Thursday, 10 September 2020

The impossibility of separating learning and development: What Covid-19 teaches us

This article was first published by University World News05 September 2020, 

By Birgit Schreiber, Lisa Bardill Moscaritolo, Brett Perozzi and Thierry M Luescher   

The impossibility of separating learning and development

The coronavirus pandemic has compelled universities around the world to send their students home – some with little more than a laptop or mobile phone, data and Wi-Fi access codes, some with more and most with less. In the switch to remote teaching, universities initially issued well-intended yet often insufficient guidance.

Over a remarkably short time, much of this has been improved upon. However, what could not be fixed in the remote teaching and learning model were the persistent infrastructure and network holes, glaring social-cultural inequities and social-community environments that are not conducive to learning.

It is these that have made remote learning extremely hard for some students, typically those from the most disadvantaged sections of society, for whom university offers an upward social-economic mobility pathway.

The COVID-19 crisis has laid bare the inequities in the global higher education system. While we confidently hoped that education might be the road to upward social-economic mobility, the great social equaliser, we are now seeing the major potholes that lie in the way.

University campuses have been able to level the playing field to some extent – between the Global North and South, between the developed and underdeveloped, between rich and poor, privileged and disadvantaged and the connected and unconnected. However, in stepping off campus and into congested urban apartment blocks, shanty towns, small town peripheries and rural hinterlands, we can see how fragile this developmental model is.

The importance of the learning environment
Student Affairs and Services’ overarching function in higher education across the globe is to level the playing field through a developmental model of higher education which supports a global social justice agenda.

By promoting engagement; enabling compatible living and learning contexts; providing healthcare and counselling; offering housing and residence programmes; facilitating social, learning and personal safe spaces; implementing co-curricular programmes for students to learn beyond their discipline to develop as complex, healthy, whole people; by mapping learning and career pathways and supporting students to overcome their unique challenges along the way, Student Affairs and Services ensures a measure of equity and fairness on the campuses of institutions in our massified higher education systems.

The environmental impact theorists of student success, from Vince Tinto to Ernest Pascarella and George Kuh, all emphasise the interplay of at least four influences that impact on a meaningful educational experience: 1) the personal-cognitive resources of the students, 2) institutional-teaching-learning inputs, 3) familial-social influences, and 4) the macro-infrastructure factors in which the institution is embedded. These four need to converge to support the success of higher education, and Student Affairs and Services is essential to this.

When students are on campuses a supportive environment is possible, but when students study on sporadically working laptops in unstable Wi-Fi hotspots, with power outages and in congested, noisy home environments, then higher education cannot be the socially mobile pathway that so many students seek.

Basic needs – safe homes, clean water, reliable electricity, healthcare and social support – are also key foundational aspects of successful learning and development.

Local, tailored responses
How then should we respond? Again, we see too many divisions and tensions, fundamentally between collaboration and solidarity versus authority and competition. Tensions between the power of institution-level knowledge versus the authority of national regulatory bodies; between the scramble for political control and imposition of crude uniformity versus trust in the sophistication of local responses and the power of diversity.

And all of these tensions derail the more appropriate institutional and community-based flexible, context-relevant, autonomous, adaptive and innovative responses.

Despite the reality of inequality, learning must forge ahead in the myriad of ways that our diverse student body requires. We need indigenised responses that are designed at a local level for each unique situation.

In some regions this means that the best response may be to open universities just for some students for now – for those who need the campus environment and infrastructure for learning.

For other institutions it may mean that only PhD students can continue on campus, or only the science labs can open, or indeed only first-year students can attend who can be accommodated in low-density living arrangements.

A granular approach is needed, and for this it is essential that local decision-making endogenous to institutions – within the boundaries of outside scrutiny and accountability – is accelerated and supported. This should have primacy over uber-zealous regulatory bodies, attempts at control by central governments (such as China’s position on Hong Kong) or by national unions (as in South Africa) or blunt and short-sighted national political decisions (as in the case of the USA).

In Malawi, Kenya, Bangladesh and several other countries we have seen national decisions to temporarily close universities down. This is not only a huge setback for a country’s social and economic development, but also for social justice in these countries. Education is an avenue of social mobility that enables disadvantaged groups, particularly women, working-class and poor students, to leap ahead and beyond.

More than a Wi-Fi hotspot
Student Affairs and Services across the globe has an overarching ideal, whether or not explicitly stated: a deeply meaningful social justice mission. The current crisis shows how essential the overall provision of a (personal, social and physical) micro and macro environment conducive to learning and student engagement is, particularly for those who cannot count on that at home. Student Affairs and Services bridges that gap.

On the one hand, the COVID-19 responses have shown us the immense readiness of universities to adapt and innovate to enable learning in remote ways. On the other hand, remote learning has been a setback for social justice.

Universities are more than Wi-Fi hotspots for students. Universities are complex spaces that reduce systemic-social barriers to advancement, and Student Affairs and Services plays a critical role in this. To advance social justice for all, we need especially vulnerable groups to access universities and return to university campuses.

Birgit Schreiber(corresponding author) is a member of the Africa Centre for Transregional Research at the Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg, Germany, and vice president of the International Association of Student Affairs and Services and co-founder and editorial executive for the Journal of Student Affairs in Africa. She is the co-editor of the recently published Student Affairs and Services in Higher Education: Global foundations, issues, and best practices, third edition, a 600-page volume in which 200 authors collaborated to provide a global overview of Student Affairs and Services in Higher Education. Lisa Bardill Moscaritolo is vice provost for student life at the American University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates and the secretary general for the International Association of Student Affairs and Services. She is on the editorial team of the global overview of Student Affairs and Services in Higher Education. Brett Perozzi is vice president for student affairs at Weber State University in the United States and serves on the global division executive for NASPA: Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education. He has published three books, more than three dozen scholarly works and is an author for the global overview of Student Affairs and Services in Higher Education. Thierry M Luescher is research director for post-schooling and work in the Human Sciences Research Council and associate professor of higher education at the University of the Free State, South Africa. He is a founding member of the editorial executive of the Journal of Student Affairs in Africa and an associate editor of the global overview of Student Affairs and Services in Higher Education.

Thursday, 20 August 2020

University World News - Special Report - Higher Education Student Affairs and Services

University World News has started a Special Report on the newly published 3rd edition of the global Student Affairs and Services in Higher Education handbook. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I was responsible for the section on "Student governance and activism", and I also co-wrote two additional entries one on "The student governance function" (with Birgit Schreiber) and the other about "Student Affairs and Services in South Africa" (with Angelina Wilson Fadiji). 

In the UWN Special Report I am writing about the Student Governance and Activism section. It is not normally my style to write personalised academic (or semi-academic) works - except of course in this blog - but in this article I went very personal, almost intimate, lol. 🙊

Again, for anyone who wants to access the handbook, it is fully open access as e-book: Ludeman, R. B., et al. 2020. Student Affairs and Services in Higher Education: Global Foundations, Issues, and Best Practices, 3rd ed, pp. 1-629.

Friday, 24 July 2020

JSAA publishes two book reviews on the "Student Leaders' Reflections" book

The latest issue of the Journal of Student Affairs in Africa (Vol. 8 Issue 1) is out and it deals with various aspects of the student experience in Africa. Centring the student experience is therefore its central theme. In the introduction, Birgit Schreiber, Teboho Moja and I also reflect on the current context of the student experience globally and in Africa, which we talk about in terms of two viruses affecting higher education and the student experience: Corona and Racism.

What I am also excited about is that my book "Reflections of South African Student Leaders, 1994 to 2017" was reviewed by two scholars and Birgit, who is the book review editor, prepared the reviews to publish in this issue. They are great reviews, insofar as they are not just 'praise' for the book but they also give some good ideas of where one needs to be more critical still.

Overall, it is amazing to see student affairs and student politics related research in and on Africa to be gaining much exposure and traction, and I am extremely grateful to be able to play some role in this. It is rewarding to see the work of colleagues, especially young and emerging scholars as well as established scholars, black and women scholars, and professionals who have not previously thought of their work in scholarly or academic terms, to be researching, writing and getting published.

Thursday, 25 June 2020

The Global Handbook of Student Affairs has just been published - free online!

With 250 authors and editors from over 125 countries world wide, the 3rd edition of the global Student Affairs and Services in Higher Education  handbook is a truly global collaborative effort to capture the global picture of student affairs. 

With over 600 pages, the handbook covers the principles, values, theories and frameworks underpinning and informing Student Affairs; professionalization, research and scholarship; social justice, equality and gender issues; engagement, internationalization, retention and graduate competencies; governance and student participation, leadership and migration; and so forth. It includes a discussion of over 42 functional areas and almost 100 country reports. 

The authors are of the highest caliber and greatest diversity and share their formidable knowledge and experience, all detailing the immense impact Student Affairs and Services have in Higher Education across the globe. 

Overall, the handbook has been edited by Roger B. Ludeman (editor-in-chief) and Birgit Schreiber. In addition there have been assistant editors for different section and country reports. It has been my pleasure to act as assistant editor for the country reports from the African continent, which include: Botswana, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius, Morocco, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. 

Personally I have written three of the articles featured in the handbook: 

The entry on "Student governance and activism" available here
The entry on "The student governance function" (with Birgit Schreiber) available here.
The entry on "Student Affairs and Services in South Africa" (with Angelina Wilson Fadiji) get it here.

And the best is that the Handbook is fully open access as e-book: Ludeman, R. B., et al. 2020. Student Affairs and Services in Higher Education: Global Foundations, Issues, and Best Practices, 3rd ed, pp. 1-629.


Tuesday, 5 May 2020

Supporting students in the time of COVID-19

A message from the IASAS President:
The pandemic spread of the coronavirus around the world has dramatic consequences in higher education and student services. In so many places, institutions of higher educations are closed, many are sick or afraid of infection, and many might be worried about being at a heightened risk.

However, at the very same time, so many of us keep on supporting students and providing core services such as housing, counselling and advice or health care. The coronavirus has taught us – if anything – that the globe really is one single place, that borders are meaningless to its rapid spread, and that only a collective effort that respects and simultaneously engages everyone in society will bring it to a halt. It has also shown us that no individual, no group, no region or nation can fight this alone. We encourage all our colleagues in student services to join this effort, to keep on supporting each other and to continue their efforts for students in whatever situation they might be. And we appreciate all your efforts supporting students which currently need your assistance more than ever. Please continue the crucial work you are doing. We are all in this together.

Achim Meyer auf der Heyde
IASAS President

Global Research Study: Understanding the Impact of COVID-19 on Student Affairs

I am happy to announce that the following survey has just opened: the COVID-19 Impact on Global Student Affairs and Services - please participate!

The survey is available HERE. Please complete it (once) if you are a student affairs practitioner / professional in higher education. The survey is designed to be completed by those who work in student affairs and services roles and will take approximately 15 minutes to complete.

It is clear that this pandemic and its effects on higher education and student affairs and services has been vast and nuanced; please feel free to provide individualized context in the open ended responses. Please share this survey with other student affairs and services colleagues.

The results of the survey are meant to inform our practice for the good of students and higher education worldwide. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact any of the four professionals/researchers who developed it:

The survey was developed by:
  • Dr Lisa Bardill Moscaritolo who is in the United Arab Emirates at the University of Sharjah
  • Dr Brett Perozzi, USA, who is at Weber University
  • Dr Birgit Schreiber at Germany's Albert Ludwigs University, and
  • Prof Thierry Luescher, at HSRC in South Africa.
The contact details are:  
Lisa Bardill Moscaritolo, UAE, lmoscaritolo[@]
Brett Perozzi, USA, brettperozzi[@]
Birgit Schreiber, Germany, birgitdewes[@]
Thierry M Luescher, South Africa, tluescher[@]

Thursday, 30 April 2020

Understanding the Impact of COVID-19 on Student Affairs in Africa - Part 1

For the first time in the eight year history of the Journal of Student Affairs in Africa has JSAA put an advert into University World News (Africa Edition). The occasion is its call for papers on the Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on student affairs and services across the continent. The advert runs until the end of May 2020, by when the abstracts and expressions of interest must be submitted to the coordinating team for the special issue i.e. Prof Luescher, Prof Moja, Dr Mandew and Dr Schreiber. The details of the call are available on the JSAA website.

Wednesday, 22 April 2020

Get your free copy - Reflections of SA Student Leaders - published!

I am immensely proud of this book. It is innovative in its approach and method; it is fascinating in the life stories that it covers. Narend Baijnath, the current CEO of the Council on Higher Education calls it a 'must read' for university leaders and student leaders. 

Indeed, it is extremely gripping to read the narratives about their student leadership experience of people as diverse as Honourable Hlomela Bucwa, who was until the 2019 election the youngest MP in the National Assembly, Advocate Muzi Sikhakhane (the lead counsel in former President Zuma's current trial), Jerome September (who is the Wits Dean of Students), or social media personality Mpho Khati. 

What they all have in common - they were all once leaders in their university's SRC, and they all chose to tell their story in this book.... from the days when Mandela was President and established the first National Commission on Higher Education, to the years of university mergers under Minister Kader Asmal and President Mbeki, to the Zuma years with Dr Blade Nzimande as Minister and the large-scale #FeesMustFall protests. 

The e-book can be downloaded free of charge here. It can also be bought from African Minds Publisher as a print book for R 300

Here is a summary of the twelve chapters in the book that each present the story of one of the the student leaders:

The accounts of Muzi Sikhakhane, Prishani Naidoo and Jerome September start the chronologically arranged reflections’ chapters. Having been involved in student leadership from the early to the late 1990s means that they tend to reflect more deeply on their apartheid-era upbringing and the way this shaped their views on and experience of higher education, governance and student representation. Advocate Muzi Sikhakhane SC begins his reflections by recalling his upbringing in rural KwaZulu-Natal, his involvement in struggle politics in the mid to late 1980s, his memories of the violence between the ANC and the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), and eventually, how he got to Wits and was roped into student politics and became president of the Wits SRC.

The reflections in chapter 3 also come from Wits, which is where Dr Prishani Naidoo ended up becoming SRC vice-president in 1995, and eventually president of the South African Universities SRC in 1996, after she had a first experience of university life and student politics at the University of Durban-Westville (now the University of KwaZulu-Natal) in the early 1990s. Naidoo’s chapter is a reminder of how deeply involved student leaders were in transformation initiatives in their institutions and at national level in the mid-1990s. Fast-forwarding 20 years to a time when Naidoo is back at Wits as an academic, her insights into the start of the #EndOutsourcing, #October6 and #FeesMustFall campaigns at Wits in 2015 are equally invaluable.

Jerome September recalls the alienation he experienced when arriving at UCT and settling into his residence in the mid-1990s. During his two SRC terms, student representatives returned to the University Council and Senate in 1998 after the proclamation of the HE Act (after years of having boycotted them as ‘illegitimate structures’). He remembers the hopes that student leaders had for co-operative governance to work and the consternation he felt when his SRC lost the battle about outsourcing with the university management under Vice- Chancellor Dr Mamphela Ramphele. This battle, which would be taken up again and again over the next 20 years by students, eventually led to the #EndOutsourcing campaign of 2015/16. Since his years in student leadership, September has made a career in Student Affairs at UCT, Sol Plaatje University and Wits University. His professional experience adds greatly to the richness of insights he gives into the relationship between student representation and protests.

Kenny Bafo’s chapter provides the bridge between the late 1990s and early 2000s. Bafo had a first stint at UWC from 1997 until he was excluded at the end of 1998. He returned to UWC in 2000 and his chapter provides a lesson on how to build a student political organisation from the ground up in less than three years. With the SRC election victory of Bafo as presidential candidate in 2002, PASMA came to run the SRC of UWC for the first time – taking it from SASCO. Bafo tells in his inimitable way how his SRC struggled to catch up with the load of expectation and responsibilities placed upon them, while they had very little support and almost no institutional memory to draw on at all. Bafo remained at UWC as an associate lecturer until his election to the Council of the City of Cape Town in 2016 and thus was able to observe (and comment on) the emergence of #FeesWillFall at UWC. 

In chapter 6, David Maimela tells his story of arriving at UP in 2001 and encountering a strange and oppressive residence culture on campus. Having been involved in the Congress of South African Students at high-school level already, he became a leader of SASCO at UP and was eventually deployed into the SRC where he soon realised that black students’ concerns could not be addressed by an SRC that had a majority of Freedom Front members. Reminiscent of student politics at historically English-tuition white universities in the 1980s, Maimela ended up having to represent black student interests outside the SRC, thus illustrating that the SRC model of student representation might fail to represent the broad range of student experiences and interests in large and diverse institutions like UP. Maimela’s reflections also draw on his experience as SASCO president nationally, and his involvement in ANC political structures during those years. Xolani Zuma spent his first year in the SRC in 2005/06 and became SRC president for 2006/07 at UZ. In his chapter, he reflects on partisanship in student politics and particularly the rivalry between ANC- and IFP-aligned student organisations. His chapter further stands out by his reflections on the many lessons he learnt: on personal and political ethics, managing resources and corruption, and on the importance of understanding the distinction between politics and real life. 16 / Reflections of South African Student Leaders

Zukiswa Mqolomba reflects in chapter 8 on her SRC presidency at UCT in 2006/07, drawing frequent comparison between the issues her SRC dealt with and what was taken up almost a decade later by #RhodesMustFall. In the final part of her chapter, Mqolomba reflects on the huge impact the experience of student leadership at UCT has had on her professional career and others who served with her in the SRC.

Having been SRC secretary-general in 2009/10, speaker of student parliament in 2012 and SRC president in 2012/13, and being the current chair of Convocation, Kwenza Madlala has vast amounts of insight into the governance of MUT. He starts his account by recalling how he was roped into the SRC in the midst of rivalry between SADESMO and SASCO at MUT. Madlala then shares his reflections on his SRC’s approach to student representation in committees. His chapter stands out for his condemnation of managements that first impede institutional progress when students raise an idea and then appropriate the same idea to take credit for it. Madlala is also among those student leaders who comment in detail on the differences of student politics at historically white and black universities in South Africa, and on the continuities and discontinuities in student politics leading up to the #RhodesMustFall and #FeesMustFall protests.

Lorne Hallendorff became SRC president of UCT for 2012/13, running as an independent candidate after he had spent a first term in the SRC in 2011/12. During his SRC presidency, he made a concerted effort to work through the university’s system of governance structures and committees – similar to Mqolomba – to address matters as diverse as financial exclusions, the academic timetable, and the divisive debate on UCT’s race-based admission policy. The latter is often cited as part of the ‘origin story’ of #RhodesMustFall. Thus, Hallendorff’s chapter is highly instructive for a better understanding of the emergence of #RhodesMustFall in terms of a longitudinal perspective of student politics at UCT. Like the other former student leaders in this book, he argues that 2015 did not take him by surprise at all: for too long had student leaders been frustrated on the same issues.

Chapter 11 tells the story of Hlomela Bucwa when she was first an SRC member and eventually became the SRC president (affiliated to DASO) at NMU. Bucwa recalls how she sought to pursue her organisation’s principles by putting students first and running a corruption-free SRC at NMU. She counts among her achievements that her SRC fundraised R9 million for students in the face of the inability of NSFAS to respond to students’ dire needs. In her reflections on #FeesMustFall, NSFAS features as one of the main sources of students’ frustration with an uncaring and unresponsive system.

An important story running through the first part of chapter 12 is the so-called battle of the two Brians at UWC. Vuyani Sokhaba was deputy secretary-general of the UWC SRC then. Sokhaba’s second term as SRC president extended into 2015 and the time when #RhodesMustFall and #OpenStellenbosch activists sought to inspire a similar decolonisation movement at UWC. Sokhaba critiques #RhodesMustFall from the UWC point of view, explaining why no decolonisation movement ever took off on a campus where students had fought apartheid and colonisation almost since it was founded as part of the extension of apartheid to the higher education sector in 1959.
Mpho Khati was also active for two terms in the SRC, in her case on the Bloemfontein campus of the UFS from 2014 to 2016. While her first term focused on improving the plight of black first-generation and first-year students, her second term was distinctly defined by the #FeesMustFall campaign at the UFS which, in the aftermath of the #ShimlaPark violence of February 2016, became increasingly consuming and eventually traumatic. Khati’s chapter also gives various examples of the way university governance processes fail students and how university leaders fail to understand student issues and student political culture.

Different readers will find the reflections of the former student leaders important for different reasons. In a book where every chapter can stand alone as an important insider reflection on leadership and governance in a specific institution and the sector at large, and where each chapter also represents an autobiographical excerpt from a young student leader’s life, it is impossible to do justice to each chapter in a few lines’ overview.

The final chapter of this book draws out a first set of findings from a crosschapter analysis, pointing out continuities and discontinuities over a quartercentury of student leadership, and concluding with a call to take student leaders more seriously and to collectively reimagine a new, democratic and responsive system of higher education governance in academic and support departments, faculties, institutions and at national level. 

Friday, 27 March 2020

Innovation policy at the intersection - A global round-up

I'm so happy to announce that Dr Cele from the National Advisory Council on Innovation (NACI) and my colleague Angelina and I from the HSRC published this edited collection of research from all over the world about the latest on science, technology and innovation (STI) policy-making: theories, approaches, structures, instruments and advisory bodies.

Here is the write up/blurp: Worldwide, countries have to respond to local and global socio-technological shifts and needs, specifically the transformations wrought by a rapidly shifting understanding of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Science, technology and innovation policy (STI) finds itself at the intersection of these local and global challenges. Innovation Policy at the Intersection: Global Debates and Local Experiences shows that a comprehensive rethink in STI policy-making is required – one that takes a systemic view of the varied challenges, and adopts an inclusive and holistic approach to STI policy. Such a rethink has to bring together the global and local, the theoretical and practical.

The chapters in this book follow three broad concerns: (1) The theories and approaches that have historically informed science, technology and innovation policy-making, along with the most influential current approaches in different country contexts; (2) The development and application of comprehensive STI monitoring and evaluation systems as developed and implemented by various public agencies; and (3) The role and function of STI policy advisory bodies within their respective contexts.

Innovation Policy at the Intersection provides a comparative lens of different theories and practices across a unique spectrum of national contexts, including Austria, Brazil, Colombia, Finland, Iran, Mexico, Norway, South Africa, South Korea, and Sweden.

The open access version of the book will be available within 6 months from the HSRC Press and my open access sites. Early bird versions of the e-book can be requested from me

Just published: Innovation policy at the intersection: Global debates and local experiences
Edited by Mlungisi BG Cele, Thierry M Luescher, Angela Wilson Fadiji

Monday, 6 January 2020

Student residences research in the spotlight

Finally, the Journal of Student Affairs in Africa publishes an issue covering the research into the student residences sector. While the articles in JSAA 2019, Vol. 7(2) are not the first on residence matters in JSAA,  the pressing topic needs much more research and as it has since its inception, JSAA seeks to stimulate precisely further research. Check out the journal here.

Taabo Mugume and I wrote a few years back on the student politics involved in the establishment of a public-private partnership in the South African student residence sector, investigating the case of the University of the Western Cape's Kovacs Residence in Cape Town.  Since then, numerous private student residence developments have mushroomed (ironically around the wealthier universities and uni suburbs), by private providers operating as Campus Key, Unilofts, and the like. At the same time, student affairs departments in many universities have established accreditation criteria and processes  for private student housing providers,  and they have given them, in some cases, preferential access to campus facilities for their resident students. The SA Department of Higher Education and Training has also done it's own investigations into the provision of student housing, the backlog of provision and costs, and developed some standards in this respect. The situation in rural universities is particularly precarious with substandard provision (both by universities themselves and privates) and a dearth of available, academically conducive, safe and affordable student rooms. The residence provision - as is with the higher education system as a whole - remains highly unequal and unfair, as rural universities, and other historically black metropolitan universities and universities of technology are almost entirely attended by black and poorer students who are not receiving the same kind and level of service.

Much more research must be done on the important topic of residence life and student housing in Africa. With this journal issue, JSAA is again seeking to stimulate such research. Here there are articles on the relationship between student accommodation and academic success, as well as articles on topics that go beyond the residence theme and research students with disabilities as well as student politics. The issue can be downloaded open access at

Thursday, 28 November 2019

Are we witnessing a student revolution?

2019 is being declared the Year of the Street Protester - with ongoing massive social unrest on every continent, in countries as diverse as Algeria, Bolivia, Britain, Chile, Ecuador, France, Haiti, Hong Kong, Iraq, Kazakhstan and Lebanon, amongst others. Youth is playing a major role in the street protests, and students have frequently been key role players. What  is the role of students in these protests? How do protest causes relate to the typical grievances that students have been taking up in the decade since the the Great Recession? And what are the variables involved in understanding the 2019 wave of social movement activism and 21st century activism more specifically?

In a compact article compiled by Phil Altbach and me, we engage these questions and ultimately ask the question whether the post-2008 decade and 2019 in particular will go down in the history as a replay of the 60s student revolution and '68 in particular.

The article has been published on University World News and can be read / downloaded either from UWN or my account. The Spanish version of the article published on the Mexican website Nexos is available here.

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Student affairs and the politics of space, language and identity

In the South African context, the politics of space, language and identity in higher education have been brought into sharp focus by the 2015/16 student movement. It is largely due to the student movement and campus-based movements and campaigns like #RhodesMustFall, #OpenStellenbosch, #AfrikaansMustFall, and #RUReferenceList, to name but a few, and the national #FeesMustFall campaign that the debates of the mid and late 1990s on the Africanisation of higher education and curriculum reform, the transformation of institutional cultures, and the meanings and implications of advantage and disadvantage in higher education, are receiving renewed attention.

The Journal of Student Affairs in Africa (JSAA) doesn't cease to amaze in the way it is able to attract and publish top quality scholarship as well as emerging researchers' contributions on cutting edge topics. In its 2019 July issue, vol. 7(1), JSAA is publishing a number of guest-edited articles that respond in various ways to matters raised in the course of the 2015/16 student movement or attribute the political salience of their analysis to concerns raised by various student campaigns since 2015.

I felt very happy to work with my former PhD student, now Dr Philippa Tumubweinee on this guest-edited issue on the politics of space, language and identity in higher education.

The opening research article by Philippa and I called ‘Inserting Space into the Transformation of Higher Education’ focuses specifically on the significance of space in the transformation of higher education. In this article, we argue that the concept of social space can provide the conceptual tools for reframing policy and designing new policy interventions in pursuit of higher education transformation goals. We start out by arguing against a notion of space merely as physical infrastructure or a void to be filled. Rather, in keeping with Lefebvre and others, we conceptualise a ‘sociopolitical’ notion of space as socially produced and as co-producer of the social. Using this understanding of space, we conduct an analysis of four national cornerstone policy documents on higher education transformation in South Africa (1997 to 2017). Our analysis shows that, since the original post-apartheid White Paper on Higher Education of 1997, it is only the most recent national policy document, the Draft National Plan for Postschool Education and Training of 2017, which blurs the lines between the social ills affecting the student experience of higher education (and indeed society at large), which we call ‘the realities of the everyday’ on campus, and different functions of space. Our article suggests new conceptual tools for a research agenda that explores the (social) organisation of space in higher education which will allow policymakers to insert space-related concerns into the policy debates on decolonised higher education that have been (re-)ignited by the student movement.

This is followed by a number of excellent articles on thematically related matters. Of the articles in this issue I particularly like:

"What Are We Witnessing? Student Protests and the Politics of the Unknowable" by my former colleague at the University of the Free State, Dionne van Reenen. Here Dionne analyses student movement discourse. Her analysis shows that grand narratives are rejected in student movement discourse in favour of attributes such as complexity, infinity, individuality, contingency, discontinuity, flux and unknowability. Students focused on the ‘lower attributes’ through which they were able to articulate individual life-history narratives. As a result, this led to disagreements in communication between students and university leaders. In addition, the author uses the theoretical frame of Stewart et al. (2012), which posits that movements utilise persuasive tactics of affirmation. In particular, she analyses the student movement in terms of identification, polarisation, framing, storytelling, and power. In doing so, the article problematises the student movement narratives, considering the dominating and silenced voices.

"#FeesMustFall: Lessons from the Post‑colonial Global South" by Sipho Dlamini is a well-researched and written article that feels a bit ... funny... it feels like Sipho was out to show how much free higher education is a must in a post-colonial country and then gets all surprised by finding that elsewhere in Africa, the development related to higher education tuition fees has been the opposite - namely introducing cost-sharing... I really like this sense of bewilderment about the article (it really feels like something has been learnt here!) and also how Sipho disentangles himself from the conundrum, arguing that the inequalities in SA are just to stark not to address them with the partially free HE policy that is operative now.

"Theorising the #MustFall Student Movements in Contemporary South African Higher Education: A Social Justice Perspective" by Mlamuli Nkosingphile Hlatshwayo, Kehdinga George Fomunyam and
#FeesMustFall Protests in South Africa: A Critical Realist Analysis of Selected Newspaper Articles"
by George Mavunga also squarely deal with student movement matters, the one from a social justice approach, the other more empirical.

But let me not spoil anything for you. The Journal is open access available at

But be sure to also read the book review by Monica McLean of Talita Calitz' book (2019). Enhancing the Freedom to Flourish. London, UK: Routledge

Tuesday, 15 October 2019

University Freedoms and Responsibilities: Responding to the Challenges of the Future

I have just arrived in Hamilton, Canada, after 28 hours of flying from Cape Town to Johannesburg, to Addis Ababa, to Dublin and to Toronto, Canada. This is crazy.

Image result for oranges, bananas, granadillasFortunately, I have planted this year already two orange trees, two banana trees, 4 blueberry bushes, one jasmin climber, one granadilla climber and two christophene climbers, and turned a backyard that was entirely concreted up for at least two decades into a garden that produces peas, radish, creeping beans, spinach, cucumber, butter nut pumpkin, strawberries, spring onion, thyme, rosemary, garlic and rocket salad... otherwise I would probably succumb to climate guilt.

And fortunately this travel is for a really important matter: the freedoms, rights and responsibilities, of universities. The Magna Charta Observatory, the University of Bologna and the McMaster University are hosting a conference at McMaster in Hamilton, Canada, and a Ceremony for the Signing of the Magna Charta by universities committed to the principles of the Universitatum.
The conference itself addresses a very important matter dealing with the question of inequality (in society) and how it manifests in the academy. In South Africa, this question is omnipresent in discussions and policy about institutional culture, the legacy of apartheid, staff and student demographics, etc. The conference asks the question in terms of academic freedom: "Is the academy equally free for all its members, and if not, what is the enduring educational value of academic freedom?"

I have been invited to lead a workshop on Wednesday, 16 October, on "The role of representative student associations, current challenges and strategies in response". The workshop seeks to explore, and share experiences of, the challenges that representative student associations (such as student unions, student guilds, and student representative councils) experience to their role and how they respond to such challenges. We will explore questions related to:
  1. the different roles of representative student associations, 
  2. the effectiveness of student interest representation in formal decision-making structures and processes, 
  3. informal interactions with university authorities and stakeholders, and 
  4. the experience, effectiveness and impact of student protest action. 
We will consider these topics in relation to (a) the question of students’ rights and responsibilities in the context of the rights and responsibilities of other academic stakeholders and the public; and (b) the diversity of institutional and national student bodies and thus the challenge of aggregating ‘the’ student voice.

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, textAnd fortunately also, this is not the only thing I took this very long trip for. Indeed, despite the importance (and honour) of participating in this conference and facilitating this workshop, I would not have made this very long trip just for one thing. So I was able to add another thing, which is also exciting.

I will be giving a seminar in the Boston College Centre for International Higher Education (CIHE) on Thursday and spend the rest of the day catching up with the wonderful Dr Rebecca Schendel, with the head of CIHE, Prof Hans de Wit and his colleagues, and with Dr Manja Klemencic who I will go to visit briefly at Harvard and attend a seminar with her there. 

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Altbach in India

Altbach in India is a presentation that I gave on 30 August at the 32nd Annual Conference of the Consortium of Higher Education Researchers (CHER) hosted by INCHER in Kassel, Germany. Prof Maria Yudkevich from HSE  Research University, Moscow, was chair of the session and took this picture.

Our argument and study is about analysing the 'longevity' of Altbach's pioneering theoretical work on student politics in India in the 1950s/60s/70s. It argues that amidst the massification and privatization of higher education, dissentive student politics emerging from flagship public universities is on its way to becoming a cornerstone of Indian democratic participation (Martelli 2018). Accordingly, student politics in India has entered a new phase of mobilization and activism. This is evident in protests at the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune, the Hok Kolorob movement at Jadavpur University, Kolkota, and the Rohith Vemula agitation and other student mobilizations at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, to mention just a few. Related recent studies suggest that higher education research on student politics in India has equally entered a new phase in which the agency-centered concepts of political generation, biographical availability, free space, counterculture or value-based mobilization are gaining currency against previous understandings, which perceive educated youth as cohorts reproducing caste and gendered social structures, party politics and consumerism.

Philip G. Altbach’s career as higher education scholar started with a series of studies on student activism in India (Altbach 1966; 1968a & b), followed by similar studies on student politics in America, Europe, and the synthesis of research on student activism in the Global South (Altbach 1984; 1997). In the process, he produced a body of wide-ranging insights relevant to the study of student activism and has become widely considered “the foremost scholar” on student politics and activism in the 20th century (Maldonado-Maldonado & Bassett 2014; Luescher-Mamashela 2015). His expansive work on the topic has since been theorized and applied in a great number of studies and it has recently been synthesized as ten theoretical propositions for understanding student activism in the 20th century (Luescher 2018).

Jean-Thomas Martelli and I decided to revisit the theoretical insights gained by Altbach in his five decades of scholarship on the topic of student politics and activism, in light of latest research on the student movement in the Global South. In particular, we are doing a small study to analyse contributions to a forthcoming volume on student mobilization and activism in contemporary India and South Asia (Parkar & Martelli forthcoming). We engage with the contemporary transformations of student politics in South Asia by re-examining Altbach’s insights on the mobilizational legacy of the Indian independence movement, on the elite-in-the-making leanings of student participation, on the shift of campus participation towards demand-based politics, and on the importance of student movements as springboards for new political leaders. The paper thus interrogates the theoretical relevance of Altbach’s work for understanding current metamorphoses of political representation in the Global South.

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Advocating for Social Justice from the Global South to the Global North

The Social Democratic Party of Switzerland (SP/PS) which was founded in 1888 has been one of the strongest, if not the strongest party in the Swiss Parliament and in many cantonal parliaments for over a hundred years. Since 1960 it is also one of the four ruling parties that make up the federal executive, the Swiss Federal Council. As Wikipedia says, "The SP is the largest pro-European party in Switzerland and supports Swiss membership of the European Union, unlike most other Swiss parties. Additionally, it is strongly opposed to capitalism and maintains a long-term goal of "overcoming capitalism." This is informed by its strong social justice agenda, which is reflected also in its German motto "For All, not just for the Few". 

It is a great honour to be called by a political party of such high standing to be a candidate for the 2019 National Council (Swiss federal parliament) election. I have been called as an international candidate, one who is residing abroad but has the right to vote in Switzerland, to stand on the party list of the SP/PS. Given that the National Council election takes as 'wards' or 'constituencies' the cantons, I am a candidate for the National Council in the State of Fribourg (Canton Fribourg). The Canton, is mainly French-speaking and borders on the neighbouring Cantons of Berne, Vaud (with the capital Lausanne) and Canton Neuchatel.

My goal is to have as many Swiss abroad as possible come out to vote (using the e-voting or mail system) and vote in their respective cantons for the SP/PS. The SP/PS is the only party in Switzerland that has a plan for Switzerland in Europe and in the world. It is the party that instituted the social welfare state that even as Swiss abroad (and all who ever lived and worked in Switzerland) have access to. It is a party that understands how global inequality reproduces itself in local, and the local in the global, with all the repercussions this has for global insecurity, inequality and poverty, climate degradation and conspicuous consumption. The full election manifesto for 2019 of the international arm of SP/PS can be found here