Higher Education in Sub-Saharan Africa

Importance of university education

University enrollment rates in sub-Saharan Africa are among the lowest in the world, averaging 5%. International economists have often considered this fact irrelevant to Africa’s development and have advised African governments to reduce university budgets. However, the correlation between university enrollment rates and national income is strong (Fig. 1: gif pdf). No high-income country (other than Switzerland) has university enrollment less than 50%. Korea’s growth in wealth occurred simultaneously with a 10-fold increase in university population.

Could African countries follow this path? Low enrollment rates are not caused by lack of qualified applicants. Recent graduates of universities throughout Africa, surveyed in 2006, described exploding demand for higher education in most African countries, with overflowing classrooms and families pooling money to send one child to college. Rising demand means that students come from a wide range of family backgrounds and incomes. Universities in Africa, as anywhere, can be engines of social mobility.

Per capita income is strongly correlated with university enrollment both between countries and over time in one evolving country. This figure shows 2005 data from a sample of 106 countries (excluding only micro-states, major oil producers, and former Soviet republics.)

This website presents the writings and experiences of these students and resulting recommendations for concrete policy actions to help 1) expand university access in Africa,
2) strengthen university education and training, and 3) retain university graduates.

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