Education Higher Education in Africa
Viraiyan Teeroovengadum
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 June 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0252


Africa is known as the cradle of humanity; scientific evidence shows that the continent is where it all started for the human species. Unsurprisingly, it is contended that early forms of higher education existed in Africa well before the contemporary universities came into existence. However, today the large majority of least developed countries are found in Africa and the continent’s higher education institutions have been struggling to keep pace with the standards set by those in the developed countries. The present higher education landscape in Africa is an extremely dynamic one and research in African higher education has contributed in finding solutions to the practical problems that the sector faces. This article provides an overview of key resources on higher education in Africa. First, resources that provide comprehensive overviews of the generic issues pertaining to African higher education are presented. Subsequently, studies on higher education in Africa are grouped in key themes that correspond to key research areas. The themes are General Overviews, National Development, Policies and Governance, Access and Equity, Research, Assessment of Education Quality, Academic Profession, and Internationalization. While the themes can be seen as reasonably distinct from each other based on their primary focus, they do possess some conceptual similarities. For example, some studies under the internationalization category also relate to the academic profession or students’ outcomes.

General Overviews

A sample of studies in higher education examine the state of higher education in Africa in a broad sense. Zeleza 2016 is a comprehensive resource on the higher education landscape around the world with particular insights for Africa. Teferra 2017 is another comprehensive book that presents eleven in-depth case studies of African universities. Teferra 2016 is a related publication that provides additional insights with regards to the contribution of thee eleven African universities examined. Sherman 1990 is a dated but valuable resource providing information about the historical development of higher education in Africa. Van Wyk and Higgs 2007 offers an interesting idea for a true “African university,” one that espouses the philosophies of Africa.

  • Sherman, M. A. B. 1990. The university in modern Africa. Journal of Higher Education 61.4: 363–385.

    While now dated, this article, which focuses on examining the role of the university in Africa in 1990, is still a valuable study. It provides a thorough description of the evolution of higher education in Africa and argues that it has a major role to play in finding solutions to the continent’s problems.

  • Teferra, D. 2016. African flagship universities: Their neglected contributions. Higher Education 72.1: 79–99.

    Provides a good overview of eleven “flagship” universities in Africa using relevant statistics on enrollment trends, graduate output, academic profiles, and research productivity.

  • Teferra, D. 2017. Flagship universities in Africa. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan.

    A comprehensive book on “flagship” universities; provides in-depth, country-specific case studies of the role of these universities across different regions in Africa in the politics of higher education (invariably shaping the higher education sector in those countries).

  • Teferra, D., and P. G. Altbach. 2004. African higher education: Challenges for the 21st century. Higher Education 47.1: 21–50.

    While recognizing that many challenges facing African higher education are country-specific, the authors examine some of the main ones that cut across the continent.

  • van Wyk, B., and P. Higgs. 2007. The call for an African university: A critical reflection. Higher Education Policy 20.1: 61–71.

    The study suggests that universities in Africa should espouse the African philosophy and should service primarily the African continent instead of borrowing policies and practices from other parts of the world.

  • Zeleza, P. T. 2016. The transformation of global higher education, 1945–2015. African Histories and Modernities. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

    Provides a description of the dynamic environment in which universities operate worldwide. Included in the African Histories and Modernities series, the book contains particular insight into African universities.

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