Community Based Research and Community University Engagement have been proposed as the most viable strategies for African Universities to salvage their much coveted position as agents of social change in society. This was the overwhelming realization of participants in a half-day workshop organized by the College of Education and External Studies (CEES), Makerere University on 28th October 2014 where the Fifth Global University Network for Innovation (GUNi) Report was also launched. The Fifth GUNi Report, ‘Higher Education in the World Report 5: Knowledge, Engagement and Higher Education: Contributing to Social Change’ is a product of three years’ research, consultations, academic seminars and an international conference, to which 73 authors from 34 countries have contributed.
Welcoming participants to the seminar, Dr. Alex Okot-Dean, School of Distance and Lifelong Learning (SoDLL), CEES noted that the Fifth GUNi Report Launch was preceded by a two-day workshop on Community University Engagement that drew Academics from Kenyan, Tanzanian and Ugandan Public Universities. Dr. Okot emphasized the need for Universities to move from the top-down mode of dissemination to reciprocally being engaged with the community to develop knowledge.
“From the meeting we had, we came up with resolutions to share with different universities and forge a critical community that will pursue avenues of working together with our respective universities and communities to develop modalities to improve Community University Engagement” shared Dr. Okot.
Dr. George Openjuru-former Dean, SoDLL and newly appointed Deputy Vice Chancellor of Gulu University and Dr. Janice Busingye, SoDLL both contributed chapters; “Knowledge, engagement and Higher Education in Africa” and “Knowledge, Engagement and Higher Education in Eastern Africa” respectively to the Fifth GUNi Report. In his presentation Dr. Openjuru noted that Makerere University through SoDLL was at the forefront of producing this report and it was therefore of great relevance that the report was launched at Makerere University. He also emphasized that Community University Engagement which was the gist of the 5th GUNi report was a participatory process that necessitated the involvement of the people on whom research was going to be undertaken in the knowledge creation process.
Dr. Openjuru paid tribute to the late Mwalimu Julius Nyerere whose passion and love for the Community University Engagement model enabled it to withstand all the resistance and negative energy that threatened its implementation. He shared that Higher Education in sub-Saharan Africa predates colonialism although the advent and establishment of the male Eurocentric world view dominated and continues to dominate the African Higher Education sector even today.
He shared that Indigenous Education is a philosophy which is continuous in life and does not separate education from implementation but seeks to apply whatever is learnt at a particular stage of life to that very particular point in life. To this end, Dr. Openjuru said “Indigenous education goes on throughout life and is therefore existent as an organic piece and not as separate entities. It goes on throughout the different stages of life and is in tandem with the changing roles and responsibilities that one must fulfill. You do not learn to become an elder while you are still young but only when you attain that age. This goes on until you are dead, which is a concept which has been rebranded as lifelong learning” he explained. He concluded by noting that Community University Engagement entails dialoguing with the community as equal partners in knowledge creation, a very important aspect in ensuring that graduates remain relevant to community needs.
Dr. Budd Hall is a Professor of Community at the University of Victoria, Canada and co-Director of the UNESCO Chair on Community Based Research and Social Responsibility in Higher Education. His first contact with Africa was as an 18 year old and has for the last 50 years been engaged in the development of participatory research along with various stakeholders including the late Mwalimu Julius Nyerere. He noted that the launch of the 5th GUNi Report was particularly important because this issue was the first of its kind that provided a global picture of Community University Engagement, as previous text books and scholarly works produced focused on particular countries or only one area of research. “This is the first report that has attempted to drawn experiences, voices and studies from as many countries and regions of the world as possible” said Prof Hall.
Commenting on the source of the content, Prof. Hall shared that ironically most of the intellectual roots of the work published came from people like Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, Kwame Nkrumah, and others from the region today referred to as the Global South although the last twelve years have played witness to its discovery by Universities and policymakers from the United Kingdom, USA and Canada. He noted that Community University Engagement is a movement that ought to have an impact and implications on not just outreach but teaching and research as well, which calls upon Higher Education to be more proactive and not just reactive.
“Our Students, Researchers and Administrative staff need to be on the lookout for what is going on in the community. We need to think about broadening our concept from simply just Knowledge Economy–the contribution of knowledge to a certain type of job creation to Knowledge Democracy which includes not only livelihood but also knowledge from different sources. We also need to continue to provide space for debate. Does the University still provide a public good or is it simply a place where our children go to get a degree and hopefully get a job?” challenged Prof. Hall.
Touching on the recommendations of the report, Prof. Hall noted the need for universities to recognize excellence in community-engaged scholarship, so that Scholars can advance their careers through ways that were more practical than publishing journal articles which very few members of the community read. He encouraged staff from other universities in the region who attended the seminar to hold similar forums with their respective leaders so as to bring them on board this discussion that has lately become very much part of our times.
The SPEDA (Skills for Production, Employment, and Development Project) Model under the African Institute of for Strategic Services and Development (AFRISA) in the College of Veterinary Medicine, Animal Resources and Biosecurity (CoVAB) is one of Makerere University’s most profound experiences of Community University Engagement. Making a presentation on the model at the Seminar, Prof. John David Kabasa the Principal CoVAB shared that this Makerere alternative education model and community transformation scheme for Africa is an initiative that has been developed over the last seven years to contribute to the National Development Programme. He noted that because of the incapacity of our graduates, our Governments is forced to rely on foreign entities to use the land in Africa to feed and employ the Africans.
“If your children cannot feed themselves and the world, someone else will” lamented Prof. Kabasa before adding that as long as our countries continued producing and exporting raw materials, they were exporting jobs as well. “Our conventional education systems have failed to transform community and we cannot encourage an education system that fuels unemployment and sends supervisors of peasants; who themselves did not benefit from any form of education, onto the streets searching for jobs” he further stressed. He said that ideological barriers and an ineffective educational mould are barriers to societal transformation which had formed a shunt which needed to be operated upon and removed by the surgeons of Makerere.
“Take the University to the community, translate this education, science and technology into livelihood and health in a professional manner. This model actually sets out to create a new generation of Africans that is skilled, productive, entrepreneurial, developmental, accredited and nation transforming” shared Prof. Kabasa about the SPEDA model’s aspirations. He noted that by securing accreditation for this model, Makerere had set into motion a movement to liberate not only Uganda but Africa as a whole. He shared that by taking this model to the community, Makerere was taking cognisance of skills and competence value chains resident at all levels within our communities. “The key concept is to produce value, exchange it and get more value” said Prof. Kabasa as he concluded his presentation.
The days emcee Dr. Twine Bananuka-SoDLL, CEES thanked the presenters for their elaborate and informative presentations and admitted that Community University Engagement was indeed the way to break free from traditional bureaucratic knowledge ownership as fronted by the male Eurocentric model and its specific emphasis on disciplines. During the question and answer session that followed,
Dr. Anthony Mugagga Muwagga-Deputy Principal, CEES indeed admitted that our two biggest challenges in Education were the lack of knowledge and the fear of knowledge. He however noted that the SPEDA Model would be incomplete if it did not factor in the teaching disciplines and therefore encouraged Prof. Kabasa to consider partnering with CEES to impact a wider audience in society.
The Acting Vice Chancellor and Deputy Vice Chancellor Finance and Administration (DVCFA) Prof. Barnabas Nawangwe welcomed all guests and presenters to the event and admitted that it had been his most educative seminar to date. He however called upon all those that heaped criticism upon today’s African Scholars to consider their working conditions and rigourous academic schedules.
“There is a need to examine our National and International policies on Education. A Professor at Makerere today has very limited time in between teaching, supervising students, marking scripts and looking for additional income to research and deliver public lectures like our compatriots in the former years. And so as we criticize today’s Scholars, we need to ask if we as a Country, Region and continent making higher education our priority” said Prof. Nawangwe.
He commended the Community University Engagement model as shared during the seminar for clearly outlining what Makerere University sought to achieve through the Knowledge Transfer Partnerships and Networking pillar of her strategic plan. He thanked the School of Distance and Lifelong Learning particularly Dr. George Openjuru for taking the lead in producing the report, and Prof. Budd Hall for his contribution to spreading the Community University Engagement movement.