Universities and economic development in Africa

The project investigated the complex relationships between higher education and economic development in 8 African countries with a focus on

  1. the socio-economic and political contexts in which universities operate,
  2. the internal structure and dynamics of the universities themselves, and
  3. the interaction between the national and institutional contexts.

The project aimed to identify those factors and conditions, at both national and institutional levels, which facilitate or inhibit universities’ ability to make a sustainable contribution to economic development.

The project involved

  1. a review of the international literature;
  2. case studies of three systems that have effectively linked higher education and economic development (Finland, South Korea and North Carolina in the US) and
  3. case studies of 8 African countries and universities.

Key findings:

  1. There was a lack of clarity and agreement (pact) about a development model and the role of higher education in economic development, at both national and university levels.
  2. Research production at the eight African universities was not strong enough to enable them to build on their traditional undergraduate teaching roles and make a sustained contribution to development via new knowledge production.
  3. In none of the countries was there a coordinated effort between government, external stakeholders and the university to systematically strengthen the contribution that the university can make to development.

Project outputs:

Universities and economic development in Africa
By Nico Cloete, Tracy Bailey, Pundy Pillay, Ian Bunting & Peter Maassen


Universities and economic development in Africa synthesis the findings from the eight case studies and presents the key findings of each of the case studies. The analysis and discussion presented in the book draw three main conclusions about the relationship between higher education and development in Africa.


To view the individual case study reports, click here.

Universities and economic development in Africa
Pact, academic core and coordination: SYNTHESIS REPORT
By Nico Cloete, Tracy Bailey and Peter Maassen


This seminal CHET publication draws together evidence and synthesises the findings from eight African case studies that formed part of the HERANA project.

Linking higher education and economic development:
Implications for Africa from three successful systems
By Pundy Pillay


Finland, South Korea and the state of North Carolina in the US are three systems that have successfully harnessed higher education in their economic development initiatives. This publication draws together evidence on the three systems, synthesises the key findings, and distils the implications for African countries.

Higher Education and Economic Development
A Review of the Literature
By Pundy Pillay


The widespread recognition that tertiary education is a major driver of economic competitiveness in an increasingly knowledge-driven global economy has made high-quality tertiary education more important than ever before in both industrialised and developing countries. This review of the literature examines the relationship between higher education and economic development.

Scientific Capital and Engagement in African Universities:
The Case of the Social Sciences at Makerere University
By Patrício V Langa


In this paper, Langa argues that Bourdieu’s concept of scientific capital offers a useful perspective with which to discriminate universities, discipline fields and academics through their intellectual productivity. This notion offers more practical and heuristic possibilities than the concept of engagement. An additional subject of covered is the nature of the networks with which academics, both academic and non-academic.

Cross-national higher education performance indicators:
ISI publication output figures for 16 selected African universities
by Nelius Boshoff


Most African universities do not have any incentive to capture the details of publications produced by their university staff. Even in cases where records are captured, the lists normally include a mixture of publications in both scholarly and popular sources, making it difficult to separate peer reviewed publications from non-peer reviewed publications. The purpose of this paper is to set out the publication output figures for 17 African universities that are the foci in a CHET project on cross-national higher education performance indicators.

Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University:
An engine of economic growth for South Africa and the Eastern Cape region?
by Rómulo Pinheiro, University of Oslo


This paper considers the extent to which Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University meets the expected objectives for newly-created comprehensive universities in South Africa: (i) improved access to, and articulation between, different types of programmes; (ii) efficiency gains; (iii) research synergies; and (iv) enhanced responsiveness to regional (social and economic) needs.


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HERANA countries and universities