Zimbabwe’s first and oldest university, the University of Zimbabwe (UZ), which until the 1960s and early 2000 was one of the top universities in the Southern African region, has dramatically fallen from the elite list of top most higher learning institutions in Africa.
According to a 2018 list released by the Australia-based University Ranking organisation(uniRank), the UZ is ranked number 59 out of 200 universities in Africa, a position that makes it less attractive to prospective students seeking quality education.
UniRank is a leading international higher education directory and search engine featuring reviews and rankings of over 13, 000 officially recognised universities and colleges in 200 countries. UniRank is listed as a global university ranking institution by the IREG Observatory on Academic Ranking and Excellence.
The 2018 list is dominated by South African universities with University of Pretoria topping the list, followed by the University of Cape Town.
The top 10 list is dominated by South African universities with only the University of Nairobi in Kenya and the American University in Caro, Egypt, taking the ninth and tenth positions respectively.
There seems to be a correlation between quality and affordability as the most of expensive universities appear to be the ones topping the list of the 2018 uniRank.
According to online 2017 tuition schedules, Cape Town University tops the list in being the most expensive with tuition fees pegged at US$3,572.18 (R46 000) per term depending on the programme being undertaken, followed by University of KwaZulu-Natal where prospective students have to fork out US$3,639.18 (R45 860) and North West University, whose fees are between US$2,777.85 and US$6,365.26 (R35 000- R80 200) per semester.
A parent has to fork out US$2,432,61 (R30 560) per semester to be able to send his child to the University of Pretoria.
University of Witwatersrand ranks as the least expensive of the eight South African universities in the top 10.
Other universities in the region that are in the top 200 list include University of Namibia (29), University of Botswana (38), University of Zambia (51) and University of Swaziland which is at number 125.
Commenting on the 2018 uniRank list, University of Namibia’s Dean of the Humanities and Social Sciences Faculty, Professor Jairos Kangira, said lack of highly qualified personnel was affecting most universities on the continent.
“Most South African universities have the requisite brain power in terms of distinguished professors unlike countries such as Zimbabwe, Namibia, Mozambique and others. For instance, how can the University of Zimbabwe get to the top of the rankings when most genuine professors left the country and the ones who are there are busy giving useless political comments instead of conducting research which has national and international impact?” Kangira said.
Prof Kangira said South Africa has the region’s best universities because its government has set aside national funds that motivate researchers and students to conduct in-depth research.
“South African universities are adequately funded in terms of research and innovation through the National Fund and research grants. Universities are highly funded for research and this motivates them to publish academic papers in their area of specialisation,” Prof Kangira said.
He said South African universities have secured their place at the top because their research papers are available online, which makes it easy to gauge the progress they are making, including which university is doing the best research.
Prof Kangira urged governments to adequately fund universities and remunerate personnel so that they perform to the best of their abilities and improve the quality of their respective universities.
University of Witwatersrand lecturer in the School of Languages, Literature and Media (SLL), , Professor Prof Robert Muponde, said South African universities carry out transparent procedures that are not politically influenced or motivated in appointing university chancellors and this creates a university community that is independent and professional.
“In South Africa, while the universities are described as public institutions, vice chancellors are not handpicked political appointees. The positions are nationally and internationally advertised and competed for, and the interviews are rigorous and subject to public scrutiny.
“This ensures that talent and skills inform appointments, and vice chancellors answer to those who appoint them. Competition, competence and accountability are therefore values installed at the heart of senior management, and these attributes are the fabric expected of every employee,” Prof Muponde said.
He said South African universities have risen to be the best because they are research-intensive universities and academics are expected to publish in reputable, peer-reviewed journals that bring glamour to their disciplines and faculties.
“Fake publications do not help in securing high world rankings, and give scholars a false sense of productivity and status,” he said.
Prof Muponde said other African universities should emulate South African libraries which are stocked with the reading materials in order to promote cutting edge research.
“South African universities are stocked with the latest books, periodicals and journals so that cutting edge research is at the fingertips of scholars and students in these institutions. The majority of poorly-managed universities in Africa and Zimbabwe boast of libraries whose holdings are sometimes 20 years behind the development of the disciplines taught in those universities.”
Prof Muponde pointed out that academic freedom and diversity are central to the pursuits of the research-intensive and highly ranked South African universities.
He said diversity and freedom are considered inseparable and non-negotiable in the pursuit of knowledge and excellence thereby marking South African universities as the best in regional and international rankings.