The economics professor at Princeton University was interviewed by VOA Afrique reporter Abdourahmane Dia on September 05, 2019. The conversation also included Souleymane Bachir Diagne, a department chair and professor at Columbia University, and David Zounmenou, an independent researcher.
When asked why African universities are falling behind, Wantchekon explained that Francophone universities have not been able to collaborate enough with universities in the global North, and that they tend to emphasize teaching over research.
The interview went on to discuss challenges and solutions to financing education. Wantchekon noted that African universities shouldn’t rely solely on tuition fees, but can and should develop alternative sources of income. Namely, universities can develop revenue-generating activities in sectors like computer science, agriculture, African studies, etc. Universities can also diversify their revenues by tapping into available research funding from governments and international organizations and forming partnerships with foreign universities. For example, the African School of Economics (ASE) received a British grant to evaluate Nigeria’s education system.
Universities should consider tuition fees as secondary to entrepreneurial activities and partnerships in financing education, and creative systems such as loans and work-study can also lighten students’ financial burden. The work-study program implemented by ASE allows students to assist with research projects and other institutional tasks to help pay their tuition fees.
The African School of Economics was founded by Leonard Wantchekon in 2014 as a Pan-African graduate university offering masters programs in Economics, Development Studies, Public Administration, and Business Administration, and has since expanded to include undergraduate and Ph.D. programs. Former ASE students have gone on to pursue Ph.D. programs at other top universities and work for the World Bank, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) and other influential organizations.