The Ideology of Higher Education in the African Dilemma | by Francis Egbokhare

We can be knowledgeable with other people’s knowledge; we can’t be wise with their wisdom (Michel de Montaigne 1533—1592)

EDU The global agenda for Higher Education is defined in terms of the predominating human development issues and the strategies for resolving them. The challenges include poverty, gender equity, diversity, violence and conflicts,  the environment, access, literacy, leadership, democratic governance, sustainable development, innovation, knowledge generation and dissemination, global job crisis and crisis of values, among other things. “Universities are supposed to stimulate cultural, technological, ideological and social development and change. Produce individuals who have requisite leadership skills based on sound values and understand their responsibilities to society.”  Specifically, universities are supposed to: 1. Develop innovative solutions that will enable nations improve and achieve sustainable development.  2. Develop a high technological content and a skilled and flexible workforce that can compete in a highly globalised world. Both agenda bring to focus the problems of access, employability, diversity, quality of content, curricular, teachers, delivery, evaluation, skills sets disseminated, as well as literacy (especially computer and web literacy) and nature of the learning environment, to mention a few. The organisational set up, learning environment, program structure, service opportunities, leadership development opportunities, talent and skills development strategies and extracurricular activities that exist are important in breeding total excellence.

The peculiar needs of nations determine the agenda, which they set for their higher education institutions in their respective educational policies. In this regard therefore, the design and implementation of policies cannot ignore the local context in a desire to achieve so called global standards. For instance, the nature of a state, the state of the economy, the human conditions and socio-political environment should drive the ideology, policies, structure of higher education as well as the operationalization of the agenda and practice. By far the most difficult aspect of the higher education agenda in Africa is the ideology that drives the system in addition to crafting a congruent relationship between the vision, structures, processes and behaviour in the sector. While Africa is defined largely by mass poverty, an informal economy, with massive uneducated youth populations, socio-political tensions and conflicts, its education system has swung between providing manpower for non-existent colonial economy and a phantom modern industrialized state to which it aspires;  perpetuating a dependency mindset and an import-consumption mentality based on western values and an entitlement mindset that fosters a disconnect from authentic realities in addition to perpetuating appropriation of the national resources. Fundamentally, the realities of the moment are ignored in the pursuit of global ranking, world-class status while it ignores the facts of African identities, leadership crisis, religious extremism and fractious societies.

We can best situate the role of higher education in Africa within the Human Development Crisis and emerging opportunities of Africa as the new economic frontier of the world. As regards the former, universities are to provide the requisite leadership and solutions to solve the myriads of problems confronting the continent. With regard to the latter, they must catalyse economic growth and provide requisite skill and capacities to take ownership and set agenda for Africa’s economic and cultural renaissance.

There is however a consensus that Higher Education (HE) has not achieved the desired outcome in Africa. This is because even though we have often focused narrowly on the development of intellectual competence, the problems of employability of graduates, lack of problem-solving and critical thinking skills of products, the fundamental issues for African HE are more of a philosophical and ideological nature. They relate to inappropriate models, especially ones built on western-style institutions inserted in rich business-industrial societies with huge private capital driven by free markets (as opposed to Africa’s poor premodern societies, with predominantly informal economies) and dissonant governance frameworks, incongruent structures and processes which lead to inappropriate worldview of outcomes of the system, cultural disconnect with the authentic African realities, colonial nature of the institutional structures, content and curriculum, among others. What one is saying here is that, no amount of money pumped into the system, no amount of training provided to the operators will yield the desired outcomes.


Ayandele (1974) describes the outcomes of Nigeria’s HE as “products of ill-suited, ill-digested, procrustean and mentally benumbing western style education system. They have British heads and Nigerian hands “white men in black” (p55), transmogrified individuals, and mental slaves of foreign cultures. In terms of their conception of man, worldview, aspiration, lifestyle and conception of society, they are disconnected from indigenous paradigms. He describes them as ideologically barren, politically mischievous, culturally disconnected and lacking in originality.” Awoonor (2001) accentuates the above when he states that the “physical dependence [of Africa] is underwritten by a strong superstructure of ideas and concepts, which affirms that we are inferior, stupid, our African ways primitive and we can only proceed under tutelage of our historical conquerors (p15-16).” It shows up as self-negation, self-doubt, lack of confidence, pervasive inferiority complex and so on. It explains why Africans have assumed a submissive and cringing mode as well as why African leaders cede too much control to western institutions.

Moghalu (2013) blames Africa’s underdevelopment on the absence of a coherent worldview among its peoples. He defines worldview as a way of thinking or seeing the world that creates an incentive for real change and progress, and not so much what the actual solutions might be (p7). ‘It provides the mindset, mental framework, the psychological infrastructure that motivates, inspires and organises the thinking and actions of societies to ensure the emergence of a consensus and creates a deliberate trajectory for development’. Moghalu continues that for the requisite worldview to take root, the educational system among other factors must play an important role (p14).Hence, Eke (1974) summarizes the ethical dimension of the African Dilemma succinctly in terms of the concept of ‘the two publics’, i.e. the primordial and civic publics. In the words of Osaghae (2006), ‘most educated Africans are citizens of two publics in the same society. They gain from the civic public and give grudgingly. Although they derive little or no material benefit from the primordial public, they are expected to give generously. It explains why ethnicity, nepotism and corruption are underlying element of the African politics. It also explains why the state is soft and ineffective, that is, why rules are applied copiously and in a lax manner rather than vigorously and consistently (p234). In addition, it underlies the disconnect between leadership and the people, the dislocated social order, the appropriation and personalization of office that define endemic pathologies of contemporary politics.’

Arising from the foregoing and judging from the fact that leadership deficit and corruption are the overriding malaise plaguing Nigeria today, the role and mandate of Universities in Nigeria cannot be limited to preparing young people to enter into the labour market, equipping students with necessary competences and enhancing their capacities to meet specific work place demands. It must include framing the worldview and value system, developing their confidence to provide innovative and endogenous solutions, protecting their identity, preserving and developing of indigenous knowledge resources. It should also include the transformation of the social system for life-enhancing social order. In addition, the Nigerian University must model the ideals of the society, which it seeks to create.

Francis Egbokhare is a Professor in the Department of Linguistics and African Languages, University of Ibadan.



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