Are African flagship universities preparing students for citizenship?
This article investigates the contribution of higher education to democratisation in Africa by studying the political attitudes of undergraduate students at four African flagship universities in Botswana, Kenya, South Africa and Tanzania. It analyses students’ attitudes against those of youths without higher education and mass publics in their respective countries. The study focuses on flagship universities because of their role as important players in the development of the social, economic and political leadership of their respective countries. The surveys used stratified random samples of third-year students across all faculties and years of enrolment, which resulted in a weighted sample of 400 students from each of the participating institutions. Students’ attitudes are compared with those of the same age percentiles of youths without higher education, and those of the entire population sample, from the nationwide public opinion surveys conducted by Afrobarometer. The analysis of the data uses the notions of commitment to democracy, critical citizenship and political engagement to show that students at the four flagship institutions have significantly higher levels of political awareness and political participation, and higher levels of criticalness, than youths without higher education and the general mass public. However, no consistently higher levels of commitment to democracy were found among students. We therefore argue that the study provides evidence of the political hothouse conditions typical in many African universities. It also provides grounds for the call that African higher education institutions should be more conscious of, and explicit in, the cultivation of the norms, values and practices conducive to democracy in order for higher education to contribute in enduring ways to citizenship development and the deepening of democratisation in Africa.
Keywords: Citizenship; higher education; democratisation; student politics; public opinion
Authors who publish with this journal agree to the following terms:
- Authors retain copyright and grant the journal right of first publication with the work simultaneously licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-alike 4.0 International License that allows others to share the work with an acknowledgement of the work's authorship and initial publication in this journal.
- Authors are able to enter into separate, additional contractual arrangements for the non-exclusive distribution of the journal's published version of the work (e.g., post it to an institutional repository or publish it in a book), with an acknowledgement of its initial publication in this journal.
- Authors are permitted and encouraged to post their work online (e.g., in institutional repositories or on their website) prior to and during the submission process, as it can lead to productive exchanges, as well as earlier and greater citation of published work (See The Effect of Open Access).