If you’re ever depressed about the state of academia where you live, spare a thought for academics in a set of countries that are collectively one of higher education’s biggest backwaters: the Lusophone African countries of Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Sao Tome & Principe, Mozambique, and Angola.
The legacy of Portuguese colonialism hangs heavy over these countries. After the Belgians, the Portuguese were probably the colonial power least concerned about educating native populations. They were also entrenched for a longer period of time, with the Portuguese only leaving in the mid-1970s. Though both the University of Luanda in Angola (now Agostinho Neto University) and Lourenco Marques University in Mozambique (now Eduardo Mondlane University) were created prior to de-colonization, they were created for local whites who, almost to the very end, assumed that their colonialist enterprise would continue indefinitely: the number of university-educated blacks at the time of independence was minimal. Both countries were academically devastated by the Portuguese withdrawal, and in both cases, the void was initially filled by visiting academics from fraternal socialist countries.
The socialist period was important for both countries, as both decided to expand their systems along Soviet lines – meaning lots of small, narrowly-focussed institutions (e.g., universities for mining, for police, etc.) rather than as full universities. Since the 1990s, both countries have added gaggles of private universities, but as is the case elsewhere in Africa, these are cheap and low-quality – hardly surprising in countries where universities have difficulty charging fees of over a couple of hundred dollars per student.
Despite these issues, the other three members of the African Lusophone community make Angola and Mozambique look like giants. Cape Verdeans – an odd people, with half a million living in Cape Verde, and 700,000 living abroad – have it best: a nine-institution system (one public, eight private, with the majority of private institutions having been in operation only since 2009). Sao Tome & Principe (population 175,000) has three tiny institutions (a public polytechnic, and two tiny privates), with a total of about 2,000 students. Guinea-Bissau’s system is equal parts fascinating and insane. About ten years ago it – sort of – had a public university (actually a public/private partnership), which promptly fell apart, leaving a bunch of independent faculties (medicine, business, economics, etc.) but no university; apart from that, there are a number of other private facilities, which spend a good deal of their time teaching university “bridge” courses, because the public secondary system has no grade 12.
Universities in these countries – with the exception of a couple of centres at Eduardo Mondlane and Agostinho Neto – are mostly about advancing science. However, there’s simply not the infrastructure for it, though if Angola weren’t such a kelptocracy it might have used its oil wealth to build a decent education system by now. In total, the five countries might produce 200 scientific publications per year, with Mozambique accounting for about half that (for comparison, Uganda alone manages 600 per year). Students wanting to pursue scientific careers tend to grab a government scholarship to study abroad (usually in Brazil or Portugal, but increasingly China as well); having left the country to study, however, many of these students choose to stay abroad.
Conditions in African higher education are generally pretty tough (although, like the continent itself, things are gradually improving). But at least Francophone and Anglophone Africa are linked to wider global academic communities, and can draw on vast scientific literature in recognizable languages, thanks to the sheer academic might of English- and French-speaking countries. Lusophone Africa is a different story; neither Portugal nor Brazil can, in any way, be counted as scientific superpowers, and so the academic tradition upon which they draw is significantly shallower.
As a result of these networks, Lusophone countries simply don’t have access to the same kind of money as their Francophone and Anglophone counterparts. At present, there’s no Lusophone equivalent to the kinds of massive academic assistance from which places like Tanzania or Uganda have benefited (it’s hard to walk around at Makerere without running into some kind of project funded by foreign governments or foundations). Even if Lusophone countries do start to become wealthier, this problem of having weaker networks is going to remain; ultimately, closer links with China might be the only way to overcome this issue, but this is a very long-term solution.