Christian Universities Continue to Flourish in Africa

A satellite image of the African topography. |

Sub-Saharan Africa has seen a brisk growth in Christian universities, making it one of the hot spots of Christian higher education. This trend highlights two welcome developments in the region: the feverish rise of Christian adherence and the phenomenal growth of higher learning.

A century ago, there were only 9 million Christians in Africa. Most of them thrived in the ancient churches of Egypt and Ethiopia. The number tripled to 30 million by 1950 and then grew three-fold after two decades. Today there is an estimated 360 million African Christians — Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, Pentecostal and African-instituted.

Along with the rapid growth of Christianity came the rise of sub-Saharan Africa's higher education. In the early '60s, the continent only had 16,500 students enrolled in 41 higher educational institutions. By 2010, there were 668 colleges and universities with 5.2 million students, which is more than double the number of enrollees a decade earlier.

Boosted by supportive governments, the post-colonial era saw international investments on education. This was hampered by the economic crisis of the '80s when the World Bank (WB) and International Monetary Fund imposed tight budgetary policies on governments.

These included veering educational spending away from college institutions towards elementary and secondary schools. Dictatorial regimes also didn't help as they deprived funding for colleges and universities on suspicion of engaging in subversive activities.

The WB reversed this bias against tertiary education when it reemphasized universities' role in national development. Private funders returned after years of neglect. Foreign aid programs redirected their thrust on higher education. For the next 10 years, eight American foundations spent $440 million on universities in nine African countries.

Christian universities rode the wave of growth. What's good about these institutions is that they serve as tools for national development instead of limiting their programs to their own young members. This is done by opening their enrollment to all sectors of society, regardless of religious affiliation.

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