Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa
Conseil pour le développement de la recherche en sciences sociales en Afrique
Conselho para o Desenvolvimento da Pesquisa em Ciências Sociais em África
مجلس تنمية البحوث الإجتماعية في أفريقيا


Financing Autonomous Social Research in Africa: Past Experience, Current Directions

28–30 November, 2007, Dakar, Senegal

Number of visits: 1287

The Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA) is
pleased to announce the second edition of its new initiative designed to bring the
deans of faculties of social sciences and humanities of African universities together for
an annual conference organised around a scientific theme of common interest. This programme
is one of the new activities being launched by the Council as part of its strategic
objectives for the advancement of the frontiers of the production and dissemination
of knowledge. It grew out of a desire to fill an observed gap in the quest for the renewal
of the African higher education system, namely, the absence of a regular, structured
forum in Africa that would permit key managers of the higher education system
in general and the deans of the faculties of social sciences and humanities in particular
to reflect on their experiences, exchange views on common challenges confronting
them, actively learn from one another, and draw on one another’s problem-solving
resources in ways which could help to generate new comparative insights into African
higher education in a period of transition, whilst simultaneously achieving broader networking
objectives. CODESRIA is committed to developing the conference into a core
activity that will be integral to its strategy for supporting the African university over
the long haul; each conference will be structured to lead to the production of a publication
that will serve both as an important record of and statement on the state of the
social sciences and humanities in Africa.

CODESRIA was established in 1973 as an initiative of centres of social and economic
research drawn from across the continent. The Council was created to provide these
institutions with a forum located in Africa that would facilitate knowledge production
and dissemination with a distinctly African value-added, promote experience-sharing
across geographical and linguistic boundaries, and contribute to the projection of African
voices on a global scale. Over the years since 1973, both the terrain of African
social research and the institutional context for knowledge production have undergone
major changes which have also impacted on the operationalisation of CODESRIA’s
mandate as the premier and apex organisation of scientists active in the Social Sciences
and Humanities. Of the many changes that are relevant to the mandate of the
Council, none is more obvious than the explosion in the number of universities and centres
of advanced research. And yet, this explosion in numbers has not always translated
into the boosting of opportunities for the advancement of the frontiers of social
research and knowledge production. Indeed, if anything, the disciplines of social research
have consistently had to struggle for their presence and relevance in the African
higher education system. Initially, during the first decades of independence and as
local political spaces shrank, the view was prevalent in government circles that the social
sciences and humanities bred an infectious radicalism that could only be stamped
out by banning the teaching of some disciplines like Political Science. Moreover, some
felt that an investment of “scarce” resources in the social sciences and humanities
amounted to little more than a waste in countries where, according to this position, the
greatest need was for engineers, doctors and other professionals drawn from the
“hard” sciences.

When African countries went into their prolonged economic decline from the beginning
of the 1980s onwards, the attack on the social sciences and the humanities was sustained
with arguments that centred on their alleged irrelevance to the development
process and their inappropriateness to the requirements of domestic – and even international
– labour markets. The crises of funding that characterised the period from the
1980s onwards, the book famine that set in, the brain drain, the collapse of many university
presses, the collapse of university-based academic journals and the culture of
regular scholarly seminars, the massification process that has led to an explosion in
student numbers, decaying physical infrastructure, sustained attacks on academic freedom,
the unidirectional push for the marketisation of the curriculum, and a demotivated
community of teachers and students added up to take their toll on the development of
the social sciences and the humanities. Arguably, the social sciences and humanities
have never been under greater pressure than today. In the worst cases, several departments/
fields have simply been rationalised out of existence because they have
been decreed to be irrelevant; others have atrophied for want of students and/or
qualified teachers. Without exception, all disciplines of the social sciences and humanities
have either undergone or are under pressure to undergo changes in the content of
their curriculum. Issues of quality rank alongside concerns about viability to define the
core of the challenges confronting the social sciences and humanities; the challenges of
renewal are numerous but it is not always clear that the policy choices made are the
most appropriate.

Responses to the generalised crises of the African higher education system and the
specific difficulties confronting the social sciences and humanities have been varied
and have come from various sources. CODESRIA, through its programmes, has been in
the forefront of the effort within Africa to contribute to the strengthening and renewal
of the social sciences and humanities, doing so through various multi-pronged interventions that also carry a multidisciplinary edge. Proceeding on the premise that no society
can ever hope to overcome the challenges of development which it confronts if it does not
invest in the social sciences and humanities, CODESRIA is taking its programmatic work one
step further by launching the annual conference of deans of faculties of social sciences
and humanities of African universities. The initiative is coming at a time when the academic
and administrative leadership of the African university is undergoing multiple and multifaceted
changes, including the departure into retirement of many of the pioneers of the
post-independence period and the arrival in positions of leadership of the second and
third generation of scholars. The conference will serve the purpose of encouraging a focused
scholarly reflection on the state of the social sciences and humanities in Africa by
those who, by virtue of their positions in the university system, occupy frontline positions of
academic and administrative leadership. It will also serve the supplementary purpose of
networking the deans across the geographical, linguistic and gender boundaries that tend
to keep them apart.

The theme that has been selected for the second edition of the conference is: Financing
Autonomous Social Research in African Universities: Past Experience, Current Directions.
It is a theme which speaks to the multiple transitions taking place in the organisation
of research and training in African universities and which deans, by virtue of their positions,
are required to oversee. Historically, for various reasons which need not detain us
here, the social sciences and humanities have been less privileged with regard to the university
research funding made available to them. Perhaps the most important contemporary
contextual factor is the sharp and prolonged decline, if not outright collapse of even
the inadequate funding levels that were previously available. Consequent upon this, and
in spite of struggles waged by academic staff, autonomous university financing of research
has been in recession even as various revenue-generating drives have been pursued
by administrators and individual researchers have immersed themselves in a burgeoning
culture of consultancy. The recession in autonomous university research funding
may have been very partially assuaged on some campuses by the support made available
by international foundations and agencies but such support has been limited both in
spread and quantity. Some governments have also introduced systems of coupling additional
funding to public universities to the record of publications which the academic staff
maintains in internationally accredited journals but this has hardly generated the kinds of
volumes which could result in a turn around in the funding available to support research
initiatives generated by the academic staff.

With regard to the revenue generation drive pursued by university administrations, evidence
exists on the magnitude of the resources that are being raised, especially through
fee-paying programmes which have proliferated and fed into the massification of student
numbers in ways which are, in and of themselves, detrimental to the research purpose;
what is less clear is why some of the resources are not being ploughed into the revival of
university research funding and the infrastructure of research. As to the consultancy culture,
the manner by which it has been managed in most universities has reinforced the decline
of autonomous research whilst fragmenting the research community itself. The specific
forms of consultancies present in the university system and the different ways in which they
have impacted upon the culture of autonomous research require to be explored and documented.
Both with regard to revenue generation strategies and consultancies, because of
the narrow commercial/economistic logic underpinning them, certain specific disciplines are
clearly more privileged than others; the consequence is that in the absence of autonomous
funding, some fields of study are being weakened, even faced with the danger of extinction.
Deans are compelled to seek alternative strategies for keeping those fields open to
students and senior researchers alike. These alternatives require to be generalised into a
broader reflection on the financing of autonomous social research in the contemporary
African university and participants in the 2007 conference are invited to do so drawing on
their own immediate institutional experience and comparative examples from elsewhere.

In order to make the conference both productive and worthwhile, each meeting will be
focused on a theme; networking opportunities will also be provided that will allow for a
structured sharing of experiences by the deans. Prospective participants in the conference
must be currently serving as deans of faculties of social sciences and humanities
in African universities. They are also required to send an abstract of the paper which
they would like to present at the conference along with their curriculum vitae. An independent
selection committee will be appointed by CODESRIA to undertake a blind review
of the abstracts received and recommend those that should be considered for development
into full papers to be presented at the conference.




Comments

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