Programme for University Leadership in the Southern African

Programme for University Leadership in the Southern African Region
Higher Education in the SADC Region: the political, social and economic context
Presentation by
Prof. Z. D. Kadzamira
to the
PULSAR 2012 Residential Workshop 1
9-13 July 2012,
Johannesburg, South Africa
I was highly honoured to receive an invitation to make a presentation to this august assemblage of
senior university administrators from the SADC Region.
In the original invitation Dr. David Parry asked me to present largely a personal view on the
national, regional and international HE context within which PULSAR is taking place. The
provisional programme before you refers to “Higher Education in the SADC Region: the
political, social and economic context”. I have decided to work on some sort of hybrid of the
two topics but will include for separate treatment the ICT environment as an additional and
vital sector of the knowledge economy that can only be ignored at our peril.
I am aware that as senior administrators and academics you are, more than anyone else,
familiar with the general political, social and economic environment in your respective
countries. What should perhaps be of interest for our purposes in this workshop is to recognize,
and accept the obvious, that public colleges and universities do not operate in a vacuum. In
other words, they are hardly autonomous entities in the broad scheme of things. In particular,
we should recognize what I consider to be the primacy of politics – the fact that matters
political tend to dominate virtually all aspects or facets of life in our part of the world and
indeed beyond our regional borders.
For a start we are all familiar with the progress, or sometimes lack of it, toward democratization
in our respective countries. We also know the pitfalls associated with it especially when
democracy is viewed from the perspective of the electoral processes, the mushrooming of
political parties and interest groups, and even the shifting sands of political allegiance that are
symptoms of unclear ideological standpoints. Such pitfalls often involve considerable abuse of
public resources and expenditure by the ruling political parties.
At the sub-national or lower level, particularly among the younger generation, freedoms
associated with democracy have often been misconstrued as licenses to do whatever one
wants with little regard to the rights of fellow citizens. How else can one explain the wanton
destruction of classrooms and related infrastructures in some educational establishments
whose consequences can be quite costly in terms of loss of life, at one extreme, and corrective
measures to restore order.
There is no doubt that the process of consolidation of democracy in our political systems will
continue for a long time. Meanwhile the democratic dispensation has already led to rising
expectations in all sectors of society including, for our purposes, equitable access to education
generally and higher education in particular.
From a different perspective we can also observe that the expectations and demands for access
are propelled by economic considerations, mainly in terms of employment opportunities. It is
increasingly difficult for school leavers at primary and secondary school level to get meaningful
jobs. Both parents and their wards continue to see tertiary education as opening the gates to
the job market, in spite of high levels of unemployment among products of tertiary education.
With few exceptions, rates of economic growth are failing to outpace population growth and
the prospects of stagnation cannot be entirely ruled out.
Given the tight national budgets in the majority of our countries in the region politicians have
sometimes pitted higher education against other equally important sectors of the economy
such as agriculture, health, social services and those sectors that generate revenue. Admittedly,
some politicians see and appreciate the link between tertiary education in its broadest sense
and the positive spin-off in addressing challenges in the other sectors.
Unfortunately, when it comes to apportioning the budgetary cake they face difficult choices
and can ill-afford to ignore any of the other sectors in favour of education. Doing so would
simply guarantee their demise at the polls since success at elections is always their top priority.
Where academic freedom is assured and respected universities can be used as barometres on
public policy based on research carried out by academics. They can also be accused of siding
with the ‘opposition’ and thereby risk reduced subsidies from government. Worse still,
universities can be used as platforms to promote party political propaganda. The bottom line is
that there is a spiral of pressures on the public purse and higher education is only one of many
hungry recipients of much needed but scarce resources.
In my view, these are some of the dynamics at national level that also collectively reflect the
higher education context at the regional level. The overall situation is associated with a variety
of challenges in higher education that, I believe, are common knowledge but still worth
repeating. In fact these challenges have been well documented through several studies that
SARUA has commissioned over the years and were recently covered by the Dr. Kotecha in her
presentation on 5 June 2012 to SADC Ministers of Higher Education under the title: “Higher
education leadership challenges in the SADC region”.
Indeed, the statistics available continue to tell their own disheartening story. With her
permission I shall now freely quote in part, paraphrase and, where relevant, supplement the
analysis of the broad contextual features that characterize higher education in our region.
These can be summarized first at the level of higher education institutions and, secondly, at the
national and regional level, as follows:
The age profile
Most HE institutions about 50 out a total of 59 are less than 40 years old but demand has
already outstripped current capacity resulting in over-crowding and decline in quality.
Gross enrolment ratio
It is only 5% which is quite low by world standards and thereby condemn our universities as
being elitist.
Registration profile
Student registration preferences at undergraduate level favour, in descending order,
humanities, social sciences and commercial studies. Registrations in the sciences, engineering
and technology are comparatively low while postgraduate enrolment comprises only 1% of the
Political profile
All member states, except one constitutional monarchy, are democracies. In some countries
multipartyism has reached extremes with too many parties that hardly share any ideological
Population profile
 Three countries have a relatively large population (40 to 70 million), five have a
relatively medium population (14 to 25 million), while six have very small populations
(90,000 to 2.5 million);
 On average nearly 45% of the population comprises young people in the age-group
below 35
 The majority of the population resides in rural areas and is dependent on subsistence
farming. This environment does not impress the youth who in turn migrate to crowd the
urban areas in search of non-existent “greener pastures”.
Prevalence of Poverty
Five countries have a GDP per capita of less than a dollar per day, two are marginally higher
while three are well above but lower than the world mean of $7,950
Another aspect of the political and economic environment that has a bearing on resources for
higher education is bribery and corruption in high places in both the public and the private
sector. It is quite amazing how the greed for more among the “haves” is insatiable and satisfied
at the expense of the “have-nots”. University circles are fully aware of this malaise. It is little
wonder then that unmet or unsatisfied demands for improved emoluments among university
staff as well as student dissatisfaction with their infrastructure and services have been a
common feature and source of instability on university campuses through strike action. We
have all heard about corruption but are as yet powerless to do much about it until political
interference in our anti-corruption agencies is stemmed through other constitutional
instruments and mechanisms. This brings us to the issues of governance at both national and
other levels.
Are the governance mechanisms and procedures outlined in our respective national
constitutions being followed to the letter in order to address issues of accountability and
transparency? I suspect the answer almost everywhere is “not so aggressively since there are
too many interested parties”. I have heard of stories, difficult to corroborate, on how some
senior civil servants draw on allowances to attend meetings or workshops in absentia, and how
staff below them join the bandwagon with no questions asked. Other examples of maladministration concern the abuse of the provision of perks to constitute a second salary. One
can only shudder if this malaise turns out to be prevalent throughout the region and if it
continues unabated to permeate other sectors of the economy including higher education. If
so, then we shall probably be fighting a losing battle.
If our young democracies are to survive it will be largely because key players in the political and
economic environment are not only schooled in the importance of good governance but also
internalize values of integrity, openness and accountability – a tall order indeed. How this can
be done remains an open question even though the concept of good governance is talked
about a great deal especially in the public sector. We have yet to hear cases where significant
progress has been recorded.
At this point let me revert to findings recorded through various SARUA studies. It has been
established that there are at least 20 key challenges that have a bearing on governance,
leadership and management in Higher Education. (These are likely to be re-visited during the
Data collection and availability
Research development
Postgraduate registrations
Qualification frameworks
Infrastructure and space
Planning capacity
Policy and planning
Private provision
Commercialization and entrepreneurialism
Information and Communication Technologies (ICT)
The list is quite long but might be shortened depending on the situation on the ground in
individual universities or countries. For convenience I have reclassified the entries under three
In the first category a substantial amount of political will at national level is required to ensure
adequate funding for improving access, providing adequate infrastructure and space and
ensuring that there is capable leadership in policy and planning. The second and third
categories are essentially the province of leadership in higher education institutions. Under the
2nd category I would include staffing, postgraduate registrations, quality and qualification
frameworks, curriculum development and the need to launch robust marketing and
commercialization strategies by engaging and cooperating with the private sector in response
to industry needs and in competition with private HE institutions.
As hinted before, in my view ICT deserves separate treatment as the 3 rd category. Information
Communication Technologies can be mobilized to facilitate affordable bandwidth and the
generation and exchange of data. I will share some observations on this at the end of my
Each institution or country will obviously develop its own list of priorities. So we are not delving
into an entirely new area. What might be new, at least to some of us, is whether and to what
extent these challenges relate to our respective responsibilities as senior managers. In other
words, what can we do as senior managers, in collaboration with others, to mitigate the
challenges posed?
In raising these questions I am guided by two further considerations. First, if we limit ourselves
to the second category what roles can we play and how much authority do we as senior
administrators wield within the national public university system. Secondly, which challenges
demand priority attention under our respective circumstances? I am raising these questions for
further reflection, not to provide immediate answers.
Given the convenient and close timing of these two events: the Ministerial meeting in June and
the current workshop, I feel full advantage should be taken by university leaders to further
sensitize their Ministers on what in effect is a common agenda regarding strengthening
governance, leadership and management in their respective institutions of Higher Education. As
long as Ministers are, and remain, political rather than professional appointees their portfolios
tend to be quite wide often encompassing the primary and the secondary sector apart from the
tertiary sector. Consequently, they are less likely to take the initiative in engaging university
leadership. This is why, in my view, university leaders should take the initiative by providing
relevant data when engaging ministers, private industry and civil society in trying to address
these challenges (on matters of governance, leadership and management). The situation might
of course differ where there are full-time Ministries of Tertiary or Higher Education.
You all subscribed to the PULSAR programme obviously because you expect to benefit from it in
your respective capacities as University Registrars and Senior University Administrators. Here I
have a slight problem in relating your statuses, as assumed under the programme write-up, to
at least two of the issues at hand; namely governance, leadership. According to the description
of your collective profile you are members of the senior executive team typically with the
responsibility for any one or more of the following: academic planning, finance, human
resource development, research management and ICT. However, there is rider that some
participants may be responsible for totally different areas.
The question is: do you consider yourselves as leaders or managers in these areas? Without
pre-empting what might be covered in the Workshop let me digress a bit to consider
differences between leaders and managers. I hope this will encourage your own assessment of
the role you play (or think you should play) as managers and/or leaders in your respective
Definitions of leadership abound. For our purposes I will choose one or two. According to
R. J. House, leadership is "the ability of an individual to influence, motivate, and enable
others to contribute toward the effectiveness and success of the organizations of which
they are members". Another definition says that Leadership is the ability to positively
influence people and systems to have a meaningful impact and achieve results. No matter
how one defines leadership are there any differences between leaders and managers,
between leadership and management especially in a complex formal organization such as a
Warren Bennis (1989) compiled some distinctions between Leaders and Managers.
If managers administer, what do leaders do?
Managers administer, leaders innovate
If leaders ask What and Why, what do managers do?
Managers ask how and when, leaders ask what and why
Managers focus on systems, leaders focus on people
Managers do things right, leaders do the right things
Managers maintain, leaders develop
Managers rely on control, leaders inspire trust
Managers have a short-term perspective, leaders have a longer one
Managers accept the status-quo, leaders challenge the status-quo
Managers have an eye on the bottom line, leaders on the horizon
Managers imitate and copy, leaders originate
Another way of casting the differences:
Leaders and Leadership (L) versus Managers and management (M)
L are appointed or emerge within a group,
M are appointed to their position
L can influence other people and have managerial authority
M can influence others only to the extent of the formal authority of their position
L may not necessarily have skills and capabilities to be managers
M may not necessarily have skills and capabilities to be leaders
L work ON the system, M work IN the system
L seek & create opportunities, M react & control risks
L change organizational rules, M enforce organizational rules
L provide a vision, M seek and then follow direction
L motivate by satisfying basic needs, M control by pushing people in the right direction
L inspire achievement & energize, M coordinate effort
L coach followers, create self leaders and empower them, M provide instructions.
In which category do you feel you belong bearing in mind that there is element of overlap?
I will now end my presentation with a few observations on what has become the pervasive
technological environment within which we must operate, whether we like it or not, as
institutions of higher learning. This is an area where you have to work constructively with your
directors of ICT.
In doing so I am taking advantage of my familiarity with the regional organization that has made
headway in securing affordable bandwidth connectivity across our respective borders to create
a borderless region.
I do not know how many of you are familiar with UbuntuNet Alliance for Research and
Education Networking (UA). This is a regional non-profit organization that was established in
2005 and currently has 13 member National Research and Education Networking (NRENs) six of
which are in our SADC region. It was set up with a vision to secure high bandwidth connections
in gigabits per second at affordable prices to connect member NRENs to each other and to
other regional networks all over the globe.
As matters stand now UA has a routing hub in London that connects with the pan-European
REN (known as GEANT) at 20Gbps. The current subscribers who are reaping fantastic benefits
for their members are SANREN – the South African NREN through TENET, the Tanzanian NREN
(TERNET) and soon Mozambique’s MoRENet and Zambia’s ZAMREN. The champions in setting
up an NREN are the universities in each country. It is gratifying that the universities in the
remaining 6 or 7 countries within the SARUA region are seriously working to formalize the
setting up of their NRENs.
The advantages for higher education institutions are enormous especially with the launching of
the so-called AfricaConnect project. This is a four year 14.75 million Euro project to build high
capacity data networks for research and education in Southern and Eastern Africa. We can illafford to miss the boat. To begin with there will be a substantial reduction in costs of
connectivity where institutions currently depend entirely on VSATs. Recent examples reflect a
reduction from $6000 per Mbps per month to $300 per Mbps. By pooling together resources
based on their current expenditures in ICT universities in each country can finance the
necessary infrastructures without additional funding. Each country will, of course, have to
extend its national fibre network for the benefit of not only tertiary institutions but also the
whole economy. Secondly, universities will develop and share the knowledge and skills of ICT
practitioners among the member NRENs. In other words, as NREN members universities will
benefit from related auxiliary services for ICT personnel that UbuntuNet organizes from time to
time. Thirdly, through e-content, universities will be enabled to stimulate and promote
collaboration in research, education and innovation;
This is the technological context that I truly believe is vital, once embraced by all, for
addressing some of the challenges that face higher education in the SADC region.
I must now stop here and thank you for your attention.