By Alan Finlay: 

-What counts as “excellence” in journalism training and education in Africa? This is the question at the heart of the second iteration of Unesco’s “Centres of Excellence” initiative, to be implemented over the next year. The purpose of the current project is to build on Unesco’s work in 2007, which was conducted in collaboration with the journalism school at Rhodes University, South Africa, and the École supérieure de journalisme de Lille in France. Then the project identified 12 journalism schools in Africa as schools with the potential to meet a level of excellence in journalism education. This was based on criteria developed through the input of journalism schools and regional and global experts in journalism training. One third of the centres identified were located in South Africa.

Much has changed in the journalism training and education landscape in Africa since 2007, and in this new iteration of the project – which runs until end of March 2024 – we expect to identify a much wider net of institutions, colleges and NGOs offering good journalism education and training throughout the region. 

This project is being steered by the Wits Centre for Journalism and the School of Journalism and Media Studies at Rhodes University, both in South Africa.

Like the project in 2007, we hope to provide nuanced perspectives on the idea of “excellence” in journalism education in the region. This will be done through setting up a regional reference group and developing a set (or sets) of criteria for excellence through a series of regional discussions with trainers and educators in East, West, Central, North and Southern Africa. Centres will be invited to do a self-assessment of the training and teaching they offer, and to identify gaps that need improvement. 

The final phase of the project will entail inviting centres that have completed their self-assessment to submit innovative proposals for small grants to help them improve and update their current curricula and training programmes, based on the self-assessment and gaps identified.   

There is an explorative research component to this project. In particular, we want to understand what “excellence” means in local contexts in the light of changes that have happened in journalism education over the past 15 years. While there are a number of baseline requirements for journalism schools and training organisations to provide good education and training – such as the experience of the teachers, a healthy student-to-staff ratio, industry outreach, or innovative and forward-looking teaching methodologies and courses – there are also contextual training and education needs that are likely to be specific to regions or even countries. 

For example, in regions with ongoing military conflict, a course on “reporting on conflict” may be an indicator of excellence in journalism education, but be less of a marker in more peaceful countries. And to what extent are courses on data journalism as critical at this moment in time in countries with poor data infrastructure, and very little reliable data to work with? Similarly, how do we understand forward-looking courses on the digital safety of women journalists in a country where the online violence and harassment of women journalists is disregarded as a problem by the media industry? The different kinds of institutions, such as a polytechnic, or university school, or an NGO, also has an impact on any notion of excellence. These are just some of the pre-emptive research questions that the explorative component of the project begins with. 

Through the small grants, the project aims to help 10 journalism schools, colleges or NGOs on the continent improve and update their current curricula and training programmes so that they are able to better respond to the major changes in the communication environment in their countries and region. At the same time, an estimated 100 schools will be exposed to new thinking and networking about what “excellence” means for journalism schools in Africa today. In these ways, the project aims to improve the strength and sustainability of the journalism ecosystem in African countries.

If you would like to learn more about the project, please contact Alan Finlay at