South African Higher Education Minister weighs in on access to knowledge at UNESCO conference

At the UNESCO World Conference on Higher Education, a roundtable session on Africa brought Blade Nzimande, South Africa’s new Minister of the new Higher Education Ministry to the fore.

In the official online report on the round table, his speech is reported as follows:

Encouraging the production of indigenous knowledge is indispensable to meet the continent’s development challenges. “The term ‘knowledge society’ means two different things in developed and developing countries: one is the producer and one is the consumer”, said Blade Nzimande, Minister of Higher Education and Training, South Africa. Speaking on behalf of the 53-member conference of Education ministers in Africa he delivered some pithy observations on the challenges facing the Second Decade of Education for Africa: lack of access to indigenous knowledge (as “there had been no significant break with the colonial era”); gender imbalance, especially at the leadership level, and the interconnected challenges of gender, racial and ethnic discrimination.

Mr Nzimande criticized the overemphasis on basic education to the detriment of higher education. “Education must not be approached in an atomized or fragmented manner but in a holistic manner”. While he believed that academic freedom was under threat, and that governments needed to guarantee it, responsibility for academic freedom went both ways and institutions had to be accountable too.

Nzimande is also given prominence in the Inside Higher Education report on the conference. This   report details how Philip Altbach spoke of a revolution in higher education and John Daniel of the Commonwealth of Learning talked about how the use of transformative technology can bend the ‘iron triangle’ of access, quality and cost for developing country knowledge.

In the roundtable on African higher education, however, Blade Nzimande, South Africa’s minister of higher education and training, lamented the continent’s overall status as a consumer of knowledge, as opposed to a producer. “Over the last few decades, some things have not changed. There’s been no significant break in relations of knowledge production between the colonial and post-colonial eras. African universities are essentially consumers of knowledge produced in developed countries,” he said.

“Virtually all partnerships tend to be one-sided. This is not only negative for the African continent, but we believe it also deprives global higher education of access to the indigenous knowledge of Africa,” Nzimande said.

This is an encouraging sign that the new ministry might be looking at effective and democratic research dissemination and publication as one of its key strategies.

More in Inside Higher Education, An Academic Revolution 7 July 2009

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *