Higher Education in Africa – A Changing Landscape

One of the benefits of membership of our global executive search alliance is a deeper understanding of the dynamics of education sectors around the world. We recently spoke with Tracy Dawson, a Partner with our sister firm in South Africa, about some of the trends she is witnessing within higher education in both South Africa and the broader African region.


“We’re on the brink of a massive shift in the pedagogical landscape” noted Tracy.  “Advances in access, volume and variety of knowledge and opinion will fundamentally change the way we educate ourselves and others.”


Tracy explained that Africa is recognising that an education system which favours the privileged few perpetuates all modes of inequality.  The #feesmustfall protests signal a growing discontent in the lack of access to higher education and its cost.  The market is increasingly responsive to this dynamic; it is competitive and almost always reflects overt pan-African ambition and strategies, she noted.


In Africa, online education offers an attractive (and qualitatively appealing) component and/or alternative to on-site education.  Universities are fundamentally shifting their paradigm of ‘cost’ related to site and physical constraints.  Proliferation of private ‘for-profit’ primary, secondary and tertiary institutions is noticeable, with increased collaboration amongst existing institutions, strong merger and acquisition activity and the emergence of new education brands.  Tracy commented that there has been substantial investment from abroad to drive inclusive, accessible education.  


Tracy explained that “many of Southern Africa’s established institutions have traditionally stayed away from distance and online models … possibly to their disadvantage as younger institutions have the ‘jump’ on cornering the online market and are ahead on the accreditation cycle.”


Key topics of discussion within the higher education sector in Africa also include locally relevant MBAs, multidisciplinary degrees, blended delivery, EaaS (Education as a Service) and internationally linked programmes (including twinning, franchising and double or joint degrees).


Tracy concluded by noting that the skills gap in Africa is an increasingly hot topic.  There is growing recognition that development and income growth will only occur with a better education system.  This means a pivotal role for African Universities, but given some of the political, social and geographic complexities of the region, change will no doubt be dynamic and interesting.


With thanks to Tracy Dawson, Partner IRC South Africa (Jack Hammer).



Rohan A. Carr

August 2018

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