Universities and economic development in Africa

This study attempts to address the gaps in research on the characteristics and dynamics of the relationship between higher education and development, and the contextual and institutional factors that facilitate or inhibit these relationships. The study, with a focus on Africa, utilises theoretical perspectives offered by the fields of higher education studies, institutional theory and development economics.

The overall aim of the study was to investigate the complex relationships between higher education (specifically universities) and economic development in selected African countries with a focus on the context in which universities operate (political and socio-economic), the internal structure and dynamics of the universities themselves, and the interaction between the national and institutional contexts. In addition, the study aimed to identify those factors (practices, strategies) and conditions (context) – at both national and institutional levels – that facilitate or inhibit universities’ ability to make a sustainable contribution to economic development.

The report presents a synthesis of the key findings of the eight African case studies, organised around the three components of the conceptual framework, namely, the nature and extent of a pact on higher education’s role in development; the nature and strength of the academic cores of the eight universities in the sample; and coordination and connectedness that link universities to development. It includes a brief overview of the higher education and economic development contexts within each country; the extent to which there was evidence of a pact around the role of the university in development; the extent to which knowledge policies and activities were coordinated in each country; a rating of the strength of the academic cores of the eight universities in the sample; and an assessment of the connectedness of each university to its external stakeholders and its academic core.

The main conclusion from this study include the need for a pact on a role for the university as an ‘engine for development’; the need to strengthen the academic cores of African universities via, amongst others, improving incentive structures; and the need to improve policy and implementation coordination at national and institutional levels in order to connect universities more effectively to development.

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