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The urgency of transformation in the Global South

- Refilwe Mabula

Professor Felix Maringe says there is an urgent need for transformation in the Global South academies.

The higher education (HE) sector in South Africa is facing interesting times, with transformation at the fore of its agenda. The call for transformation in South African universities is a continuous battle to undo the historical disparities and injustices of the past.

 Professor Felix Maringe, Assistant Dean in the Faculty of Humanities, addressed the topic during his inaugural lecture on 01 June 2016. His lecture, Emerging narratives in the internationalisation of higher education focused on “an epistemological ecology for transforming Global South academies”.

He provided a synthesis of emerging narratives in the internationalisation of higher education, arguing that an ecological international epistemology could underpin the change needed in the quest for transformation within the HE systems, and could aid institutions to be globally competitive academies.

He argued that the Global South academies are characterised by a history of colonialism fractured cultural heritages, and experiences of economic exploitation, widening poverty and wealth gaps. They are perpetual recipients of donor funding and development aid. It is their post-colonial experience which has disabled their potential to become meaningfully competitive within a neo-liberal framework.

 Maringe’s lecture was based on research and work he had done for more than a decade, including his doctoral research conducted at the University of Southampton in 2000 on the marketing of HE – fueled by the intensifying globalisation and the desire to create markets as a strategy for becoming competitive.

His research on marketing in HE, premised on the need to attract more international students to the universities – particularly in the Global North – stimulated his interest in the field of internationalisation in the Global South, as more international students were being absorbed by Global North academies. This subsequently led him to establish a research programme on the Internationalisation of HE at the University of Southampton. The programme included courses taught at Master’s level through the Centre for Higher Education Management, of which Maringe later became director as well as Chair of the research group on leadership and school improvement.

Towards curriculum transformation

While institutions in South Africa are moving towards transformation; employing and recruting more black academics and students, and reworking their language policies, the still-Westernised academic curriculum is not transformed.

Maringe says that the academic curriculum has not changed and what is taught in our universities has remained the same over the decades. Hence, “transformation is urgent in the Global South”.

“The fact that we now have black Vice-Chancellors instead of white ones in our universities does not in itself mean that the curriculum has also changed its colour,” says Maringe.

“The models and theories of leadership I learnt at university two or three decades ago, such as transformational leadership, distributed leadership, instructional leadership, ethical leadership, amongst others, continues to constitute the staple diet of the leadership programmes we teach our students today,” he said.  

Bringing it home: an African perspective

Meanwhile, as the quest for academic transformation and decolonisation continues, Maringe says that the hegemony of Western knowledge systems – which, by default have become the stock-in-trade for what counts as acceptable scholarship in the global academies – needs to be constantly challenged.

He says that internationalising African academies should not simply mean being more like institutions such as Harvard, Oxford and Cambridge, but should rather be more about placing Africa at the heart of the internationalisation project.

“Europe grew because it looked into Europe and not outside Europe. Africa needs to do the same,” says Maringe, adding that academics need to start playing a role as transformation agents in the knowledge academy.

“We are in a moment which requires us to think outside the box. We have been caught napping as our students have grabbed the initiative for transformation right in front of our noses. If we wish to place our footprint on this inevitable transformation, there is only one place where we have an acknowledged legitimacy. It is on the knowledge production project.

We should not allow anyone to take that away from us, because if that happens, our institutions will become illegitimate and perhaps even ungovernable. We cannot continue educating our students on a purely western diet, designed for a small minority but fed to masses.”

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