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

The Place of the African University in the Emerging Global Higher Education Space

6-7 December 2011, Rabat, Morocco

Number of visits: 2290

The Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA) is pleased to announce the fourth session of its initiative designed to bring together the deans of faculties of social sciences and humanities of universities in Africa. As part of its strategy to support the African university, CODESRIA has created this forum which it desires should occur regularly, as it enables the managers of the higher education system in general and the deans of faculties of social sciences and humanities in particular to:

- 1. reflect on their experiences;
- 2. exchange views on common challenges confronting them;
- 3. learn from one another; and
- 4. 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.

Each conference would 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, 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, through various multidisciplinary interventions. Proceeding on the premise that no society can ever hope to overcome the development challenges facing it if it does not invest in the social sciences and humanities, CODESRIA is taking its programmatic efforts 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 African universities is undergoing multiple and multifaceted changes, including the departure into retirement of many of the pioneers of the post-independence period and the arrival 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 occupy frontline positions of academic and administrative leadership in the university system . It will also serve the supplementary purpose of networking the deans across the geographical, linguistic and gender boundaries that tend to keep them apart.

For the 2011 session to be held in 6-7 December in Rabat, Morocco on the sidelines of the 13th CODESRIA General Assembly, the focus will be on "The Place of the African University in the Emerging Global Higher Education Space." The context of globalization is also that of the building of a global higher education space, whose various milestones, among others, were laid successively by the Lisbon Convention elaborated by the Council of Europe and UNESCO (1997), the Sorbonne Declaration (1998), the Bologna Declaration (1999) and the Berlin Summit of 2003. One should also stress the important role of UNESCO in the changes taking place globally as shown for instance by the six regional conferences on higher education (Cartagena of the Indies, Macau, Dakar, New Delhi, Bucharest and Cairo) and the World Conferences of 1998 and 2009.

The new geography that is taking shape in the North imposes, one way or another, challenges to the world of higher education and social science research in Africa. The Bologna Process, which was aimed at creating a European higher education and research space, integrating the parameter of mobility and competitiveness, ultimately went beyond its original place to impose itself, through the LMD or 3-5-8 system, at the African university level at a particular time in its history. Indeed, a flashback shows that the crisis that has been shaking up the African economies since the late 70s, got to its peak in the 80s (the lost decades) and has progressively led to the dilapidation and destabilization of the African university system, affecting research, especially in the area of social sciences. In fact, the problems facing the African university, including overcrowding, lack of funding and infrastructure, declining quality, brain drain and the end of the monopoly of knowledge production, seriously jeopardize the renewal of knowledge and that of the professional body that produces them.

It is in such a precarious situation that the African university has integrated this global higher education space under construction which subjects it to the neoliberal paradigm and the logic of competitiveness, at a time when knowledge has become an immeasurable value and the human brain "the most important infrastructure in the economy of our age", to quote Akilakpa Sawyerr.

If we look closer, this unifying reform, which attaches little importance to cultural diversity, has resulted in the obscuring of the political dimension of the university, which only can help to take charge of the development priorities set by African societies. Is this phenomenon, which sees the African university integrate into the logic of global space or market for higher education, the expression of total submission to the dominant economic and epistemological order, which attaches little attention to pluralism, equality and equity? Is the African university increasingly likely become a peripheral place of knowledge production, or even a place of production of peripheral knowledge?

How can we remedy this situation and, especially, what should be the role of social sciences in the affirmation of a credible and qualitative African presence in the new global village? How can social sciences go beyond the fragmentation and, especially, integrate into a post-disciplinary era to tackle the complexity of challenges? How, through social science research, can we create new forms of solidarity between different parts of the continent to better take charge of the development needs of our societies that are confronted with poverty, HIV/AIDS, climate change, environmental problems, gender inequality, etc.? How, with a view to responding to such varied challenges, can we transform the human capital deficit resulting from brain drain into a source of opportunities for the university and social science research in Africa? How can we reflect on such challenges without questioning the funding mechanisms of the university which contribute to building the autonomy of research? Indeed, today, the bulk of funding for social science research comes from donors outside the continent who are increasingly demanding an obligation of results in terms of impact for the research activities they fund on policies developed at local, national or regional level as well as on the living conditions of African populations. How, under such conditions, can we overcome the funding challenge by encouraging African states, regional organizations and even patrons to fund social science research so that the pride can be theirs and not those of the donors? The reflection should also address the role of regional institutions, such as CODESRIA, OSSREA, the proposed Pan-African University of the African Union (AU) and CAMES in this new context and in relation to the challenges that the XXI century imposes on Africa. How do the actions of such organizations contribute to the creation of an African higher education and research space, a place for coordination and pooling of resources, definition of curricula and programmes that better meet the needs of Africa, and negotiation for a larger place and a more significant status for the African university and research in the global space?

Finally, the conference will, through a prospective approach, re-examine the mission of the African university in this global higher education space under construction, with its constraints, challenges as well as its opportunities.

July 14 2011