06 Feb A better model than the Africanised university
African countries are yet to find or construct a university education model relevant to their development needs and aspirations.
The classical university model inherited from the European colonial masters or transplanted in Africa has been ineffectual in fulfilling those needs and aspirations for two fundamental reasons. They produce graduates with irrelevant skills, knowledge and dispositions, given the monumental development tasks facing their nation-states.
In addition, classical universities have practically little to zero direct involvement in the development activities taking place in their nation-states. This suggests that they are disconnected from the cultural institutions of the societies where they operate.
Presently, three broad university models, consisting of the technical university, the Africanised university and the developmental university, are in the spotlight for discussion and critique in Africa.
The technical university has found some support in Africa owing to its central focus on engineering and the possibility of improving the technological limitations of Africa. But what is the difference, if any, between the technical university and the ‘technology university’? If the ‘technology university’ could not improve the technological limitations of Africa, how could a technical university do any better?
Historically, the Africanisation of African universities was part of a broad decolonisation movement at the beginning of the post-independence era in the 1960s in Africa. It was determined that African universities would mirror African societies and cultures if their faculties were African and their curricula increasingly Africanised.
However, as time went on the Africanisation project lost much of its momentum as doyens of the African political independence movement were toppled in military coup d’états. Another crucial factor was that the world prices of African exports dropped fast. The combined result was that many African countries went through a cascade of political and economic instability.
Recently, a group of indigenous African scholars have been seriously rethinking the Africanisation project, especially in South Africa where the main focus is on reforming higher education curricula and syllabi so they are relevant to the lived experiences, realities and cultural identities of indigenous South Africans.
The developmental university is a concept that took off in the mid-1980s. Until recently, most experts and researchers, including those in the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, had written off African universities as producing only marginal effects on African society and economy. Instead they favoured channelling funds into primary and secondary education.
At the relatively recent Dakar African Higher Education Summit, the former South African president Thabo Mbeki endorsed the idea that African universities should be placed at the centre of the national development agenda and former UN secretary general Kofi Annan implored African universities to be generators of research data to African governments for evidence-based policy-making.
Such suggestions highlight general dissatisfaction with the nebulous mission of most African public-funded universities as producers of human resources.
A developmental university is any university that focuses on contributing to all aspects of the development of its home country. It does so through research, analysis, teaching, learning, advocacy and its relationship with industry and government.
The development of any society is essentially an internal process and culture is at its core. It is therefore practically impossible for the developmental university to analyse Africa’s development problems and needs without an intimate knowledge and understanding of the nature of African culture.
This is an area of interest for both the developmental university and the Africanisation project, but it does not mean that culture is something frozen in the past and a focus on culture should not be used, for instance, to justify the oppression of women’s rights. Continue reading