The last two decades have seen a brisk growth in Christian universities in sub-Saharan Africa. This phenomenon exists at the intersection of two of the most dynamic social trends on the continent: the rapid rise of Christian adherence and the volatile growth of higher education.
A century ago, there were only nine million Christians living in Africa. Most were in Egypt’s and Ethiopia’s ancient churches. By 1950, this number had tripled, to about 30 million. Today, out of a population of around 1.2 billion, there are an estimated 582 million African Christians — Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, Pentecostal and belonging to independent churches.
African higher education’s growth has also been rapid. In the 1950s, there were only 41 higher education institutions and 16,500 students on the whole continent. By 2010, 5.2 million students had enrolled in 668 higher education institutions in sub Saharan Africa, more than double the number in 2000.
This rapid growth has been far from smooth. Steep increases in demand coupled with cuts in state higher education funding left a gap that has been filled by the private sector, and increasingly by Churches. State and church are now educational partners, but there are some tensions inherent in this relationship.
African universities today are emerging from a turbulent half century. The immediate post-colonial era brought high hopes, with supportive governments and massive international investments.
But by the 1980s, African universities were suffering deep financial cuts as falling commodity prices and inflated energy prices crippled national budgets. World Bank and International Monetary Fund advisers pushed debtor nations to reallocate educational spending toward primary and secondary schools. Meanwhile, authoritarian regimes suspected flagship universities of subversion and slashed their budgets. By the 1990s, even the finest African universities were in crisis.
To compound these problems, the growth of secondary education drove a relentless demand for tertiary enrolments.
Governments mandated their flagship universities to enroll far beyond their carrying capacities. New regional institutions were founded and tertiary technical colleges were granted university status.
Even with increases in funding, African higher education budgets lagged behind enrollment gains. Thousands of African academics were so discouraged by the educational crisis that they left to find work elsewhere.
SOURCE: Joel Carpenter