Go back

East Africa needs to unlock its higher education data

Image: Orlen Crawford for Research Professional News

Better higher education data collection and management would boost region’s competitiveness, writes Salome Guchu

In today’s rapidly evolving landscape, data has emerged as a cornerstone of effective decision making, competitive advantage and progress. 

Nowhere is this truer than in higher education, where the availability of comprehensive and reliable data is pivotal in shaping the experiences of students, faculty and researchers. In the East African Community (EAC), the data deficit in higher education stands as a barrier to progress, hindering the realisation of its full potential.

The breadth of higher education data is staggering, encompassing financial metrics, human capital, student admissions and progression, academic programmes, research and innovation outputs, library resources, collaborations and alumni achievements. 

Yet, for this treasure trove of information to be harnessed effectively, a coordinated and sustainable approach to data collection and management is essential.

Regrettably, many nations in the EAC lack appropriate systems to collect and manage its higher education data. 

Mapping the gaps

Recent research conducted by the Inter-University Council for East Africa in collaboration with partners, including the Association of African Universities, Education Sub Saharan Africa and the Population Reference Bureau, has cast light on this data chasm. 

Focusing on the demographics of EAC faculty, the study found gaps, including the absence of up-to-date data; the lack of nationally coordinated data collection and sharing mechanisms; the dearth of official policy norms for higher education metrics and the onerous administrative process that hinder timely access to available data.

The implications of these gaps are far-reaching, affecting not only individual institutions but also national and regional decision making. This makes it difficult to conduct accurate trend analyses and projections for the sector. 

Moreover, a dearth of evidence leads to misguided assumptions and skewed understanding of the higher education landscape. The repercussions of these deficiencies are profound, with quality of education and research bearing the brunt of the impact, reducing the competitiveness of institutions in the EAC.

Way forward

To envision a future characterised by a well-coordinated higher education data management system in East Africa, it is imperative to bolster capacities at both national and regional levels. 

This entails interconnected initiatives, chief among them being the development of harmonised regional guidelines for data collection and management. These guidelines should be attuned to the unique characteristics of institutions in the region while aligning with global benchmarks for higher education.

The path forward requires a multi-faceted approach. Creating an enabling environment for data collection and management demands that governments formulate clear policy guidelines, allocate financial resources and establish relevant legal frameworks to institutionalise data collection and management.

In addition, data management offices need to be created in relevant government agencies responsible for coordination of higher education issues. Besides, awareness needs to be fostered and capacity built to ensure the continuous update and effective handling of higher education data.

The unavailability of quality data is not merely an oversight; it is a significant hurdle to progress. It is time for the EAC to embrace the data imperative and unlock the true potential of higher education. The region must not only recognise the significance of higher education data collection and management, but prioritise it. 

The potential for transformative change in the region’s educational landscape is undeniable, but it is contingent upon the intentional pursuit of comprehensive and reliable data.

Salome Guchu (PhD) is a Principal Innovation and Outreach Officer at the Inter-University Council for East Africa. The views expressed here are her own