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

Curriculum Reform in African Universities: Past Experiences, Future Directions

01-03 December, 2008, Yaoundé, Cameroon

Number of visits: 1198

Conference of Deans of Faculties of Social Sciences and Humanities
The Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa
(CODESRIA) is pleased to announce the third in the series 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 and build knowledge around those experiences;
· Exchange views on the common challenges they are confronted with;
· Actively learn from one another;
· 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; and
· Achieve 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. 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.

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 valueadded,
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
and Sociology. 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 institutionalising the annual conference of deans of faculties of
social sciences and humanities of African universities as one of its core activities.
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 third conference is: Curriculum Reform
in African Universities: Past Experiences, Future 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. As noted earlier, historically, the social sciences
and humanities have been under much greater pressure to prove their
relevance and worth in post-colonial contexts where development was defined
as a high priority for which investment in natural science and engineering
courses were required if it was to be secured. The pressures were to become
even more acute following the onset of crises in the economies of most
African countries, crises which saw cut-backs in the level of funding and a push
for the reform of curriculum on the basis of labour market considerations.
Within the framework of the structure of incentives that emerged in the Africa
of the 1980s onwards, the curriculum for programmes in the social sciences
and humanities were subjected to various degrees of revision and reform designed
to enable them to respond to the pressures they came under to prove
their relevance. In the course of these reforms, not only the content of courses
but their packaging and modes of delivery were changed. Course mergers
were undertaken, a few new courses introduced, a variety of executive programmes
launched, and a number of courses phased out. The third conference
of Deans will devote its attention to a discussion of the changes that have
been introduced to the social science and humanities curriculum across Africa.
The nature of the changes, their dimensions, and the consequences registered
will be examined. Prospective conference participants would be especially
encouraged to assess the gender impact and consequences arising from the
curriculum reforms that have been undertaken. Experiments in joint curriculum
development undertaken with regard to postgraduate training in Economics
and other disciplines will also be reviewed, as will the types of regular and
executive programmes in place, the ends they are designed to serve and the
results registered thus far. Contemporary reforms in the curriculum system
would be compared with earlier rounds/experiences of reform in the history
of African higher education both in terms of philosophy and direction. The
kind of university that is emerging out of the reforms, and the calibre of university
graduates being produced will be examined both in their own right
and with regard to their long-term developmental implications.

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


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