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 Youth in African Higher Education


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For the 2008 session of the Institute, the theme that has been selected is The Youth in African Higher Education. This is a theme that has become crucial to explore not only because of the renewed recognition of the central role of higher education in democratic development but also on account of the rapid transformations taking place in African higher education which, on the face of it, should translate into expanded opportunities for access for the youth at a time of equally important demographic changes in African countries. Contemporary Africa has come a long way from the period when questions were posed as to the relevance, benefits and viability of higher education on the continent. Today, not only has the principle been accepted that higher education in general and the university in particular do have a place in Africa, there is a tremendous growth in the number of institutions of higher learning which are in existence across the continent offering full-time programmes alongside the expansion of part-time and distance learning opportunities. Significantly, the complete monopoly or partial domination which the state once had in the provision of higher education is being broken with the licensing by governments of private providers. Indeed, given the rate of their establishment, it is clear that in several African countries, there are likely to be more private universities and other centres of higher education than public ones in the near future. Among the private institutions of higher education are many confessional ones founded on different religious doctrines which they seek, to a greater or lesser extent, to project into the organisation of campus life and the curriculum. Also, Africa has been a key market targeted by international providers seeking to take advantage of opportunities mid-wifed by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to trade in educational services.

Yet, while the massive expansion in the higher education sector might appear at one level to signal an expansion of opportunity for the younger members of society to acquire advanced learning and training, at another level, there are several countervailing factors and processes at play that would seem to call for a deeper examination of what the transformation in African higher education might mean for the youth. For one, the state of the physical infrastructure and the infrastructure of learning in many institutions leaves a lot to be desired. For another, the massification in student numbers without a corresponding infrastructure expansion and an increase in the teaching faculty has adversely impacted upon the university/higher education experience for many young people, generating as a plethora of uncivil cultures and attitudinal shifts to which many are being socialised. Furthermore, challenges continue to exist with regard to the content of the curricular in differing higher education institutions and programmes with consequences for their relevance to the concerns, interests and circumstances of the youth. Also, the levying of tuition and non-tuition fees by many institutions of higher learning has introduced a strong dose of selectivity into the ability of the youth to access advanced training, all the more so given the sustained state of poverty and/or income collapse suffered by many households across the continent in the period since the beginning of the 1980s, and in the light of the uneven distribution of the benefits of growth that has taken place. Further still, the capacity of the higher education system to prepare the youth who are recruited for life after graduation has been limited, evidenced, for example, by difficulties encountered with employability upon the completion of studies. Finally, young Africans themselves are increasingly exploring alternative opportunities to higher education. Some of these alternatives are pursued as a function of the dysfunctionalities they feel about the higher education system vis-à-vis their interests and concerns.

Through the 2008 session of the CODESRIA Child and Youth Studies Institute, participants are being invited to undertake a critical assessment of what, on the one hand, higher education means for the youth in Africa and how they attempt to make it work for them, and, on the other hand, the extent to which the higher education system meets the needs of the youth, however these needs may be defined. In undertaking the assessment, participants will be encouraged, at one level, to examine the youth both as a social category and the higher education system as a coherent, unified system and, at another level, to distinguish among different categories of youth and higher education institutions in order to tease out nuances that speak to the overarching objectives of the 2008 Institute. A critical question which the Institute will seek to address relates to the factors favouring the decision of some youths to enter and go through the higher education system, and correlation between those factors and their post-graduation experiences. The session will also explore the cultures which the youth as students have developed around the higher education system, the factors underpinning the cultures, and their impact on the environment of learning. Comparisons and contrasts between on and off-campus youth cultures will be undertaken given that a large proportion of students are compelled either by deliberate policy or on-campus accommodation shortages to live off-campus whilst studying. Similar comparisons could be pursued between confessional and non-confessional institutions of higher education in terms of the kinds of student/youth cultures that are in evidence. A critical part of campus culture are the student associations that are in place. In addition to a mapping of the types of associations that are active on the campuses of African higher education institutions, attention will be paid to their changing nature over time, the different youth constituencies they represent, and what their missions tell us about the immediate and larger hopes and ambitions of young people in the higher education system.

The aspirations which the youths carry into the higher education system, the shifts that have occurred over time in these aspirations and the extent to which they are realisable in the light of the nature and mode of functioning of the system will also be explored. Where possible, university youth aspirations and cultures will be compared and contrasted with non-university youth aspirations and cultures. Measures taken by administrators of the higher education system to respond to the youthful demographics of campuses, as well as strategies that have deployed to make higher education attractive to young people will be examined. Attention will be paid too to the gender dimensions of the youth engagement with the higher education system, including patterns of entry, participation, socialisation, domination, resistance and exit. From a broader societal point of view, the question will be addressed as to whether the higher education system is an effective site for the incubation of ambitions and innovation for autonomy and self reliance among the youth or a theatre where stalemates in the post-independence projects of development, democracy and unity are played out. For the purpose of exploring these different issues and undertaking their work, participants in the Institute will have access to the resources of the CODESRIA Documentation and Information Centre (CODICE) and the expertise of a team of experienced resource persons.

December 28 2009