African Universities’ Performance Rankings


By Professor Kiremire At the beginning of this year, there was a public outcry in Uganda as to why the renowned Makerere University, one of Africa’s oldest universities responsible for producing some of Sub-Sahara’s outstanding intellectuals and post-African independence political leaders, dropped from African university ranking position number 18 in 2006 to position 54 in 2007. Such an outrage resulted in a conference that took place about two weeks ago in Uganda to analyse why the institution that had enjoyed academic performance glory for many years is performing so poorly. And Makerere University administrators’ immediate concern was far fetched. After all, who could forget that this institution produced renowned alumni such as the late Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, the first president of the Republic of Tanzania, Mr Benjamin Mkapa, who also became the president of Tanzania, Prof. Ali Mazrui, a renowned scholar now living in the USA, Prof. Mamdani, currently residing in the USA, Prof. Lubadri, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Malawi, and here in Namibia I can mention Mr. Ankama, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Education, and many others. Incidentally, the author of this article is also an alumni of Makerere University. Makerere University of the 50s and 60s was such a highly sought out institution of learning such that Africa’s outstanding academics such as Mr John Mwanakatwe, the current Chancellor of the University of Zambia is known to have walked by foot across the breadth and width of southern and eastern Africa, from Lusaka, via Dar es Salaam and Nairobi, to Kampala in search of its knowledge. Mwanakatwe did not only become one of Zambia’s very first degree holders, but Independent Zambia’s first Finance Minister. He is currently the Chancellor of the University of Zambia and an accomplished author whose literal opinion shapes society. Makerere University boasts of contemporary outstanding professors such as Karim, internationally recognized for ground-breaking cancer treatment research. Makerere academic and human resource products are not only limited to Sub-Saharan Africa. Those of us who enjoyed its high quality academic environment and mentally stimulating social space in our youth in the late 60s will recall with nostalgia renowned professors such as Oumo (geography), Banage (biology) and Landor (chemistry). A pertinent and fundamental question to Makerere’s new tag, then is, why sink so low? Is such a dramatic slide real or not? Who is doing the ranking and on what basis? The ranking of universities has become a world-wide exercise, implemented by CYBERMETRIC LAB (CINDOC), a unit of the National Research Council (CSIC) of Spain through a system called Webometrics Ranking (WR). To draw a conclusive ranking, WR system has devised a parametrical criteria that includes the following: Universities or research institutionsÃÆ’Æ‘ÂÂÃÆ’ÂÀÃ…¬ÃÆ’… volume of publications, content of such publications, the number of publication citations through external links, and how often they are consulted and referenced (citation index) all which serve to promote the visibility and impact such institutions are having on the greater society. In a nutshell, the ranking is principally based on publications and is currently reflected at two levels, world ranking and African ranking (for universities in Africa). At global level, Webometrics has ranked America’s Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) of Cambridge, Massachusetts, which was founded in 1861 by William Barton Rogers as a private institution as No.1. 146 years later, this coeducational research institute whose creation was motivated by 19th century industrialization, has risen to become a 21st century academic giant. MIT comprises five academic schools (faculties), one college (which feeds the institute), and 32 departments (academic disciplines). Although in recent years it has opened its doors to arts subjects, its original emphasis was and is still on theoretical, applied, interdisciplinary scientific and technological research. MIT research has played crucial roles in the discovery and innovation of computer technology, radar and inertial guidance systems. More importantly, its research had played a major role in the American Space Race and Cold War technologies. MIT achievements in science and technology as well as in economics are numerous. Just to mention a few, they include, magnetic core memory, radar, single electron transistors, inertial guidance system, high speed photography, information theory, digital circuit, cybernetics, artificial intelligence, computer languages, public-key cryptography, elementary particles, superconductivity and genetics. In economics, we have financial engineering, welfare economics, system dynamics and neo-classical growth models. MIT boasts the largest number of Nobel laureates since 1944. By 2006, it has single-handedly churned out as many as 63 laureates with the following breakdown: Nobel prizes in Physics 27, Chemistry 12, Medicine and Physiology 9, Economics 13 and Peace 2. Apart from the Nobel Prize winners, by the end of 2006, MIT scholars and researchers had scooped 29 of the highly prestigious MacArthur Fellowships in international research. Some of MIT’s outstanding alumni include B. Adrin (ScD 1963), Apollo 11 Astronaut, Kofi Annan (MS 1972), former UN Secretary General, Benjamin Netanyahu (MS 1976), former Prime Minister of Israel, and Ben Bernke (PhD 1979), Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank, USA. Thus, MIT which started as a private institution with commercial interests, has over the years established and invested in private enterprise worldwide. Today, it is ranked as the 24th economy of the world. This year, just like the preceding ones, the United States of America (USA) as the largest world economy claimed the largest number of WR university/research institutions, ranking as follows: MIT (# 1), Stanford University (# 2), Harvard (3), University of California Berkeley (4), Pennsylvania State University (5), University of Michigan (6), University of Illinois Urbana (7), Cornell University (8), University of Wisconsin Madison (9) and University of Texas (10). Interestingly, even the famous universities in both Britain and Canada trail behind with the University of Cambridge (19), University of Toronto (23), University of British Columbia (36), University College London (57), University of Montreal (76) and McGill University (96). In Africa, South Africa’s University of Cape Town (UCT) continues to dominate the scene in the first slot. It is noteworthy that whereas UCT ranks No. 1 in Africa, it drops to No. 356 in the world. You will recall that UCT hails from humble beginnings. It was established as an all-boys high school 178 years ago. Due to increasing demand for skilled and specialised manpower to serve the expansion of diamond mining, between 1880 and 1900 it became a fully-fledged university with the departments of Mineralogy and Geology. 1886 witnessed its first intake of four female students. Between 1902 and 1918, a school of Medicine was added, while in the 1920s, it admitted its first crop of black students. Over the years, UCT has grown to 6 faculties (schools); namely Commerce, Engineering and the Built Environment, Law, Health Sciences, Humanities and Science. It has produced over 100,000 alumni who include the late Christiaan Barnard, the world-renowned successful heart transplant surgeon, and three Nobel Laureates – Sir Aaron Klug (chemistry, 1982), Prof. Alan Macleod Cormack (medicine, 1979), and JM Coetzee (literature, 2003). Apart from the 6 faculties, UCT has 60 internationally recognized specialised research units. After UCT, comes Rhodes University which ranks No. 2 in Africa but 563 in the World; Pretoria at No. 3 (604), Stellenbosch No. 4 (643), Witwatersrand No. 5 (702), University of Western Cape No.6 (1,057), University of South Africa (UNISA) No. 7 (1,355), University of KwaZulu Natal No. 8 (1,535), American University, Cairo No. 9 (1,659), and Universite de la ReUnion No.10 (2,023). Other selected ranked African universities include the University of Dar es Salaam at No. 13, (3,403), University of Zimbabwe No.14 (3,549), Universite Cheik Anta Diop de Dakar No.15 (3,607), University of Namibia (UNAM) No.16 (3,632), Kenya’s Egerton University No. 21 (4,164), Mozambique’s Universidade Eduardo Mondelane No. 23 (4,323), University of Nairobi No. 24 (4,483), Addis Ababa University No. 28 (4,794), University of Botswana No. 29 (4,866), Polytechnic of Namibia No. 32 (4,977), University of Fort Hare (South Africa) No. 40 (5,586), University of Ghana No. 43 (5,702), National University of Rwanda No. 47 (5,967), Uganda’s Makerere University No. 54 (6,429), University of Malawi No. 58 (6,549), University of Ibadan No. 65 (6,809), University of Swaziland No. 83 (7,369), University of Venda (South Africa) No. 92 (7,517), University of Lagos No. 96 (7,601) and Uganda Christian University No. 99 (7,641). A number of pertinent issues arise. For instance, whereas the University of Zambia (UNZA) appeared in 2006 WR system as No. 36 (5,317), it has not been listed in the top 100 African universities of 2007. Similarly, Sub-Saharan Africa’s largest populous society and oil giant, Nigeria has its two universities, Ibadan (No. 65/6,809) and Lagos (No. 96/7,601). It must be pointed out that, just like Makerere University, these universities, which, according to WR, are almost at the tail of both African and global university ranks, also happen to be some of Africa’s oldest universities. For example, the University of Zambia (UNZA) is already over 40 years old, having been established immediately after the country’s independence in 1964. On the other hand, there is great cause for celebration for universities such as the University of Dar es Salaam (No.13/3,403), University of Zimbabwe (No.14/3,549), and University of Namibia (No.16/3,632). For the University of Zimbabwe to maintain such a performance level in the midst of the country’s immense problems is remarkable. Similarly, for the University of Namibia which ranked No.19/3,570 in 2006, to have managed a 3-slot jump to No.16/3,632 this year is a great achievement, particularly considering that UNAM is only 15 years old, and consequently is not yet fully developed to include faculties such as Engineering and Medicine. Despite this on-going development, UNAM is clearly making its mark at both the African and global levels. It is an indication of the quality of research and publication UNAM scholarship is producing. With improved research infrastructure and staffing levels coupled with the introduction of the faculties of Engineering and Medicine, the sky seems to be the limit for this young university. – Prof. E. M. R. Kiremire is the Dean, Faculty of Science at the University of Namibia