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

International Conference : Academic Freedom and Higher Education Reforms in North Africa

27- 28 March 2008, Rabat, Morocco

Number of visits: 3157

The Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA) and the Institute for African Studies of the Mohammed V-Souissi University are pleased to announce the organisation of an international conference on Academic Freedom and Higher Education Reforms in North Africa in Rabat, Morocco, from 27-28 March 2008.

This conference, aimed at strengthening one of the main missions of the Council — the promotion of freedom of thought and of research in African universities, is organised within the framework of the CODESRIA Academic Freedom Programme. The meeting is part of a series of debates started by CODESRIA in 2007 on ongoing reforms in African universities and the impact of these reforms on academic freedom. More concretely, the conference is a follow up on an earlier conference on Academic Freedom in African and Arab Countries: Problems and Challenges, which was jointly organised by the Scientific Committee of the UNESCO Regional Forum for Arab countries, the Arab-African Research Centre, the Swedish Institute in Alexandria, and CODESRIA, and which held in Alexandria, Egypt, from 10-11 September 2005.

In the last three decades, issues of freedom of expression and academic freedom, as well as human rights have been at the centre of social and political struggles in North African countries. This region, which boasts some of the oldest universities (Al Azhar in Egypt, Al Karaouine in Tunisia and Morocco) and some of the oldest political systems in the world, has is testimony of a long and complex relationship between knowledge producers on one hand and wielders of political power on the other. The modernisation of these societies, as well as their integration in the globalisation process, come with a consciousness amongst the younger generation on issues of civil, political and cultural rights, especially universal access to quality scientific teachings, the rights of women to participate on the same level as men in the social and economic development of their country, as well as the right to information at all levels. This consciousness translated into extremely complex struggles and has not left researchers and academics behind, underscoring the strong link between the quest for civic rights and the struggle for academic freedom. The notion of academic freedom enables academics the right to enjoy all forms of freedom of expression within and outside institutions of higher education, as well as the freedom of dissemination of results of academic research.

Particular attention will be paid to the relationships between State, civil society, political players, military and economic powers. To better understand the collaboration and confrontation between State and Intellectuals, the participants are invited to seek to clarify the complex relationships that exist between the State, civil society and intellectuals. The various political contexts experienced by these societies, the period of one-party state and of so-called democratic reforms in particular, and their impact on academic freedom will also be discussed. Is there a difference between the way monarchies and other political systems have impacted on academic freedom? How to understand “direct democracies” in relation to the challenges posed by academic freedom? Equally of interest will be the relationship between religious movements and freedom of expression. To what extent is it true to claim that religion has always been the dominant ideology in North African states, and the main political legitimization and social mobilisation tool? Otherwise, what has been the role of religion in limiting or promoting academic freedom? Have we gone past the “conservative revolution” of Algeria in the beginning of the 1990s, which in the name of religious values, demanded not freedom or freedoms, but the power to institutionalise and normalize the right to forbid? At what costs was the Islamist wave that wanted to silence intellectuals as bearers of “sense” as active representatives of another cultural hegemony, opposite to that of Islamists of yesteryears overcome in that country in the beginning of the 1990s?

Looking back at the struggle for these freedoms, the conference will undertake a critical assessment of academics in relation to these struggles. Since the Kampala declaration that took place in a context of trampled liberties, and that, among others, dwelled on the social responsibility of researchers and academics, a long way has been travelled. The freedom of expression and of association has become reality in many African countries, including North African countries. However, important challenges still exist. We could ask what has become of these hard earned freedoms? What new challenges face intellectuals in North Africa with the rise of terrorism?

The envisaged debate on academic freedom will not be limited to its political dimension. The conference will be the occasion to revisit the thorny issue of the universalisation of Arab universities against the arabisation and africanisation of curricula. In the last two decades, African universities in general and universities in North Africa in particular have undergone influences and trends that have affected the practices and norms of academic freedom. Globalisation has brought opportunities for academic freedom, particularly in terms of knowledge production, research and teaching possibilities. But it poses a certain number of constraints and of challenges that less developed countries must face. The issue of the impact of western values, often considered as universal, on academic freedom, must have the place it deserves in the debates, as well as the question of the weight or hegemony, of the neo-liberalism in the search for solutions to the problems of higher education.

The objective of the conference is the strengthening of capacity in higher education in Africa towards quality training and research, for the production of knowledge and techniques necessary for the development and well being of African populations. This is only possible with concertation amongst the various actors working in the higher education sector (lecturers, governments, civil society and international partners) and promotion of a frank and open dialogue that will contribute to the transformation of the situation.

It is noteworthy that in the past few years, there is growing interest on the part of national and international decision makers in issues of higher education reform in Africa, stemming from the computer revolution and the global mutation towards an information society where knowledge has taken, nowadays, the place of capital as source of wealth for the present and for the future.

To face the challenge of the acceleration of knowledge production, Morocco has undertaken, since 2002, a series of national initiatives for human development whose first objective is to integrate Moroccans in the new world order. The reform of higher education introduced in 2002-2003, is part of these initiatives. It is based on a national charter of education and training that defines the rights and obligation of the various partners in this endeavour – the lecturers, the students, the State and civil society. At the heart of this reform, there is the issue of human rights as defined by international conventions and declarations signed by Morocco, and that comprise “academic freedom”, “institutional autonomy” and “social responsibility”.

From the Moroccan experience in human rights and in higher education reforms and taking into account experiences of other countries in this regard, CODESRIA and the Institute of African Studies invite experts and decision makers in higher education as well as Moroccan and other human rights advocates to reflect in a comparative perspective on the following points:

- Concepts of “academic freedom”, “institutional autonomy” and of “social responsibility” in the frameworks of reforms in higher education in Africa;
- History and the present state of African higher education in general, in North Africa and in Morocco in particular
- Contexts – national, regional and global – of higher education reform in North Africa, the implications on the democratisation process and to what extent the present reform has consolidated academic freedom, developed capacity in knowledge production and contributed to the promotion of social progress in North Africa
- Strategies for the strengthening of academic freedom and social responsibility in North African contexts
- Development of private universities and the privatisation of certain services in institutions of higher education and their impact on academic freedom
- Impact of the universalisation of higher education reform in North African countries on academic freedom
- Social actors in the struggle for academic freedom
- Autonomy of university and the State

January 4 2010