Inkanyiso: Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences

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Challenges of doing research in sub-Saharan African universities: digital scholarship opportunities

S Mutula


Universities the world over are responsible for research, knowledge generation, scholarship and innovation. They also serve as conduits for the transfer, adaptation, and dissemination of knowledge generated across the world. Universities are expected to guarantee the most efficient utilisation of research results and their possible application to economic life. Globally, universities are facing renewed external and internal pressure as the push for them to meet the changing needs of society intensifies as a result of trends in the transition towards a knowledge-based economy; massification of higher education; and the integration and assimilation of Information Technology (IT) into the academic environment. Moreover, the emergence and use of IT in higher education has led to an increasingly virtual education system, with implications for the dynamics and conduct of university research. Universities no longer remain sole citadels of research activities, as private or government research institutes are increasingly involved in knowledge creation and dissemination. The internationalisation of higher education, coupled with growing student mobility and increased competition for funding, has recently occasioned efforts to rank universities in terms of their academic quality and productivity at national, regional and global levels. Despite the increased demands on universities, they remain constrained by declining state funding, increasing enrolments, limited physical facilities, etc. New technologies now offer lifelines for African universities to re-engineer and reposition themselves in order to meet these ever increasing societal demands effectively. This paper discusses the challenges of doing research in African universities, and assesses the opportunities digital scholarship can engender for these universities. The focus of the paper is on universities in sub-Saharan Africa, excluding North Africa and to some extent, South Africa. North African higher education is largely influenced by practices in Europe and the Middle East. South Africa has had a separate and distinct political history and governance that differs from other African countries. The country also has a fairly well developed technological and industrial economy, which is quite ahead of other African countries. Their system of higher education is older (most universities were established during the pre-World War II phase, while in most sub-Saharan countries, universities were established post-independence, beginning in the late 1950s) and their universities are well endowed with good libraries, well equipped laboratories, long traditions of scholarship based on European models, and a well established ICT infrastructure that is accessible to both faculties and students.

Keywords: Research, digital scholarship, e-research, e-learning, sub-Saharan Africa, higher education

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