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Wednesday, 9 February 2011

SWAZI UNIVERSITIES LACK RELEVANCE

Who would disagree with King Mswati III who told his subjects on Friday that ‘quality education’ shapes the future of the next generation?


But, the King went on to say, ‘May I also encourage government to continue with its drive, of opening competent and internationally recognised universities to operate in the country.’ Thus suggesting that ‘quality education’ already existed in his kingdom.


It was probably a coincidence of timing that only days earlier, Wilson Ntshangase, the Swazi Minister of Education, said the government would pay for up to 800 scholarships at Limkokwing University, which could cost up to E16 million (US$2.1 million), when it is due to open in Mbabane in April 2011.


Since the King brought up the subject, let’s think about what universities should be trying to achieve in Swaziland.


I’ve already written that Limkokwing has a reputation for poor quality students, being taught by poor quality teachers, on poor quality courses. So, we shouldn’t expect it to meet the ‘competent and internationally recognised’ universities standard.


But, what of the state-run University of Swaziland (UNISWA), the only substantially-sized university in Swaziland, which has King Mswati, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, as its Chancellor? What about its quality?


Only last May (2010), the World Bank (WB) issued a report on UNISWA, and the role it plays in the kingdom. The WB revealed that in 2007 UNISWA was placed 7,321st among all universities in the world (and 84th among universities in Africa) in the Webometrics Ranking of World Universities.


You can make of that what you will. Of course, we can argue for ever about how relevant was the criteria that Webometrics used in its judgement. It’s better to measure UNISWA on what it says it wants to do and on what the Kingdom of Swaziland says it needs it to do.


The WB reported that UNISWA’s core mandate is generally accepted by the university and government as producing people with knowledge and skills to benefit the national economy.


‘In reality this purpose seems to have progressively received less attention as the focus seems to have shifted to providing young Swazis university qualifications regardless of their relevance to the economy and to overall national development,’ the WB concluded.


The WB said UNISWA produced its own strategic plans to show where it saw its priorities, but the link between these plans and national development ‘is at best obscure’. There is no firm connection between ‘the national development agenda and university study, research and community development programs’.


The management of the university is out of touch with the needs of the kingdom, the WB stated. UNISWA has King Mswati as its Chancellor and he directly appoints the chair of the university council (UC), at present one of his half-brothers, Prince Phinda, takes the role.


The current UC, which governs the university and oversees its administration, is dominated by people from the public service and has very limited representation of organisations and industries that could be expected to employ the university’s graduates.


The appointment of UC members is not necessarily ‘merit-based’. ‘As such it lacks balance between expertise and experience of the members and the most important sectors of the economy,’ the WB reported.


Courses offered at the university are limited to undergraduate levels of study with less than 1 percent of students in graduate programs (in 2007) except for those in the post-graduate certificates in education.


‘Therefore, UNISWA does not produce the level of knowledge workers who could spearhead research and who could foster research and development partnerships with industry,’ the WB stated.


UNISWA is mainly a ‘teaching university’. This does not do much for producing graduates with ‘high-level research and analytical skills’.


UNISWA also excluded children who were poor and from rural areas and because of this could be ‘reproducing social inequalities and cementing the current social class structure.


‘The fact that gifted children from poor families have little or no access to higher education is not just a personal loss to them and their families; it is an unaffordable wastage of the county’s potential human capital base and its associated development impact,’ the WB stated.


‘The vast majority of university students comes from rich urban areas, and relatively few from more remote rural areas. Since secondary schools in remote, rural areas tend to be considerably weaker than schools in urban areas, it is difficult even for talented children, to qualify for university education.’


So, a near complete failure on the part of UNISWA to meet the needs of the kingdom.


Where does that leave us? Certainly, Swaziland needs well-qualified graduates who can meet the challenges of the future. But, present government policies aren’t going to achieve this.


Last week’s announcement of support for Limkokwing, a university offering courses that have very little relevance to Swaziland’s development needs (e.g. Creative Multimedia, Event Management, Business Information Technology, Public Relations) is dispiriting. Almost certainly, resources will have to be diverted away from UNISWA to the new university to pay for those 800 scholarships; undermining UNISWA’s already diminishing position. UNISWA has already been forced to reduce the number of students it takes because of government expenditure cutbacks.


Only yesterday (8 February 2011), students marched in Mbabane and delivered a petition to the Ministry of Labour and Social Security to protest at scholarship cuts.


Universities in Swaziland lack relevance to the needs of the kingdom. The WB noted there ‘seems to be no formal processes for placing the university [UNISWA] at the center of the national development dialogue’. In plain English that means the university and the government don’t plan together for the kingdom’s needs.


That should be the first priority for the future – not giving money to Limkokwing. A clear plan showing what are the needs of Swaziland and how UNISWA can contribute to meeting them is needed before any other developments in tertiary education are made.


Swaziland is too poor a kingdom to waste money on UNISWA and Limkokwing when they have no relevance.


To read the full analysis of UNISWA, which is part of the larger report, The Education System in Swaziland, click below.







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