Prof Chacha Nyaigotti-Chacha, the executive secretary of the Inter-University Council for East Africa, examines the plight and possible future of universites in Africa.
Lack of funds remains a big problem facing African universities
The challenges facing universities in Africa are similar to those facing universities all over the world, particularly in Asia, the Arab world and Latin America.
They include, coping with an increase in student numbers and the proliferation of unregulated degree programmes, extended to universities in Europe and the United States as well.
Student enrolment at African universities started increasing in the post-colonial era.
As governments placed greater emphasis on schooling, it meant that more students sought university admission.
However, governments did not allocate sufficient funds for universities.
The situation worsened in the 1970s and 1980s with the introduction of structural adjustment programmes imposed by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.
Funding from exchequers reduced drastically and in some cases stopped completely.
Many universities were not prepared for this.
The financial crisis was compounded by the fact that a large number of students were government-sponsored.
With the cut in direct funding, students and their parents were called upon to carry the additional financial burden.
But the majority of them could not afford to do so.
Universities and governments are now placing greater emphasis on loan schemes, so students do not have to pay fees up front.
Governments should, however, plan well and ensure that capitalisation for the scheme is guaranteed, properly administered and managed.
Thousands of African students are studying abroad
In countries like Ghana, students have been involved in the regulation of loans.
This is a positive step, and it shows the way forward on how the needs of students can be addressed through co-operation.
Efforts are also being stepped up to recover outstanding monies loaned to students since the 1970s.
Kenya has had much success in this regard.
Despite funding problems, the number of students seeking enrolment is expected to continue growing.
Universities such as Makerere in Uganda have been forced to hold lectures in shifts.
Students can attend classes during lunch breaks, evenings and on weekends.
This has led to overcrowding, over-stretched lecturers and poor maintenance, especially in the case of laboratories and libraries; although new facilities are now being built at Makerere.
While Africa still has well-trained academics, to compare and compete with academic institutions around the world, African governments and universities need strategies to ensure the quality of academic programmes.
At the moment lecturers are not paid well, and their efforts to improve teaching and carry out research are not backed up by monetary resources.
In this regard, the challenge posed by the growth in private universities in large parts of Africa has been a blessing to the public ones.
With students being given more freedom to choose which university and degree programme to attend, all universities are waking up to address the issue of quality.
Leadership is another challenge facing universities. Senior appointments are not always made on merit, with political and ethnic considerations coming into the equation.
Many universities across Africa have been hit by lecturers' strikes
Even where merit is applied, politicians and government officials have been accused in some cases of trying to exercise day-to-day control.
Africa has many well-qualified people who could hold senior university posts, but they lack training to run what are complex institutions.
The Association of African Universities has now established a programme to provide vice-chancellors and registrars with strategic leadership training.
In a nutshell, the challenges facing African universities are many, but they are being addressed.
The transformation process is not going to be easy or cheap, but I am confident universities on the continent will meet the benchmark.