Universities in the United States appear eager to enroll more Africans in their graduate programs. US universities view enrollment of African students as a way to diversify their classrooms and, at the same time, help fix Africa’s massive shortage of locals with graduate degrees.
In particular, two policies are part of the problem; the application of Graduate Record Exam (GRE) scores for evaluation of admission and a large requirement of coursework for graduate programs.
Countries such as the UK, Australia, Canada and France, which evaluate students based on their undergraduate transcripts, are more attractive choices for graduate studies. In contrast to undergraduate transcripts the GRE is a snap shot assessment of verbal, numeracy and analytical reasoning. For a majority of African students, the GRE is not in sync with their previous academic experience and taking the GRE often demands extraordinary effort in preparation.
The GRE by contrast is a one-time test of a student’s overall verbal, mathematical, and analytical reasoning. Africans perceive quite rightly that they will need considerable coaching and study to do well on this type of exam since it is foreign to their previous academic experiences. More specifically, a majority of African students who take the test perform poorly in the math section. Most high school and university curricular marginalize numeracy and mathematical reasoning that require algebra and geometry.
US graduate programs require many classes, and students must pass comprehensive exams.
The high coursework requirement of most US graduate programs means they take longer to complete compared to programs offered in Europe and Australia.
US graduate schools seeking to recruit students from English speaking Africa must address the GRE and coursework requirement. This will demand flexibility and an academic partnership framework with universities in Africa. Flexible admissions should allow potential students from Africa to demonstrate writing analytical and numeracy skills through scholarly work jointly supervised by a US and African professor. Another recruitment strategy would entail utilizing sabbatical time by US professors at an African university to head hunt and or mentor promising students.
Moreover, a proactive strategy is needed to address the duration required to complete graduate programs. A sensible approach would be to design a program that accomplishes the required course work and comprehensive examination in a US university, and undertakes through careful partnership, an African university to serve as a home for graduate research. Such an approach would ensure that African graduate students are working on problems relevant to their countries as well as building the professional networks they need to advance their careers. Similarly, this approach would help US universities expand the international reach of their research and graduate programs
It behooves African and US universities to develop a flexible platform for collaboration in graduate training and faculty research. This is imperative in an intensely competitive and globalized knowledge economy.
This article is adapted from an article by John D. Holm published in the Chronicle on April 4 2012.