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Conceptualising Higher Education and the Public Good in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa

Unterhalter, E; Allais, S; Howell, C; McCowan, T; Morley, L; Ibrahim, O; Oketch, M; (2018) Conceptualising Higher Education and the Public Good in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa. In: Proceedings of the CIES 2018 Annual Conference. Comparative and International Education Society (CIES): Mexico City, Mexico. Green open access

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Abstract

Higher education has been the object of policy attention in sub-Saharan Africa in recent years. It has been seen as key to unlocking the potential of the youth bulge, responding to the demands of a growing middle class and to transforming commodities-based economies into knowledge societies (World Bank 2009; Cloete, Maassen & Bailey 2015; Chuks, 2017). Yet despite significant expansions of enrolment – including widening participation by women, major barriers to access exist, reflecting inequalities based on class, gender, geographical location, ethnicity, religion, language and disability (AAI 2015; Morley & Lugg 2009; Morley & Croft, 2011). There are quality challenges in relation to teaching and learning, research, and governance. While some comment on a ’renaissance in African higher education’ (Higgs, 2016), and others on the effects and framings of colonial epistemicides (Nyamnjoh, 2012) key questions abound about relevance and power relations highlighting the need to decolonise the curriculum, structure, organisation and cultures of universities. The student protests in South Africa from 2015 highlighted problems of access and funding, but these are not isolated events. They expose an unresolved colonial legacy in these higher education systems. These processes raise questions not only of the public good relevance of higher education - beyond the obvious advantages conferred on those who manage to go to these institutions – but also of how higher education and its relationship with society may be conceptualised given these contexts (Lebeau and Milla, 2008; Mamdani, 2017). An overarching question is who is defining the public good and how? While many of the above issues are global e.g. universities throughout Latin America, Australasia, Asia and Europe are involved in similar debates and protests, this paper explores the relationship between higher education and the public good in the sub- Saharan African context through a consideration of some connections and disconnections. There appear to be two distinct ways in which higher education and the public good have been conceptualised are discussed. Firstly, higher education can be portrayed as instrumental in shaping a version of the public good where its qualifications, knowledge production, innovation, development of the professional classes, and expertise are perceived to lead to particular manifestations of public good, delineated as economic, social, political or cultural (McMahon 2009; Stiglitz 1999). The key arguments that underpin this conceptual framing speak to different levels of the public good, whether individual and community levels or the provision of ‘global public goods’ (Marginson 2007; 2013; Menashy 2009). However, a contrasting set of arguments portray the relationship between higher education and the public good as an intrinsic one, where the intellectual, physical and cultural experiences enabled through higher education express and enact the public good e.g. prejudice reduction, democratisation, critical thinking, active citizenship (Singh 2001; Calhoun 2006; Leibowitz, 2013; Marginson, 2011; Locatelli, 2017). Important here are considerations of the historical conjuncture that shapes experiences of higher education at a particular time and what these may mean. In considering the connections and disjunctures between these two formulations and the way writings on higher education in contemporary Africa have engaged with this debate, the paper makes an argument for discussing the importance of processes that link instrumental and intrinsic visions of higher education and the public good. The analysis of these from a rigorous review of literature leads to a delineation of some different views of time, space and evaluation. The paper argues that these contestations need to be read contextually. Higher education in sub-Saharan Africa has moved through phases, from the establishment of flagship national universities in the post-independence period for state bureaucracy formation (Teferra, 2017), to the emergence of developmental universities with a commitment to indigenising knowledge and benefiting marginalised populations, through more recent tendencies towards the marketisation of public institutions and the significant growth of the private sector (Assié-Lumumba & CODESRIA 2006; ADEA & AAU 2004; Coleman 1986; Mamdani, 2007; McCowan 2016). Appreciating these contextual factors in shaping the role and functioning of higher education and thus its relationship to the public good is a central theme in our analysis. We suggest that mainstream conceptualisations of higher education and the public good are underpinned by particular understandings of the nature and form of higher education and how knowledge is acquired, developed and disseminated – orientations that may be very far from the reality of highly unequal, socially stratified, and politically complex societies within which higher education is deeply embedded. Thus a reconceptualisation of the public is required by these contexts and some challenge to conceptualisations of the private, given the strong obligations of individuals to extended families, and the sharing of the benefits of higher education amongst their communities of origin. The paper concludes with a consideration of what may be important in conceptualising higher education and the public good in the African context and the value of such thinking for broader debates on the role of higher education.

Type: Proceedings paper
Title: Conceptualising Higher Education and the Public Good in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa
Event: Re-Mapping Global Education: South-North Dialogue
Location: Mexico City, Mexico
Dates: 25 March 2018 - 29 March 2018
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Publisher version: https://cies2018.org/
Language: English
Additional information: This version is the author accepted manuscript. For information on re-use, please refer to the publisher’s terms and conditions.
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Education
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Education > UCL Institute of Education
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Education > UCL Institute of Education > IOE - Education, Practice and Society
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10050089
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