of approximately 4,000 students. This has been despite growing pressure to increase the numbers.
Attracting the best professors and researchers: The University of the Witwatersrand has made a concerted effort to recruit professors with high citations – “A”-rated professors.
Setting levels of academic expectation: Covenant University in Nigeria has adopted a research, citations, innovation and teaching agenda that drives academic activities at all levels. There’s significant support for staff through workshops in grant writing and publication.
Zewail City of Science and Technology was founded by Nobel laurate in Chemistry, Professor Ahmed Zewail. It has four Nobel laurates as members of its Supreme Advisory Board. It’s therefore no surprise that it has a significant number of its scholarly outputs in the top 10% of global academic journals.
Forging international partnerships: The University of Ibadan, and the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, also emphasise the importance of international references for professorial promotion. The University of Nigeria, Nsukka has taken the decision to actively seek collaborative international partners to mitigate the lack of research infrastructure.
As part of his research, the author also conducted interviews with: Dr Marilet Sienaert, Executive Director Research, University of Cape Town, South Africa; Professor Zeblon Vilakazi, Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research and Postgraduate affairs, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa; Professor Olanike Adeyemo, Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research, Innovation and Strategic Partnerships, University of Ibadan, Nigeria; Professor Salah Obayya, Zewail City of Science and Technology, Egypt; Professor Emeka Iweala, Director, Covenant University Centre for Research, Innovation and Discovery, Covenant University, Nigeria; Professor James Ogbonna, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Academic, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Nigeria.