Volume 11 Issue 2 (2022)

Examining the status of Flagship Universities in Africa

pp. 93-120  |  Published Online: December 2022  |  DOI: 10.22521/unibulletin.2022.112.6

Goodluck Jacob Moshi


Background/purpose – This article explores the social history of flagship universities in Africa through marketing, research output, and academic knowledge. The study highlights the social, academic, political, and economic significance of each African flagship university within their respective countries.

Materials/methods – The study was conducted according to three top university global rankings, the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU), the QS World University Rankings (QS) and the Times Higher Education World University Rankings (THEs). The study attempts to analyze a hybrid list of African flagship universities listed commonly among the best between 2015 and 2017.

Results – The study revealed that, between 2015 and 2017, the University of Cape Town, South Africa, maintained a higher ARWU status than the American University in Cairo, Egypt. The next-highest ranked university was South Africa’s University of Witwatersrand. Regardless of each university’s respective long history, the findings further highlight the universities’ research innovations and achievements over time. The results that emerged from this study were that most of Africa’s national elite universities strive to attract the best caliber of candidates from the competitive global academic scene, and that few African universities have achieved high global rankings. Despite innovations, Africa has produced little research, and has the lowest higher education investment level. This article suggests that governments in African countries should increase the level of research support, improve funding initiatives, and facilitate universities’ research policies. These efforts would have the potential to boost academic reputations of African universities as well as curriculum innovation.

Conclusion – The findings suggest that as a development marketing strategy for flagship universities in Africa, a few institutions should be selected into which significant investment could be made to bolster funding and research resources.

Keywords: flagship universities, global university ranking, quality research, higher education, Africa


Academic Ranking of World Universities. (n.d.). Research and citation data. Retrieved September 10-30, 2019, from http://www.arwu.org/

Aguillo, I. F., Bar-Ilan, J., Levene, M., & Ortega, J. L. (2010). Comparing university rankings. Scientometrics, 85(1), 243-256. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11192-010-0190-z

Ajayi, J. F. A., Goma, L. K. H., & Johnson, A. G. (1996). The African Experience with Higher Education. Association of African Universities.

Altbach, B. P. G., & Engberg, D. (2018). Higher Education. Higher Education, 50(3388), 713-720.

Altbach, P. G. (2007). Peripheries and Centres: Research Universities in Developing Countries. Higher Education Management & Policy, 19(2), https://doi.org/10.1787/hemp-v19-art13-en

Baty, P. (2013). The Times Higher Education World University Rankings, 2004-2012. Ethics in Science & Environmental Politics, 13(2), 125-130. https://doi.org/10.3354/esep00145

Bloom, D., Canning, D., & Chan, K. (2006.). Higher education and economic development in Africa. World Bank.

Byun, K., Jon, J.-E., & Kim, D. (2013). Quest for building world-class universities in South Korea: outcomes and consequences. Higher Education the International Journal of Higher Education & Educational Planning, 65(5), 645-659. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-012-9568-6

Chaleunphonh, S. (2013). The Road to Academic Excellence: The Making of World-Class Research Universities (P. G. Altbach & J. Salmi, Eds.). Review of Higher Education, 37(1), 104-106. https://doi.org/10.1353/rhe.2013.0059

Cloete, N., Bailey, T., & Pillay, P. (2011). Universities and economic development in Africa. African Minds.

Cloete, N., Bunting, I., & Maassen, P. (2015). Research universities in Africa. An empirical overview of eight flagship universities. In N. Cloete, P. Maassen, & T. Bailey (Eds.), Knowledge Production and Contradictory Functions in African Higher Education (pp. 18-31). African Minds.

Cloete, N., Maassen, P., Fehnel, R., Moja, T., Gibbon, T., & Perold, H. (2006). Transformation in higher education: Global pressures and local realities (Vol. 10): Taylor & Francis.

Dobbins, M., Knill, C., & Vögtle, E. M. (2011). An analytical framework for the cross-country comparison of higher education governance. Higher Education, 62(5), 665-683. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-011-9412-4

Forster, N. (2017). Why are there so few world-class universities in the Middle East and North Africa? Journal of Further & Higher Education, 42(8), 1025-1039. https://doi.org/10.1080/0309877X.2017.1349881

Goodall, A. (2006). The Leaders of the World's Top 100 Universities. International Higher Education, 42, 3-4. https://doi.org/10.6017/ihe.2006.42.7877

Griffiths, V. L. (1968). The Quality of Education in Developing Countries. Comparative Education Review.

Hazelkorn, E. (2011). Rankings and the reshaping of higher education. The battle for world-class excellence. Palgrave Macmillan.

Hazelkorn, E. (2013). World-class Universities or World-class Systems: Rankings and Higher Education Policy Choices. In P. T. M. Marope, P. J. Wells, & E. Hazelkorn (Eds.), Rankings and Accountability in Higher Education: Uses and Misuses (pp. 71-94). UNESCO.

Isah, E. A., & Ayeni, A. O. (2010). Global Digital Revolution and Africa: Transforming Nigerian Universities to World Class Institutions. African Higher Education Review, 3.

Jowi, O. J., Knight, J., & Sehoole, C. (2013). Internationalization of African Higher Education: Status, Challenges and Issues. In J. Knight, O. J. Jowi, J. Knight, & C. Sehoole (Eds.), Internationalization of African Higher Education: Towards achieving the MDGs. Sense. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-6209-311-9_2

Kasozi, A. B. K. (2003). University Education in Uganda Challenges and Opportunities for Reform. Fountain.

Lee, J. (2013). Creating world-class universities: Implications for developing countries. Prospects, 43(2), 233-249. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11125-013-9266-x

Lim, F. C. B. (2008). Transforming Research Universities in Asia and Latin America – World Class Worldwide. Quality Assurance in Education, 16(2), 199-201. https://doi.org/10.1108/09684880810868466

Liu, N. C., Wang, Q., & Cheng, Y. (Eds.). (2011). Paths to a World-Class University. Springer.

Liu, Z., Kipchumba, S. K., & Liu, L. (2016). Paths for world-class universities in agricultural science. Higher Education, 71(1), 97-118. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-015-9891-9

Maassen, P., & Cloete, N. (2002). Global reform trends in higher education In N. Cloete, R. Fehnel, P. A. M. Maassen, T. A. Moja, H. Perold, & T. Gibbon (Eds.), Transformation in higher education. Global pressures and local realities in South Africa (pp. 13-57). Juta.

Makerere University. (n.d). About. https://www.mak.ac.ug/about-makerere

Marginson, S. (2006). Dynamics of National and Global Competition in Higher Education. Higher Education, 52(1), 1-39. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-004-7649-x

Musisi, N., & Muwanga, N. K. (2003). Makerere University in transition 1993-2000 : opportunities & challenges. Currey.

Prayuth, C., Kanokorn, S., & Pornpimon, C. (2014). Challenged Strategies for Driving to Success in Research of Khon Kaen University. Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences, 112(10), 662-669. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sbspro.2014.01.1215

QS Top Universities. (n.d.). Research and citation data. Retrieved September 10-30, 2019, from http://www.topuniversities.com/

Rauhvargers, A. (2013). Global University Rankings: More Diverse and More Transparent but Old Flaws are Still Alive. Higher Education Evaluation & Development, 7(1), 1-20. https://doi.org/10.6197/HEED.2013.0701.01

Salmi, J. (1992). The higher education crisis in developing countries: Issues, problems, constraints and reforms. International Review of Education, 38(1), 19-33. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF01097942

Salmi, J. (2016). Excellence Strategies and the Creation of World-Class Universities. In N. C. Liu, Y. Cheng, & Q. Wang (Eds.), Matching Visibility and Performance (pp. 13-48). Sense.

Schmoch, U. (2015). The Informative Value of International University Rankings: Some Methodological Remarks: Springer.

Shin, J. C. (2013). The world-class university: Concept and policy initiatives. In J. C. Shin, & B. M. Kehm (Eds.), Institutionalization of world-class university in global competition (pp. 17-32): Springer.

Teferra, D. (2016). African flagship universities: their neglected contributions. Higher Education, 72(1), 79-99. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-015-9939-x

Teferra, D., & Altbach, P. G. (2003). Trends and perspectives in African higher education. In African higher education: An international reference handbook (pp. 3-14). Indiana University Press.

The American University in Cairo. (n.d.). About. https://www.aucegypt.edu/about

Tijssen, R. (2015). Research output and international research cooperation in African flagship universities. In N. Cloete, P. Maassen, & T. Bailey (Eds.), Knowledge production and contradictory functions in African Higher Education (pp. 61-74). African Minds.

Times Higher Education. (n.d.). Research and citation data. Retrieved September 10-30, 2019, from www.timeshighereducation.com/

Tiyambe, P. Z. (2004). African Universities in Twenty-First Century Vol. II. African Books Collective.

UNESCO Institute for Statistics. (n.d.). Various data. Retrieved September 10-30, 2019, from http://data.uis.unesco.org/

University of Cape Town. (n.d.). Introduction to global research partnerships at UCT. https://www.uct.ac.za/research-innovation-global-research-parternships/introduction-global-research-partnerships-uct

University of Ghana. (n.d.). About. https://www.ug.edu.gh/about/overview

Van der Wende, M. (2001). Internationalization Policies: About New Trends and Contrasting Paradigms. Higher Education Policy, 14, 249-259. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0952-8733(01)00018-6

Van der Wende, M. (2008). Rankings and Classifications in Higher Education: A European Perspective: Springer.

Wang, Q., & Liu, N. C. (2014). Development and Prospect of World-Class Universities in East Asia and Beyond: Springer.

Wang, Y. (2001). Building the world-class university in a developing country: Universals, Uniqueness and Cooperation. Asia Pacific Education Review, 2(2), 3-9. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF03026285

White, B. (1998). [Book review]. J. F. A. Ajayi, L. K. H. Goma, & G. A. Johnson (1996), The African Experience with Higher Education. Higher Education, 35(4), 473-474. https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1003294108162

Yonezawa, A., & Shimmi, Y. (2015). Transformation of university governance through internationalization: challenges for top universities and government policies in Japan. In N. C. Liu, Y. Cheng, & Q. Wang (Eds.), Matching Visibility and Performance (pp. 101-118). Brill.

Zhang, Y., Zhang, Q., & Qizhen, D. U. (2017). World University Rankings Index System Comparison and Its Enlightenments for Building the World-class Universities and the World-class Disciplines of China. Journal of China University of Petroleum



► New issue coming soon! (Volume 12 Issue 1, 2023)

Call for Papers

UNIBULLETIN is calling for submissions. Authors are invited to submit papers from the all fields of the Education (General) and Social Sciences (General) in the international context. All submissions should be presented only in English.