Higher Education in Africa

While primary education is an essential step forward,  the importance of higher education should not be neglected.

According to a UNESCO report on education in Africa, enrollment rates in higher education in sub-Saharan Africa are by far the lowest in the world.

The report brings to light the importance of higher education in our changing world:

“Higher education continues to play a vital role, which is likely to increase further, in the new knowledge-based and globalizing economy. Thus, beyond the question of the fundamental right to education of all levels, acquiring knowledge to navigate the complexities of this world is a necessity for everyone especially the groups that have been hitherto marginalized.

Women compose one of those marginalized groups.

In developing countries, especially in Africa, there are still historical, cultural, and economic factors that have been hindering women’s chances for access to and benefits from formal education, especially at the tertiary level.

Looking specifically at Tanzania, data from the Basic Education Statistics in Tanzania (BEST), shows that in both government and non-governmental higher learning institutions (of which there are currently 32), the percentage of female students has been rising from 31.4 percent  in 2007/2008 – or 16,358 students – to 37.1 percent (51,860 students) in 2010/2011. The total to both gender is 45,501 in 2007/2008 and 139,638 in 2010/2011.

Increasing tertiary education opportunities for women can make a big difference in Tanzania.  In the country today there is the saying ‘ukimwelimisha mwanamke umeelimisha jamii’.  In English this means: “If you educate a woman, you educate a family.”  This statement captures the profound effect that women can have on the overall well-being of society.  By gaining access to higher education, women who aspire for knowledge  can supplement the communal struggle to eliminate poverty.

Associate Prof Marit Tjomsland of University of Bergen, Tunisia, insists that ” women’s higher education stands as a highly efficient way of shaping more gender-equitable societies and thus as a major vehicle for general development.”

Providing women in Africa with access to higher education opportunities can have a huge impact.  Increasing education can help to break down cultural barriers, remove gender stereotypes, and strengthen development efforts.