Why Tanzanian varsities struggle in key rankings

Dar es Salaam. Low online presence and visibility are among the reasons why Tanzanian universities consistently struggle in international rankings, The Citizen can reveal.

Global agencies rank universities according to the volume of their web-based material and visibility and impact of the publications. The agencies say in their websites that the aim of the rankings is to improve the presence of academic and research institutions on the web as well as promote open access publications of scientific results.

However, some Tanzanian academics have conceded that Tanzanian universities are not doing enough to promote their web presence as a way of attracting global attention.

“It’s true that some of our universities don’t have informative websites, or don’t bother to update them regularly,” a senior researcher at the St Augustine University of Tanzania (Dar Centre), Dr Francis Ng’atingwa, told The Citizen.

He added that many local universities could be appearing in the rankings if they were aware of the criteria.

“You may find that there are many publications completed in universities, but they are slow to put them online. In contrast, other universities are quick to update their publications and submit them to reputable journals,” Dr Ng’atingwa said, adding, “This is what contributes to the poor performance to our institutions.”

According to the Times Higher Education rankings 2020, the University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM) is currently the top university in Tanzania, having been ranked 29th in Africa.

However, UDSM vice chancellor William Anangisye said this should not cause the university to rest on its laurels, adding that there was room for improvement.

“Personally, I’m not comfortable with that position. Although sometimes we may not know the exact criteria used, we need to work hard to improve our IT systems so that a large percentage of what we do can be found online,” Prof Anangisye said.

He added that UDSM had made great progress in recent years, which, however, was not known internationally.

“For instance, we have introduced a new entrepreneurial programme that aims to impart self-employment skill to graduates to help them bring about a positive impact in society. We have to make such initiatives known,” Prof Anangisye said.

“We look at those who have done well and try and learn from them. Although our researches are published in reputable journals on a regular basis, our website cannot be described as top-notch. This is something we are working on.”

Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences (Muhas) public relations officer Hellen Mtui agreed that low online presence was dragging Tanzanian universities down international rankings.

“For an institution to be ranked, its research publications must be visible online. This is a challenge for most local universities.

“We are working to ensure that all our scientific researches are available and visible online,” Ms Mtui said.

An education consultant based in Dar es Salaam, Dr Thomas Jabil, said universities have an important role to play by communicating scientific and cultural achievements.

“Web publication by scholars is not only a tool for scholarly communication, but also a means to reach larger audiences and is in general a reflection of the performance of the institutions. Online presence should not be ignored if we want to improve the quality of our institutions,” he said.

TCU on ranking agencies

The Tanzania Commission for Universities (TCU) says it only recognises university rankings compiled using criteria set by the commission.

This, according to TCU, is for the purpose of ensuring objectivity and validity.

“Our new guidelines on rankings are clear. Those agencies that use criteria similar to ours will be recognised. Rankings are important in promoting the growth of universities. However, these must be done in line with recognised criteria,” the TCU executive secretary, Prof Charles Kihampa, said.

TCU criteria focus on employer reputation whereby a university which employers prefer to source the most competent, innovative and effective graduates is likely to be ranked high.

Another area is citations per academic staff, which is the total number of citations received by all papers produced by a university across a five-year period divided by the number of academic staff at the university.