Because Madagascar was a French colony, its post-colonial intellectual elite possessed academic credentials from a variety of French schools as well as the leading universities of Paris, Toulon, Marseilles, Montpellier, Pointers, and La Reunion. Similarly, after independence, these universities became the models for the six Malagasy universities at Antananarivo, Antsiranana, Fianaarantsoa, Toamasina, Toliara, and Mahajanga. These postsecondary institutions evolved from the Institute for Advanced Studies, which was founded in 1955. The Institute was conceived to be the original University of Madagascar in Antananarivo in 1961. There were five other provincial universities whose academic hearts were located at Antananarivo. Officially those five extensions became fully fledged academic institutions, complete with professional faculties, in 1988.
Philosophically, the University of Madagascar's reason for existence is rooted in the dynamic and synergistic fusion of the European, Continental (African), and Malagasy cultural and scientific heritage. The University's goals for rationalizing the heritage include but are not limited to:
- Maintaining adherence and loyalty to global academic standards.
- Ensuring the unification of the African continent.
- Using research, teaching, and scientific knowledge to dispel misconceptions about Africa, its culture, people, and heritage.
- Using a variety of resources for training people to develop skills that are essential for meeting the development needs of the nation.
- Training well-rounded human beings for nation building.
- Progressively evolving an excellent higher education system that can become a model for evaluation.
- Using science and technology for the advancement of human learning and solution of complex social, economic, and cultural difficulties.
With the exception of number seven above, the philosophical goals were developed by the 1962 "Tananarive Conference on Higher Education in Africa." The conference was organized by the government of the Republic of Malagasy, representatives from other African countries, and the United Nations Economic Commission of Africa (UNECA). The resolutions of Tananarive Conference were based on the 1961 planning recommendations of the UNESCO initiated Addis-Ababa Conference of African heads of state and ministers. The purpose of the 1962 Tananarive Conference was threefold: first, the conference was charged with the responsibility of identifying solutions to problems of choice and adaptation of the higher education curriculum. Second, the conference needed to identify probable solutions to the problems endemic in the administration, organization, structure, and financing of the higher education enterprise and to study the impact of those solutions on the educational-related ministries of economic planning, education, labor, and agriculture. Third, the conference needed to identify the most efficient ways of providing data to the specialized agencies concerned with international cooperation, development, and assistance of African institutions of higher learning. Eventually, the conference succeeded in constructing a scientific and cultural planning model of higher education that was loaded with Euro-American and African higher education concepts. The education model was adapted by all African ministries of education, including that of Madagascar.
At present, the university system of Madagascar has several faculties of which law, economics, sciences, letters, and human sciences are dominant. The university system has many schools that specialize in public administration, management, medicine, social welfare, public works, and agronomy. Schools are further subdivided into departments. For instance, at the University of Fianarantsoa, there are more than 20 departments, including architecture and urbanism, building public works, electronic engineering, geology, hydraulics, meteorology, mines, materials, metallurgic sciences, telecommunications, optical physics, applied physics, energetics, industrial relations, and international relations. The university has 200 faculty members, of whom 120 are permanent while the rest are irregulars who work in technical ministries and professional industries.
French is the language used in all universities. Students take eight to ten years to complete the first degree. The baccalaureate is required for admission to the university. In African countries, it takes five years rather than the eight to ten years it takes in Madagascar. In 1994, there were 40,000 students enrolled in the country's university system. It is believed that at the time, the actual institutional capacity was 26,000 rather than the 40,000. This was considered overcrowding, for which the system has been severely criticized. Of those who are admitted, only 10 percent matriculate. In other words, turnover, failures, and repetitions are increasingly and economically massive and unwarranted. They are unwarranted because they reflect faulty investment and poor economic planning, which negatively impacts the poor nation as a whole. Though reform measures are being implemented, they have not been substantially effective.
The university system offers diplomas, certificates, and degrees of all kinds. Though most students complete the first degree, a few study the graduate and doctoral programs that are necessary for elite professional careers in the nation's institutions and organizations.
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