Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) 2010 published: where are the African universities?

Yesterday, via the Spanish science website Amazings (from where this post title got its inspiration), and this in turn via the Nature magazine’s blog “The Great Beyond”, I discovered this year’s Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU), compiled by the Institute of Higher Education at Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China. Not many surprises in the top 10, which stands as follows:
1. Harvard
2. University of California, Berkeley
3. Stanford University
4. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
5. University of Cambridge
6. California Institute of Technology
7. Princeton University
8. Columbia University
9. University of Chicago
10. University of Oxford

More interesting from the perspective of this blog, is this map:
More interesting, but unfortunately not very surprising, either, since to most people from Africa, or interested in Africa, it is quite a common occurrence to look at a world map and see the African continent, empty from signs and on a grey-ish color, usually indicating No Data, or “none of whatever the map is indicating”. This was dubbed the “Great African Singularity” on this blog post on AppAfrica, which focussed on the presence of internet and technology providers on the continent (thanks, Twal). Another such singularity seems to take place within the higher education field, as the map above shows. This is the complete ranking at the ARWU for the “Africas” (sic) region:
Three universities, all hailing from South Africa, and with the top one being on 201-300 world position (btw. Spain’s first university is also on that position, so nothing to be happy about here, either). The implications of this are, in my opinion, huge, as the development of the continent requires not only economic growth and political stability, but, if both are to be sustainable, the creation of knowledge and innovation on the African continent. This much was pointed by Thabo Mbeki at his Africa Day Lecture, in which he said:

However, notable by its absence in these observations (made by the World Bank’s “Can Africa Claim the 21st Century?” Report and which included: Improving governance and resolving conflict; Investing in people; Increasing competitiveness and diversifying economies; Reducing aid dependence and strengthening partnerships) is an element I consider to be of vital importance if Africa is to Claim the 21st Century – the need for Africa to recapture the intellectual space to define its future, and therefore the imperative to develop its intellectual capital!

It seems undeniable then, that building up on knowledge and intellectual capital is necessary for a country or a continent to improve its situation. This is even more important on the African context, where the colonial experience meant that many forms of indigenous knowledge were derided and erased, in favour of imported ideas – something which still affects some of Africa’s intellectual spheres. Some of the questions that arise then are: how to build on Africa’s intellectual capital? what forms of knowledge ought to be prioritised? what role in this corresponds to African political and intellectual elites? What can and should, non-African intellectuals and universities do to help this come about? Dear readers: your ideas and comments are all welcome!!


2 thoughts on “Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) 2010 published: where are the African universities?

  1. Twalane agosto 16, 2010 / 2:13 pm

    I definitely agree with the point that , imported ideas are given a priority over our own, or those that are based on our heritage/culture.

    And unfortunately, for some of us who have been in “international” schooling I think it is more so the case, so what we do need to do is encourage indigenous sources of knowledge , make it a point to teach ourselves, and for the long run, maintain a strong presence of this “other” knowledge.

  2. Manuel agosto 16, 2010 / 2:50 pm

    Couldn’t agree more with your view, Twal. The really important thing is to build and encourage forms of African knowledge. Changing these rankings matters only to the extent that African unis make this a priority, while at the same time they manage to keep African students and also draw in some from abroad…


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