Responding to societal challenges and promoting sustainable development is a particularly pressing concern for African universities, which are rising in global rankings.
The global rankings of universities are published at the end of each year. Organizations around the world are racing to see how they are performing. Have they advanced or retreated? If so, in how many places and in what order? Have they maintained their position in an increasingly global context of higher education? competitive ?
The performance of African universities has improved. But they still don’t rank high in the world rankings. in it World University Rankings 2024, THE (Times Higher Education, for example)South Africa’s University of Cape Town ranks first on the continent, at 167. It is followed by three other institutions in South Africa: the University of Stellenbosch and the University of the Witwatersrand, whose rankings range between 301 and 350, and the University of Johannesburg, between 401 and 500.
The first non-sub-Saharan institution in South Africa, the University of Cape Coast of Ghana, is located in Cluster 601-800. Uganda Makerere University, located between 801 and 1, is the first in East Africa.
The value, methodologies and implications of global university rankings are the subject of great interest. procedures. Many institutions, such as Utrecht University in the Netherlands, have even withdrawn their participation in some of these events Graduation. They criticize the focus on competition and results rather than partnerships and open science.
We are particularly interested in a recent addition to the rating criteria: sustainability and positive social impact assessment.Classification by impactFor example, evaluating the performance of universities in relation to… United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). he QS classification in terms of sustainable development It includes dimensions related to the environment and social impact.
As academics working in the field of social innovation and sustainability, we welcome the focus on impact and sustainability. Sustainable development is one of the main concerns of universities around the world. It is the driving force for research and innovation in enterprises. It is important for students. It is at the heart of teaching and learning. It also supports the broader role and activities of universities within communities, societies and economies.
Meeting the challenge of sustainable development is a particularly pressing concern for African universities.
Mandate and mission
African universities operate in contexts where needs are high. Many African economies have experienced rapid growth. newlybut also Sustainable development challenges Serving. These include poverty, gender inequality, health, education and opportunity. Conflicts over resources and the effects of climate change also pose important challenges.
Some African universities have been established with the aim of addressing these challenges and promoting development and prosperity.
It is therefore very encouraging to see a number of African universities ranking well in some of these new impact rankings. Some of them are even world leaders in achieving various sustainable development goals.
For example, the University of Johannesburg in South Africa ranks 46th in the 2023 Impact Rankings. It is first in the world in terms of Working on Sustainable Development Goal 1 (End Poverty). He achieved this through initiatives such as The middle background is missingMore than 60% of university students benefit from it. It also invests heavily in research centres, institutes and chairs that focus on poverty issues. It helps them conduct research that has a direct impact on local communities and policy making.
Meanwhile, the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) in Ghana received the highest marks for its contribution toSustainable Development Goal 4 (Quality Education). The institution’s students benefit from excellent teaching, complemented by investments in modern infrastructure, ICT and e-learning resources. It offers many scholarships and runs programs such as “Supporting a student in need with a laptop”.
Another positive trend for African universities in the impact rankings is that they are increasingly working together and with partners globally. For example, Makerere University and the Bertha Center for Social Innovation at the University of Cape Town are partners in the project Social innovation initiative in health. This initiative aims to promote social innovation in health (SDG 3 – Good health and well-being) on the continent and in other low- and middle-income countries.
These positive stories and growing examples of African leadership are worth celebrating. It is possible to go further than that.
fill the gaps
More research is needed to understand how African universities work to achieve sustainable development and what more they can do. This can reveal ways to improve existing work and share best practices.
Universities can help find solutions to sustainable development challenges. They generate knowledge and can influence policy development and practice. They themselves can develop innovative solutions. As important employers, buyers and users of resources, they can have positive (and negative) impacts through their activities.
Research on the role of universities in their societies, including teaching, research and beyond, has focused on the Global North. Universities in the South (especially those in Africa) have often been neglected. This relatively limited interest may reflect broader inequalities in global knowledge production and negative perceptions of the work of African universities.
We want to fill these gaps. That’s why we’ve launched a new international, inter-institutional and interdisciplinary research project. The project “African universities as catalysts for social innovation and sustainable development“It is funded by Global Universities Network. It brings together researchers from the Universities of Cape Town, Sheffield, Ghana, Leeds, Pretoria and York, as well as Makerere University.
The project will be implemented over the next 12 months. We will use a social innovation lens to examine how African universities can contribute to achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. We hope that this project will create a community of scholars working on this topic in Africa and beyond, providing academic and practical knowledge.
Annika SurmerSenior Lecturer, Graduate School of Business, University of Cape Town, University of Cape Town; Alex PinottiSenior Professor of Social Entrepreneurship, University of Pretoria; Bob DohertyProfessor of Marketing and Head of the Agricultural Food Department, York University; David LittlewoodSenior Professor of Strategic Management, University of Sheffield; Diana Holtentrepreneurship chair, University of Leeds; Phyllis OworProfessor of Public Health, Makerere University; Ralph HamannTeacher, University of Cape Town et al Osei KwakyeSenior Professor of Accounting, University of Ghana
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