Why Tanzanian universities lag behind in global ranking

Thursday October 14 2021
Vasity Pix
By Jacob Mosenda

Dar es Salaam. Tanzania’s higher learning institutions have continued to feature poorly in international key ranking reports, with stakeholders citing budgetary constraints and low number of publications in internationally recognized journals as some of the key factors.
In a recent Webometrics Ranking of World Universities’ report, the only local university that has managed to secure a place in the first 50 best institutions in Africa is the University of Dar es Salaam, at position 42.
In the top 100 slots, Tanzania is represented by three universities: University of Dar es Salaam (position 42), Sokoine University of Agriculture (position 51) and Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences (position 91).
In the East African region, the University of Nairobi is ranked 13th, followed by Makerere University in 14th place and then comes University of Dar es Salaam at position 42. The gap between the institutions also yesterday left stakeholders wondering as to what could be the reasons behind.
The July webometrics report shows in the top 100, Tanzania is represented by three institutions, Kenya having six and Uganda two.
“Our universities should compete with other international institutions in taking these positions as we currently have the technology, they just have to aim higher,” former lecturer at Mzumbe University, Dr Anastella Simboja told The Citizen in an interview.

Ranking of universities is accepted as one of the recent developments in quality assurance processes in the quest to compare universities regarding their national, regional, continental or international quality standing. Despite the resentment on the ranking results by many universities particularly in Africa, universities have continued to privately aspire to improve their international rankings.
However, Dr Simboja said low online presence and visibility were among the reasons why Tanzanian universities consistently struggled in international rankings.
She said Global agencies rank universities according to the volume of their web-based material and visibility and impact of the publications.
However, the Vice Chancellor of the University of Dar es Salaam, Prof William Anangisye said that his university was not satisfied with the position and they were in the process of upgrading their status so they could take the position that they truly deserve.
“In terms of improving our online presence, we have created a management team that will deal with IT matters only, now we have a director for this, including ensuring that we are more visible,” he said.
He said that they have been urging their staff to ensure that they publish in international journals which has led the institution to allocate more than Sh2 billion for research.


The making of a top university

The biggest single factor that experts say is considered in international rankings is academic reputation. This, they say, is calculated by surveying thousands of academics around the world about their opinion on the merits of institutions other than their own.

Dr Thomas Jabir, an educational consultant in Dar es Salaam told The Citizen that universities with established names and strong brands are likely to do better.

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The next factor he noted is – number of citations per faculty, “this shows a clear picture of the strength of research in universities, calculated in terms of the number of times research work is cited by other researchers.”

Further he said that the ratio of academic staff to students represents another big chunk of how the rankings are decided. “As a country (Tanzania) we still have a big shortage of qualified academic staff in our universities and we will be sure of joining the top slots if only we have the guts to be a highly qualified professional.”

He said that the three elements; reputation, research citations and staff ratios, account for four-fifths of the rankings, but he also remembered the marks for being more international, in terms of academic staff and students.

“When you look at our universities, we don’t have enough international academic staff and students. Being international is a big factor when it comes to these rankings,” he said.

For instance, Webometrics ranks universities based on Impact (Web Contents Impact), Openness (Top Cited Researchers) and Excellence (Top Cited Papers) parameters.