African Perspectives on Ranking in Higher Education

About a decade ago when global ranking of universities was primed for unfolding, the African higher education system prepared to take advantage of the utility value of ranking in improving the quality of the system. By 2001, Nigeria had signed up as the first sub-Sahara African country to rank its universities. Tunisia in North Africa is listed as one of the early birds embracing the scheme.

By 2010, the Africa Union endorsed a regional initiative - the African Quality Rating Mechanism (AQRM) with 34 higher education institutions from all the Regional Economic Communities (RECs) in Africa participating in its inaugural edition. This paper reviews development in higher education ranking in Africa with special focus on Nigeria and the African Quality Rating Mechanism. It explores accountability issues and the uses to which ranking/rating should be put in bolstering the quality of the higher education system in the region. It notes that ranking can be a strong determinant of educational policy thrust insofar as the goal is to engender competition (within the institution or between institutions) and catalyse improvement in quality. The theory of competition on which ranking rests implies that competing elements strive to improve in order to be the leader in the pack. Thus, if the system-wide or institutional goal is to stimulate improvement in quality, ranking comes in as one of several pathways for the attainment of this goal.

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