23–25 October 2006, Dakar, SenegalNumber of visits: 1380
The Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA) is pleased to announce the inaugural session 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 admin istrative 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 inaugural session of the conference is: African Social Research and Training in Transition: Challenges and Opportunities. 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. Among many other questions, participants at the conference will be invited to examine the sources of the transitions taking place, their contours and direction, their political and philosophical underpinnings, the constraints encountered, the new resources that have had to be mobilised, the gaps that are in evidence, the systems of quality control that are in place or under construction, the nature and efficacy of innovations that are being experimented with in teaching and research, the changing modes of interaction among staff, the shifts occurring in the relationships between staff and student, the quality of post-graduate programmes on offer, determinants of the content of curriculum, the governance of the curriculum itself, and the challenges of (re-)establishing African universities as world-class centres of advanced research and teaching in the social sciences and humanities.
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.