• Monday, July 22, 2024
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Funding, tech drive global university rankings – Vilakazi

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Zeblon Vilakazi, the vice-chancellor of the University of Witwatersrand, South Africa, has identified access to funding and technology as factors behind universities from the United States of America and other advanced countries topping global university rankings.

According to Vilakazi in an interview with Edutimes Africa, an African monthly magazine, “The wealthiest nation in the world, which is the United States, has its top universities dominating global rankings with the likes of Harvard, MIT, Stanford and so on.

“I mean the list is endless followed by and large by China which is rising quite fast as its economy rises faster. The European nations, the global north as you all know, also dominate the rankings.

You will find that the rankings favour those nations that are relatively advanced. Australian and Canadian universities, for example, are also doing very well,” said Vilakazi.

The university don explained that although South Africa does not have the largest economy, the country has got the wealthiest economy.

“In terms of the highest concentration of wealth, Johannesburg is the wealthiest city on the continent, which gives it greater access to resources, technology, and so on.

South African universities dominate the top ranking of universities on the African continent. And the University of Witwatersrand is quite impressively ranked at number two in Africa,” he noted.

He noted that networking, resources, and technology contribute to the positioning of universities in South Africa.

“South Africa is well connected to the global north and to Europe and America in particular. So, that lends itself because I believe we have people who have come, who have studied and have left to work in New York and London, so, of course, that would speak highly for our rankings,” Vilakazi added.

He, however, maintained that rankings were not a scientific measure of quality, and advocated for a constant review and update of curricula in Africa to meet the changing needs of the world, and the world of work.

“Our curricula need to be improved dramatically given where we are with artificial intelligence (AI), ChatGPT which is threatening the way we teach, learn, and assess our students.

So, I think that universities are on a major global catch-up with their relevance in society. There is online learning and so on and so forth and I think that African universities are not unique in that regard,” he stated.

Besides, he urged policymakers and stakeholders in Africa to ensure that curricula are designed to move with the times and move with the realities of who Africans are, and still offer quality programmes.

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Vilakazi called on education stakeholders to marry the technological learning approach of artificial intelligence with being original by tailoring the learning system to reflect African values and philosophy.

“We must keep up with international trends in artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and the evolving world of work.

We can’t isolate ourselves as we are globally connected and need to be able to solve those global problems from our location in Africa and the Global South.

We cannot be an imitation of the Oxfords, the Cambridges, or the Harvards. We need to be an imitation of ourselves,” he said.

The vice-chancellor urged the African education system to embrace Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) to be able to meet the global standard.

“Of course, I think that’s what has happened since the end of the colonial era. If we look at West Africa where you have great universities like the University of Legon and the University of Ibadan that are very strong in the social sciences, like its school of literature, this is fantastic.

Now, I’m not saying that it is not important because it is, but you’ve seen that, for example, because of the resources, the number of graduates that come out of areas such as computer sciences, mathematics, physics, and others that are central to driving our industrialisation, we find that those numbers are not comparable to law and other social sciences.

So, I think we need to build on the excellence we have in the humanities but also focus on the STEM areas. STEM subjects are very expensive. You need to build state-of-the-art laboratories to get your best scholars, your best students, and your best academics and the best administrators,” he noted.