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Transforming African Universities Post-COVID-19: ACUSAfrica Colloquium 2021

Updated: Sep 10, 2021

The ACUSAfrica network, launched in 2019, hosted an online colloquium in February 2021. Titled Advancing Critical University Studies: Critical University Studies and the Battle Against Global Racism, the aim of the colloquium was to build the ACUSAfrica network to advance critical and radical approaches to the study of higher education through a combination of practical and intellectual work. As such, it constituted three sessions, locating the colloquium within the intentions to 1) build the network, especially in Africa; 2) grapple with questions of the study of the university within the African context; and 3) engage with the battle against global racism, especially as it plays out in higher education.

After opening the colloquium with a discussion on current initiatives of the network and possibilities for the future, Professor Paul Zeleza opened the discussion with a presentation on "Transforming African Universities and Epistemic Cultures in the Post-COVID-19 World".


The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and exacerbated the systemic deficiencies and inequalities in healthcare systems, economies, businesses and educational institutions at all levels around the world. African universities have been particularly affected. What does this portend for the future of these universities, and for the production, consumption and dissemination of scholarly knowledges?

In this paper, Paul Zeleza argues that universities face various alternative and overlapping futures involving three interlinked scenarios: restoration, evolution, and transformation. The scenarios encompass every aspect of university affairs from the modalities of teaching and learning, financial models, leadership skills, and institutional governance systems to modes of external engagements. In this context, it is critical to interrogate the desirable transformative trajectories for African universities and African studies as a constellation of knowledges on, about, and for Africa.

Constructing new futures for African universities and knowledge economies entails institutional, intellectual, ideological struggles and negotiations, and different ways of studying and assessing the value proposition of universities not only for students and other internal stakeholders, but also for African countries and societies and African diasporas in their complex national and transnational dimensions, articulations, and intersections.


Paul Tiyambe Zeleza has been at a dozen universities in six countries on three continents and the Caribbean region. He held distinguished academic and administrative positions in Canada and the United States for 25 years as College Principal, Center Director, Department Chair, College Dean, and Academic Vice President before taking the position of Vice Chancellor (President) and Professor of the Humanities and Social Sciences at the United States International University-Africa in January 2016.

In the early 2000s he worked as a consultant for the Ford and MacArthur foundations on their initiatives to revitalize higher education in Africa. His research project on the African academic diaspora conducted for the Carnegie Corporation of New York in 2011-12 led to the establishment of the Carnegie African Diaspora Fellowship Program in 2013 that has to date sponsored nearly 400 African-born academics in the United States and Canada to work with dozens of universities in six African countries. He was President of the U.S. African Studies Association in 2008-2009.

He has published more than 300 journal articles, book chapters, reviews, short stories and online essays and authored or edited 28 books, several of which have won international awards. His most recent books include The Transformation of Global Higher Education, 1945-2015 (2016) and Africa and the Disruptions of the 21st Century (2020). He has presented nearly 250 keynote addresses, papers, and public lectures at leading universities and international conferences in 32 countries and served on the editorial boards of more than two dozen journals and book series. He currently serves as Editor-in-Chief of the Oxford Bibliographies Online in African Studies.

He has received numerous awards from major universities for his scholarship. In July 2013, he was recognized in The New York Times as one of 43 Great Immigrants in the United States. In May 2015 he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, at Dalhousie University for outstanding personal achievement. In 2015 he was a fellow at Harvard University and has held the positions of Honorary Professor at the University of Cape Town since 2006 and at the Nelson Mandela University since 2019.

He is currently a member of the Administrative Board of the International Association of Universities, the Advisory Board of the Alliance for African Partnership, as well as Chair of the Advisory Council of the Carnegie African Diaspora Fellowship Program, Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Kenya Education Network, and member of the University of Ghana Council.


See here for the full report of this colloquium.


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