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The Dilemma of Post-Colonial Universities

Yann Lebeau
Mobolaji Ogunsanya


Yann Lebeau et Mobolaji Ogunsanya

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1The papers in this volume were presented at a conference organized by the Institut Français de Recherche en Afrique (IFRA) at the University of Ibadan on the 26th and 27th of October, 1998 as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations of the University. This conference brought together scholars who have been collaborating on a research programme which is concerned with elite formation and the restructuring of higher education in sub-Saharan Africa. The project was originally conceived in 1996 by IFRA and the Centre d'Etude d'Afrique Noire (Bordeaux, France).

2Borne out of the observation that there has been a profound crisis in higher education in most countries in sub-Saharan Africa since the beginning of the 80s, the project (which was scheduled to span two years) aimed at going beyond the crisis problematic in order to reflect on the ongoing restructuring of national systems of higher education.

3The choice of countries (Nigeria, Kenya, Niger, Senegal) was not based on the features of their educational systems. Rather, the selection served as an exposition of the noticeable diversity in the current state of tertiary education on the continent, as well as an examination of common features of elite training in Africa. The research sample comprised countries with diverse cultural environments, contrasting colonial pasts and unequal levels of development of their university systems.

4Such diversity required the careful study of each individual situation, rather than taking a global or transnational view. In line with this, the project proposed a series of problematic perspectives, rather than applying a general framework to each country. Depending on the countries, these premises aimed at:

  • Assessing the impact of educational sectors' adjustment programmes and international organizations' aid programmes on the formulation of educational policies and the management of higher education systems;
  • Highlighting the past and present paths favoured in the attainment of political and economic leadership positions;
  • Studying the issue of adjustment between the provision of higher education and the needs of the labour market in terms of skilled personnel;
  • Understanding the present parameters of the demand for higher education;
  • Revealing the forms and conditions of the privatization of public universities and the emergence of private institutions;
  • Measuring the impact of underfunding of public education on the social and intellectual life of the universities;
  • Assessing the impact of higher education acquired abroad on the political and professional culture of new elite, and finally;
  • Analysing the discourse of national political leaders on the future of higher education.

5Examples drawn from anglophone and francophone universities of Africa converge on this basic reality: The African public university is no longer the breeding ground of the elite, as was the case during and immediately after the colonial period. Rather, its prestigious position has been progressively eroded by rapid population growth, an increased access to secondary school education, and by a decline in the socio-economic value of the certificate. Compounding this situation, education in Africa has witnessed a severe decrease in funding (resulting from extended economic stagnation on the continent), a changing international and regional labour market and, last but not least, a standard depreciation and weak personnel management as a result of constant misdirected intrusions of the military and/or 'one party' post-colonial governments into academic affairs.

6With half of the overall student population of the continent, Nigeria naturally constitutes the central focus of this book. The contributions of Boubacar Issa Abdourahmane, Hélène Charton, Pascal Bianchini, Falilou Ndiaye and Boubacar Niane are, however, there to remind us that staff survival strategies, student delinquency and lack of institutional innovation are not exclusive to Nigeria.

  • 1 See F. Sow, Elite Formation and the Restructuring of Higher Education in sub-Saharan Africa. , Conf (...)

7The two-day forum held in Ibadan stimulated debates within the academic community of the university, revolving mainly around the question of the future of public institutions of higher learning in this challenging environment.1

8As summarized by Boubacar Niane during the concluding session, the dilemma of the African university is quite clear: either the academic community reacts through innovations that will justify its presence in the restructured higher education landscape, or the brain drain will continue and these public institutions will be relegated to the training of second-class citizens by equally marginalized lecturers.

9Given the lack of knowledge African scholars have of the prevailing situations in sister institutions in neighbouring countries, it was suggested that IFRA should continue to support the programme in association with African institutions to widen the network and to facilitate such South-South forums elsewhere on the continent. This publication is the first step in this direction. New research is being sponsored in Nigeria, and we hope the dialogue will continue in Dakar and Paris with respect to the initiatives of our partners at the Cheikh Anta Diop University, and Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (Paris).

10It is the sincere wish of the participants in this project that our collective aim will attract the interest of those who are still concerned for the future of the university in Africa, despite the severe odds of the past fifteen years.

11Ibadan May 2000


1 See F. Sow, Elite Formation and the Restructuring of Higher Education in sub-Saharan Africa. , Conference Report, Ibadan, IFRA/ABB, 1999.

© IFRA-Nigeria, 2000

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