With funding support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York (CCNY), the Council for the Development for Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA) will from early next year launch a new higher education policy initiative (HEPI). The initiative will involve research, and research capacity building interventions aimed at strengthening the governance and leadership of higher education institutions in Africa. The broad goal of the project is to contribute to realizing academically strong higher education institutions in Africa. In the context of the post-2015 global development agenda, the Social development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the United Nations in September 2015 have focused on higher education with calls for renewed investments in the system. The objective is that high quality university research should provide governments and donors with data and analyses that could support evidence-based policies to drive the post-2015 development agenda. This can only be possible through a quality–focused higher education system that informs policy with research evidence, and through graduating generations of new leaders and skilled professionals. In the context of Africa, the push for governance reforms was meant to result in the emergence of a higher education system in the continent that would contribute to the continent’s vision of development and enable the continent to meet development targets such as the Millennium Development Goals and the post-2015 global development agenda.
HEPI will build on the results and gaps emerging from the CODESRIA Higher Education Leadership Program (HELP), which the council has been implementing since, 2011 and also supported by the CCNY. Studies commissioned under HELP document the diverse changes in governance that have taken place in a number of African universities, the new entities that have been created to provide governance oversight in the form of National Councils, new procedures for constituting university councils and senates and the challenges that face entrenchment of the reforms in the institutions. In crafting the new governance frameworks, governments and policy makers hoped that the new governance regimes would contribute to improving the quality of university education in the continent as new internal and external entities were formed to oversee how university leadership was exercised. The extent to which the new governance frameworks are shaping the management and academic life of the institutions; including what and how new relationships with external stakeholders are being forged and the extent to which new management cultures that embody greater transparency in the use of resources are emerging or not in the institutions need to be documented. Documenting these trends will contribute to an understanding of the impact the reforms are having on the academic life of the institutions.
Besides, and despite the reforms, the institutions continue to suffer from a crisis of quality. The main motivation for the reforms was to have the institutions re-establish more strongly in their academic engagements and relevance to the development needs of their societies. The HELP studies do point out that some aspects associated with the reforms may be contributing to this crisis of quality and causing negative perceptions of the institutions among external stakeholders. The new leadership has focused more on revenue generation and increasing student numbers without regard to quality processes. The focus of the reforms has largely been in expanding student enrolments while ignoring to pay attention to the governance of the academic aspects of the institutions. Large class sizes and shorter semester durations have become a common strategy for most institutions to increase student intakes and generate revenues. The ratio and quality of the teaching staff in the institutions have deteriorated as quality assurance practices have focused on benchmarking the efficiency with which a lot more students are brought into the institutions and processed through than on core learning outcomes.
Some old governance challenges in the form of subtle forms of political interference also still remain; while new ones are emerging in terms of having the reforms deliver the expected outcomes of strong academic institutions. In a sense the reforms have brought into operation more institutions (both public and private); increased enrollments and programs on offer; but also a multiplicity of players outside governments. In other instances, higher education policies have been designed without exhaustive deliberation among the broad range of stakeholders-private providers, academics, students, governments, alumni and university management; in other instances policy implementation and entrenchment has faced resistance from internal sections that feel threatened by loss of influence, while in other cases new forms of institutional autonomy have opened up competition and erosion of standards in ways that have justified excuses for a return to the era of state-driven policy and administrative command.
The focus of the HEPI initiative resonates with other research and training initiatives that CODESRIA has been engaged in, which have focused on supporting universities to work more efficiently and produce better academic outcomes that can have positive impacts in shaping public policies. It also mirrors other efforts to revitalize higher education in Africa in the context of the Post-2015 Social Development goals. The African Union’s Continental Education Strategy for Africa, 2016-2025, for example focuses on reorienting Africa’s education and training systems to meet the knowledge, competencies, skills, innovation and creativity required to nurture African core values and promote sustainable development. Among the principles the strategy proposes to achieve this objective is through promoting good governance, leadership and accountability in the management of the education sector.
Specific Objectives of the HEPI Initiative
a) To generate research on critical governance and leadership related issues that face higher education in a subset of African countries to inform policy
b) To enhance the capacity of social science academics in a sub-set of African countries to conduct research on higher education;
c) Enhance the capacity of higher education leadership in a subset of African countries to engage with a wide range of stakeholders.
d). Enhance the capacity of higher education institutions to use varied data for institutional management and accountability
e) To disseminate research results from the project to a broader range of higher education stakeholders in Africa; including the academic and non-academic stakeholders.
Themes for Research and Training
The following themes will form the basis around which research and training themes will be constituted
• Broadening stakeholder engagement in Higher Education governance
• The nature of data for governance and its utilization
• Leadership and Innovative pedagogies
• Higher Education reform and role of middle level academics in university governance and leadership
Specific Research, Training and Policy Dissemination activities to be undertaken
• Setting up 6 research networks at the national and regional levels as well as comparative research networks on the four research themes discussed.
• Holding of one inception methodological workshop for the research groups
• Holding two training institutes for middle level academics
• Leadership profiles and contributions of 15 past higher education leaders and one compiled book publication to be entitled: ‘Chronicles of Higher Education Academic leaders in Africa’.
• Final dissemination workshop