• Earlier this year, Times Higher Education released a ranking of the best universities in Africa which were crowned by South Africa’s University of Cape Town. The University of Cape Town was crowned the best university because of “its highly-cited research, a strong international outlook and an ability to attract large sums of money from industry”. South African universities claimed 6 of the Times list’s 15 spots but right in that South African dominance, Makerere stubbornly stands out adding colour to the monotony of the Top five. Coming at fourth, Makerere University of Uganda has been inducted into the big league of “Go-To Institutions in Africa.

    Into Makerere

    The first line of Makerere University’s official anthem says, “Makerere, Makerere, We build for the future, the Great Makerere.” This is the spirit that drives this world-class institution and its research-led approach to education is enough testament. The institution was established in 1922 as a technical school majoring in carpentry, building and mechanics making it the oldest of its kind in Uganda. Makerere University was granted independent university status in 1970 after using the University College tag from 1949 when it was affiliated to University College London. It had been part of the University of East Africa from 1963 and only independently stood as Makerere University in 1970 along with University of Nairobi and University of Dar es Salaam. Now the university has around 40,000 students and 10 constituent colleges.

    A continuing legacy of excellence

    The institution was alma mater to such prolific figures as Julius Nyerere, Benjamin Mkapa, Milton Obote, Mwai Kibaki and Joseph Kabila. Indeed it has a long history of academic gravity but it is more of what the university is doing right now that makes it such a formidable brand. Last year, Vice President Edward Ssekandi launched a ground-breaking project: the Mwai Kibaki Presidential Library. This 20 floor edifice is expected to be completed in a five year period and will house the Mwai Kibaki Endowed Chair in Economics and the East Afican Mwai Kibaki Centre for Leadership, Public Finance and Public Policy. Makerere does not seem to be slowing down. The fourth position in the African rankings is the endorsement the university needs. One needs to look no further than the Female Scholarship Foundation at the university which was “born out of the Female Scholarship Initiative (FSI) established at Makerere University in 2001 with support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York”.

    The whole idea behind the initiative is to support disadvantaged girls to access university education. Ugandan female students below the age of 25 from genuinely poor socio-economic backgrounds stand a chance to be beneficiaries of this brilliant programme.

    The rest of the giants

    The University of Cape Town comes first followed by the University of the Witwatersrand in second and Stellenbosch University in third. The top three is therefore a South African affair but as already said, Makerere University breaks the pattern at fourth while the University of KwaZulu Natal completes the top five. The University of Pretoria is sixth, University of Ghana at seventh position and the University of Nairobi at eighth. Ghana and Kenya therefore add themselves to the list largely dominated by South Africa. Egypt’s Suez Canal University, Alexandra University and Cairo University take positions 9 to 11 respectively. Morocco joins the party with the University of Marrakech Cadi Ayyad in 12th position and Mohammed V University which features at number 15. 13th positioned University of South Africa reminds the continent of South African dominance while the University of Ibadan makes sure Nigeria does not miss out.

    South Africa’s dominance has been explained as being a result of focus on research. Times Higher Education cites a report co-written by Dr Cloete which said most institutions outside South Africa enrolled low proportions of postgraduate students, ran professional masters programmes rather than training in high-level research and had high proportions of junior under-qualified academics, leaving low numbers of potential research leaders. The whole lesson to be drawn from the ranking is that research is now more important than much else. There is a growing need to empower students to be aware of what surrounds them and provide solutions through research. Simply conferring theoretical degrees with no practical relevance has become outmoded in the 21st century. 

    Best universities in Africa, 2016

    RankInstitution  Country
    1University of Cape Town
    South Africa   
    2University of the Witwatersrand
    South Africa
    3Stellenbosch University
    South Africa
    4Makerere University
    5University of KwaZulu-Natal
    South Africa
    6University of Pretoria
    South Africa
    7University of Ghana
    8University of Nairobi
    Suez Canal University
    10 Alexandria University
    11Cairo University
    12University of Marrakech Cadi Ayyad      
    13University of South Africa
    South Africa
    14University of Ibadan
    15Mohammed V University of Rabat