by Christine Lai, Africa.com and Yolaan Begbie, Africa.com
While students from across the continent continue to move abroad to study at leading learning institutions in the U.S. and Europe, Africa boasts its own league of great universities. Presented below is Part I of Africa.com’s Top 10 Universities in Africa. Part II will feature the Top 10 Universities in South Africa, a country that is home to enough academic heavyweights to populate its own list.
1) CAIRO UNIVERSITY—EGYPT
Cairo University is a large public university with over 45,000 students and 5,000 faculty. The university publishes its prestigious Medical Journal of Cairo University, as well as publications in interdisciplinary science, pharmacology, information technology, and political science. Founded in 1908, the university was the region’s first secular university, and boasted some of Africa’s first medical and engineering schools.
Prominent alumni include cryptographer Dr. Taher Elgamal, whose work on digital signatures has been adopted by the American National Institute of Standards and Technology, and NASA researcher Taher Elgamal, who participated in the Curiosity’s historic landing on Mars in August.
A popular study abroad destination, Cairo University hosted over 4,000 international students in the academic year ending in 2010—two percent of its total undergraduate population.
2) AMERICAN UNIVERSITY IN CAIRO—EGYPT
Founded in 1919, the American University in Cairo is an American-style small liberal arts college with a heavy emphasis on quality of teaching. The university’s full-time faculty is complemented by an extensive adjunct teaching staff and frequent international visiting lecturers, including the Distinguished Visiting Professor program, which draws global experts from some of the world’s leading institutions.
The University is also on the cutting edge of climate change and women’s rights. Recent initiatives include a “Carbon Footprint Report” released in October, which was the first of its kind in the region, and the Heya Initiative, aimed at stopping sexual harassment, which recently gained recognition as both a United Nations and women-supported youth initiative.
Notable alumni include former Japanese Minister of Defense Yuriko Koike, Romanian diplomat and journalist Dan Stoenescu, and Saudi Arabia’s first female filmmaker, Haifa Al-Mansour.
International students comprise 13 percent of the student body.
3) MANSOURA UNIVERSITY—EGYPT
Founded in 1972, Mansoura University is one of Egypt’s largest universities with a total student population of around 100,000 spread over its 17 faculties. A research powerhouse, Mansoura University boasts a world class array of medical centers, including those focused on oncology, urology and nephrology, gastroenterology, ophthalmic, and pediatric medicine. Its nephrology center is one of the largest in the region.
Recent student achievements include winning first place in the regional Remote Operational Vehicles (ROV) competition, and moving onto the international competition in the United States.
4) MAKERERE UNIVERSITY—UGANDA
Founded as a technical school in 1922, Makerere University became an independent national university in 1970. The university developed a focused research agenda in line with the national government’s policy objectives, and seeks to support those programs with a multidisciplinary approach ranging from natural sciences to economics and education. Home to a top medical school, the University of Makerere also partners with the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine to host a medical exchange program, in which students complete rotations in the fields of cardiology, family planning, pediatrics, infectious disease, and trauma (emergency medicine), among many others.
In celebration of the university’s 90 years of existence and of Uganda’s Golden Jubilee, an extension of the main library is currently under construction, and will ultimately result in 8,000 square metres of reading space, 300 computers, a multi-media unit, and software for people with disabilities.
Makerere University is Uganda’s largest university, with an undergraduate population of about 35,000. Six percent of the student body is comprised of international students.
Notable alumni include Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki, former president of Tanzania H.E. Benjamin William Mkapa, and Archbishop of York in the Church of England John Tucker Mugabi Sentamu.
5) UNIVERSITY OF NAIROBI—KENYA
Tracing its roots back to 1956, the University of Nairobi became an independent university in 1970. Today, the university is home to about 50,000 undergraduate students, and boasts an extensive range of research faculties, from biotechnology and bioinformatics to HIV prevention and research, from nuclear science and technology to tropical and infectious diseases.
Indicative of its prominence in the region, the University recently hosted H.E. Ambassador Amina Mohammed, the assistant secretary-general of the United Nations, in a discussion about sustainable development.
Notable alumni include Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai; urologist Harcharan Gill, who is a professor at Stanford University, and former supermodel and entrepreneur Iman.
6) UNIVERSITY OF DAR ES SALAAM—TANZANIA
Following the dissolution of the University of East Africa, the University of Dar es Salaam was established as an independent university in 1970. Today, the University has five campuses and 10 faculties, including faculties in mechanical and chemical engineering and aquatic science and technology. A research-focused institute, the University of Dar es Salaam produced 279 journal papers in the academic year ending in 2008.
Notable alumni include President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania; President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda; and Asha-Rose Migiro, the deputy secretary-general of the United Nations and a former minister for foreign affairs and international cooperation in the Tanzanian government.
Nine percent of the university’s student body is comprised of international students.
7) UNIVERSITY OF BOTSWANA
In 1982, the “One Man One Beast” campaign was launched in Botswana to found an independent university that would reduce dependence on South African universities ruled under apartheid. Contributions poured in from all around the country in the form of cash, cattle, grain, eggs, and other crops. Today, the University of Botswana, whose motto is “Education is a Shield,” has an undergraduate population of roughly 16,000. The university offers comprehensive undergraduate programs in seven faculties. Degrees issued range from electrical and electronic engineering to media studies.
The University’s main library, one of the largest on the continent, is five stories high, has roughly 460,000 books, 123,000 full text journals, and 187 internet-dedicated workstations.
Notable alumni include radical feminist sociologist Patricia McFadden, who has served as faculty at Cornell University, Spelman College, Syracuse University, and Smith College in the United States.
8) UNIVERSITY OF GHANA
Originally founded as an affiliate college of the University of London, the University of Ghana became an independent institution in 1961. Today, undergraduate students number around 26,000. Academic programming is spread over nine colleges issuing an array of academic degrees. A hub of research, the university has institutes focusing on seismology, population studies, migration studies, and ecology. The university boasts partnerships with the Norwegian Universities’ Committee for Development Research and Education, and the Commonwealth Universities Student Exchange Consortium.
Balm Library, the university’s main library, has a collection of over 300,000 volumes. Former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan is the university’s chancellor.
Four percent of the university’s student body is comprised of international students.
9) UNIVERSITY OF LAGOS
Established in 1962 with the aim of training professionals for the newly independent Nigeria, the University of Lagos is a comprehensive university that strives to learn through “knowledge and research.” The University houses nine faculties, and the Medical School is home to three faculties. With an emphasis on research, the University’s faculty has published over 1,700 papers, with the most publications coming out of the medical, science, and engineering faculties.
In celebration of its Golden Jubilee, the University of Lagos will host a three-day research conference and fair with the theme “Research and Innovation for Economic Development in a Globalising Nigeria.”
Notable alumni include Nigerian television actor Francis Agu; publisher and film producer Wale Adenugu; chairperson of the Nigerian Government’s Economic and Financial Crimes Farida Mzamber Waziri, and HIV/LGBT activist Bisi Alimi.
10) ASHESI UNIVERSITY
Established in 2002, Ashesi University’s mission is “to educate a new generation of ethical, entrepreneurial leaders in Africa; to cultivate within our students the critical thinking skills, the concern for others and the courage it will take to transform a continent.”
While learning takes place in a liberal arts setting, the University of Ashesi grants majors in computer science, management information systems, and business administration.
The University of Ashesi has been endorsed by former President Jimmy Carter and Peter Woicke, former managing director of the World Bank. In 2009, the university’s founder, Patrick Awuah, Jr. was awarded the John P. McNulty Prize, given to an individual making an impact on pressing social issues.
Seven percent of the university’s student body is comprised of international students.
First, as with any similar list that determines which universities are “best,” Africa.com collected both quantitative and qualitative data to determine which universities in Africa would make our Top 10 List.
Second, we made a determination to create two distinct lists: a) Africa, excluding South Africa, and b) South Africa. If we were not to have made this distinction, our Top 10 List would be dominated by South African universities, and would not be useful to those seeking a pan-African perspective. At the same time, we wish to acknowledge the strength of South Africa’s many world-class universities, so we decided to dedicate a list that features just South African institutions.
Third, our criteria include the following: 1) undergraduate and graduate school reputation among higher education peers; 2) student selectivity for entering undergraduate class; 3) quality and quantity of faculty research, including depth of research facilities and engagement beyond immediate community, and 4) international student ratio—the degree to which institution draws students from outside of its national boundaries.
Fourth, in addition to collecting quantitative data on the criteria above, we used our extensive network on the continent for qualitative input as a “reality check” to the results that our data yielded. These “reality checks” resulted in some small, but important adjustments to the list.
We are very proud of our list of the best universities in Africa, and hope that it is a useful tool for those who seek a relative comparison of institutions of higher education on the continent.
As always, we welcome your feedback.
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