On the move towards research-led universities – Meeting of the HERANA project discusses institutional change in African flagship universities

This guest entry is written by Jens Jungblut and summarises some of the key activities at a recent HERANA workshop in Cape Town. Jens is currently a post-doctoral researcher at INCHER, University of Kassel. 

From November 20 until November 24 the Center for Higher Education Trust (CHET) organized a workshop in the context of the HERANA research project in Cape Town. During this meeting representatives of seven flagship universities from different Sub-Saharan African countries discussed together with a group of international experts the institutional developments of the different universities on their road to becoming research-led universities.

HERANA workshop participants

The workshop started out with a presentation of the activities of CHET by its director Nico Cloete, which was followed by a short lecture from Peter Maassen, professor of higher education at the Department of Education at the University of Oslo, who presented findings from a research project that investigated the characteristics of research flagship universities in Europe highlighting commonalities but also differences between several successful institutions. Afterwards, Åse Gornitzka, professor of political science at the University of Oslo, discussed organizational change processes in higher education with an emphasis on explanations from organizational theories why change processes can be slow, unpredictable and sometimes even fail. Professor Leo Goedegebuure, director at the LH Martin Institute in Melbourne, presented to the participants recent developments in higher education in South-East Asia and offered some conclusions on institutional factors that allowed some universities in Asia to strengthen their research function and catch up with global developments. His presentation was followed by a reflection from Fred Hayward on his work during the last years for USAID supporting the reform of higher education in Afghanistan in which he also highlighted some common challenges between Africa and Afghanistan.

CHET director Nico Cloete at the HERANA workshop

The second half of the day was dedicated to insights from African experts. Ernest Aryeetey, the former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ghana and the Secretary General of the African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA), started out by offering some reflections on challenges that he experienced as rector of a university that works towards becoming a research-led institution and how he managed to circumvent some of them during his term as rector. In a final round of reflections three members of the board of CHET Teboho Moja, Lidia Brito and Esi Sutherland-Addy each contextualized the discussions of the first day in a longitudinal perspective looking back at the 21 years that CHET has been working on reform processes in African higher education. The evening ended with a brief celebration and the African launch of the book “Pathways through Higher Education Research: A Festschrift in honour of Peter Maassen”.

The second day started off with a presentation by Ian Bunting and Nico Cloete who gave an overview of the development in the universities that are part of the HERANA project throughout the course of the research project. In their presentation they focused on key indicators of the HERANA project such as student numbers, student-staff ratio, or the number of staff with PhD degrees, all of which are also available in the online open data repository of the project. This was followed by a detailed presentation by Robert Tijssen, professor of Science and Innovation Studies at the University of Leiden, who presented results of a bibliometric analysis of the most-cited output of the seven flagship universities and patterns of cooperation in these publications. He showed that the seven universities had a surprisingly high number of research publications that fell into the category of being in the top 1% of highly cited articles in the Web of Science. A differentiated pattern emerged regarding the cooperation in the authorship of these articles with some universities being more involved in international cooperation than others.

Afterwards, all participating universities presented the development of their institutions throughout the last year and engaged in an open discussion on common challenges as well as good practices. The group of universities included the University of Cape Town, Makerere University, the University of Ghana, the University of Botswana, the University of Mauritius, Dar es Salaam University and Eduardo Mondlane University. The day was concluded by some reflections from the international experts on the presentations by the universities.

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Great discussions continued during the breaks

The final day of the workshop focused on data management as well as the use of open data in institutional research with the aim to strengthen the universities’ ability to pro-actively steer their institutions and base their decision-making on facts. This section consisted of presentations from different institutions that already use such systems, highlighting their advantages but also challenges in their day-to-day use. These presentations were given by Patricio Langa, professor of higher education at the University of the Western Cape, Gerald Ouma, Director of Planning at the University of Pretoria, Charles Sheppard, Director of Management Information at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, and Francois van Schalkwyk from CHET.

Overall, the workshop highlighted that the seven universities who presented their development towards becoming a research-led institution have made some significant progress but also still face many challenges. In addition, the presentations clearly showed the diversity between the seven countries and universities showing the complexity of developments in contemporary Sub-Saharan African higher education. The results of the workshop will be published in an edited volume that presents all results of the HERANA project and is scheduled for the end of 2017.

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Pictures in this post were kindly provided by one of the participants at the workshop, Dr Fareeda Khodabocus who is the Director Quality Assurance at the University of Mauritius.