The Problem with Architectural Education in Africa is Rooted in Cultural Imperialism

By Mathias Agbo, Jr.

Recently there’s been a growing global call for reforms in architectural education. These demands for change largely hinge on the disconnect between the kind of architecture that we design today, and the societies that we design for. In the last few months, I’ve read a number of essays on how architectural education has become not only outdated, but incompatible with the social, economic and cultural realities around the world. This is no doubt true. But, for architects in Africa, this is something of a double tragedy, as the profession is faced with both these challenges, and a mélange of others particular to our continent.

A few weeks ago, Quacquarelli Symonds (QS), the higher education data specialist, released its 2018 World University rankings in Architecture. Just five African universities made it into the top 200. Even worse, the five universities that made the cut came from just two countries: Egypt and South Africa. This is a dismal performance, especially for a continent with well over one-hundred architecture schools. At last count, Nigeria alone has thirty-six universities that currently award degrees in architecture and this number does not include the several polytechnics across the country offering 4-year Higher National Diplomas (HND) in architecture.

The rankings, which were based on academic and employer reputation, research citations, and the H-index, exposed the dreary state of architecture education across the continent. Presently, most architecture students here are grappling with a set of almost primal challenges: unwieldy student-teacher ratios, overcrowded classes, and inadequate learning facilities. In Nigeria, for instance, very few students at public universities have access to personal computers; CAD classes are largely taught on chalkboards. Even when there are computers, the ratio of students-to-machines often makes it difficult for any meaningful knowledge to be imparted. (This situation is a tad better at private universities). Today, most local architects who are knowledgeable in CAD and BIM did not learn those skills at architecture school. They took private lessons and forked out extra cash to buy software and personal computers.