Data Collection and Benchmarking to Improve African University Standards

Students attend a course at the University of Ghana, which participated in the pilot benchmarking exercise. Dominic Chavez/World Bank.

A recent workshop in Abuja, Nigeria, brought together over 130 participants from 18 African countries, and delegates from Korea, China and international corporations to analyze the results of Sub-Saharan Africa’s first pilot regional benchmarking exercise for universities.

The benchmark initiative helps universities measure the effectiveness of their applied sciences, engineering, and technology (ASET) programs by using comprehensive performance indicators and best practices at comparable African and global institutions. It is part of a larger goal of the Partnership for Skills in Applied Sciences, Engineering and Technology (PASET) to establish a cultural paradigm of data-driven strategic planning in the region’s higher education institutions.

PASET is an Africa-led partnership that invests in strengthening ASET fields at the region’s universities and research institutions, to help them respond to the African market’s biggest skills needs.

Held from June 14-16, 2016, the workshop was hosted by PASET in conjunction with the Association of African Universities (AAU) and Nigeria’s National Universities Commission. It disseminated the results from the pilot exercise, which used data provided by 28 universities along with select indicators, ranging from learning achievement and teaching quality to inclusion, labor market outcomes, and research. It also explored ways to use these results to facilitate knowledge-sharing with the industry as well as emerging economies such as China and Korea – who offer useful lessons in building stronger university-industry linkages.

Dr. Jeff Mukora, a director who helps assess the quality of Mozambique’s higher education programs at its National Council for Quality Assurance and Accreditation (CNAQ), believes the workshop will go a long way in helping to harmonize higher education systems across Africa. “Benchmarking processes are complex and they require time, adequate resources, strong political will, academic cooperation, and perseverance to work successfully. It also needs the buy in from students, academics, and employers,” explained Mukora.

For Dr. Mukora, the workshop was an opportunity to network with benchmarking specialists from other countries, and he has already received helpful examples of how to design a new student survey. He recommends expanding benchmarking exercises to national quality assurance agencies, noting that a majority of Africa’s 26 quality assurance agencies lack monitoring bodies.

Strategizing to improve teaching and learning standards

Higher education and benchmarking experts, including Dr. Jamil Salmi of the World Bank, Dr. Ying Cheng of Shanghai Jiao Tong University, and Manja Klemencic who works with Harvard and Cambridge Universities, led group sessions on integrating the pilot results in strategies for talent development, financing, governance and accountability, and improving teaching and learning standards. They also revealed the universities’ challenges with low compliance for certain indicators and inconsistencies in data, and ways to combat these in future rounds of data collection.

According to Dr. Brice Sinsin, Rector of the University of Abomey Calavi, the workshop allowed his institution to better detect its weaknesses and collect best practices from students, faculties, and schools in regards to the gathering of statistical data.

“The University of Abomey will participate in all workshops organized in this area at its own expense,” said Dr. Sinsin. “I encourage other university presidents and rectors to also take part. Going forward, I recommend organizing capacity building for technical staff in universities to help them not just collect data, but also analyze it and implement benchmarking internally within our schools.”

International experts at the workshop shared what has worked in their countries. For example, Kalyani Putty-Rogbeer, from Mauritius’s Tertiary Education Commission, shared their experience in data collection and maintenance of management information systems (MIS) explaining how they incentivize universities under their purview to provide the necessary data. Professor So Young Kim, of the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), shared Korean best practices in conducting labor market surveys and building stronger links with industries.

Vincent Nnadi, Executive General Manager at the international oil and gas firm Total E&P, was pleased that an initiative like PASET is seeking to strengthen the capacities of African universities. “We believe there is a gap in the educational system and that it must be bridged to enable local institutions to catch up with the rest of the world,” he said.

Nnadi shared that Total has set up an international faculty exchange program between the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Nigerian universities, and encouraged other multinationals to partner with at least two universities to help build their capacities through scholarships, training and research.

Recommendations and Next Steps 

The workshop produced a full set of recommendations, below are a few of the key conclusions:

  • National tertiary education agencies and institutions should conduct benchmarking regularly to ensure quality and efficiency.
  • African universities should establish linkages with employers to effectively groom industry-ready graduates, and embrace industrial training (e.g. through student internships). They should also revise their curricula to bridge the knowledge gap with industry requirements, and conduct regular labor market surveys to improve the curriculum’s relevance.
  • Higher education institutes and national agencies should have a unified MIS as well as a unit responsible for data collection and maintenance.
  • Categorize educational activity expenditures as stated in the current methodology into science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and non-STEM programs/universities.

Next steps include issuing a call for a new round of data collection for universities that were unable to participate in the last round, and further engage regional and sub-regional bodies on higher education as well as private sector. Additionally, PASET’s benchmarking team is developing a framework for a data center based at an African institution, which would provide benchmarking technical assistance to universities and national agencies in coming years.

Source: World Bank

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