No UK work visa for African universities graduates

UoN graduation

University of Nairobi graduates celebrate during the 66th graduation ceremony in December 2021.

Photo credit: Pool

The United Kingdom (UK) is set to offer work visas to graduates from some of the world's best universities but no African schools are included in the list of eligible institutions.

Under the scheme announced last month, graduates with a bachelor's or master's degree from the top 50 universities abroad can apply for a two-year work visa and will be allowed to bring family members with them. Those who receive doctorates can apply for a three-year visa.

The exclusion of African learning institutions has led to some complaints that African talent is being excluded - though Africans who have attended the listed universities will be able to apply.

The work visa is aimed at people who have graduated in the past five years from one of what are often regarded as the world’s top universities and is an expansion of its post-Brexit immigration system that is designed to attract the “best and brightest” workers.

To qualify, a person must have attended a university that appeared in the top 50 of at least two of the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, the Quacquarelli Symonds World University Rankings, or The Academic Ranking of World Universities in the year they graduated.

The most recent list of eligible universities from 2021, published online by the UK government, comprises more than two dozen US universities, as well as institutions in Canada, Japan, Germany, China, Singapore, France and Sweden.

No African university is on the latest eligibility list, nor on lists for previous years.

“These ratings are based on criteria that favour universities which have been around for hundreds of years and have access to a lot of funding,” Amina Ahmed El-Imam at the University of Ilorin in Nigeria told the New Scientist magazine.

The decision to exclude graduates from African universities has been criticized.

“To exclude an entire continent brimming over with the enormous creative and intellectual energies of its youth on the basis of its absence from arbitrary, culturally biased, abuse-prone university rankings is shortsighted....Several unranked African universities have produced, and continue to produce, some of the brightest minds in the world,” Professor Farooq Kperogi of the Kennesaw State University, Georgia told CNN.

“University rankings are a Euro-American obsession. They are no more than perceptions of institutional prestige and name recognition...which do not necessarily reflect quality,” Kperogi added.

Irina Filatova, an emeritus professor of the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, told CNN that the ranking system was “skewed in favor of English language and technological universities.”

“It is good that universities compete, but the problem is that the system of ranking is skewed in favor of English language and technological universities. If you look at the top universities, they are the best in technology,” Filatova said.

Association of African Universities (AAU) secretary general Professor Olusola Oyewole was quoted saying by Mail and Guardian: “I believe Britain is unfair to African graduates, using the ranking of universities as a criterion for engagements.” He added, “The UK is wrong to assume that graduates from high-ranking universities are more skilled than graduates from Africa.”

Oyewole said with the right facilities, funding and conducive environments, African graduates can be resilient, resourceful and highly innovative in the world of work.

The University of Nairobi was ranked Number 1 in Kenya, 11th in Africa and in the 501-600 category globally among the best universities by Times Higher Education (THE) in the World Universities Ranking 2022 report.

This was a significant improvement from last year's ranking, in which UoN emerged 601-800.

In Africa, the University of Cape Town and Stellenbosch University -- both in South Africa, are the best-rated institutions in the continent, according to the Times Higher Education's World University Rankings data.

However, none of them are listed in the top 50 or 100 rankings of the top global rating agencies.

Cape Town ranks a distant 183 on the Times Higher Education World University Rankings for 2022, followed by Stellenbosch, which ranks between 251-300.