IOE - Faculty of Education and Society


A school in Madagascar by Milijaona Randrianarivelojisoa


Higher Education, Inequality and the Public Good in four African countries

Exploring understandings of higher education and the public good in contemporary African contexts.

Women in Africa pursing higher education. Source: Direct Relief via Flickr (CC BY NC-ND 2.0)

Higher Education, Inequality and the Public Good in four African countries (South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria and Ghana) is a three-year research project located in the Centre for Researching Education and Labour (REAL), University of the Witwatersrand and the Centre for Education and International Development (CEID) at IOE.

Funded jointly by the UK's ESRC-Newton Fund and the National Research Foundation in South Africa, the project brings together researchers from IOE and the four participating countries.


The project emerges in the context of extensive debate concerning higher education and its value to society. Expanded higher education provision worldwide occurs in the context of highly stratified and unequal education systems.

South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria and Ghana

In the four African countries, which are the focus of this study, high levels of poverty and intersecting inequalities, strongly framed by their colonial histories, raise questions about how much the expansion of higher education exacerbates or reduces the problems of hierarchies, exclusion and violence associated with historical and contemporary injustices.

Higher education and the public good

Views divide on how the growth of universities and the shape of higher education systems affect equalities and inequalities nationally and internationally.

The intention of the project is to explore these concerns by considering how key constituencies - students, staff, governance bodies, employers, government and civil society - understand higher education and the public good within their country contexts and across the region and how insights from their perceptions can be utilised to help develop evaluative indicators concerning higher education and the public good.


The project aims to:

  • explore what views and debates exist about higher education and the public good within key constituencies participating in and directly affected by higher education in the four African countries participating in the study.

It is intended that this exploration will:

  • enable the development of a nuanced understanding of higher education and the public good within the different country contexts, facilitating a consideration of similarities and differences, and allowing for insight into how contextual factors shape how meanings are constituted and changed.

Emerging out of this exploration, the project also aims to:

  • consider what indicators are presently used to assess the relationship of higher education and public good, and to what extent these are sensitive to the patterns of inequality that exist
  • develop an indicator of higher education and the public good that can be used by governments and institutions to evaluate policy and practice, drawing on measures that are relevant to the complexities of context.
Project team

Principle Investigators

Team members

  • Professor Moses Oketch - IOE
  • Dr Tristan McCowan - IOE
  • Professor Ibrahim Oanda - CODESRIA
  • Professor Jibrin Ibrahim - Centre for Democracy and Development, Nigeria
  • Dr Christine Adu-Yeboah - University of Cape Coast, Ghana
  • Dr Siphelo Ngcwangu - University of Johannesburg, RSA
  • Dr Sam Fongwa - HSRC, RSA
  • Professor Achille Mbembe - Wits, RSA
  • Professor Louise Morley - University of Sussex, UK
  • Dr Colleen Howell - IOE
  • Dr Bothwell Manyonga - Wits, RSA
  • Ms Palesa Molebatsi - Wits, RSA
  • Ms Lerato Posholi - Wits, RSA
  • Mr Mthobisi Ndaba - Wits, RSA 
  • Ms Cecilia Selepe - Wits, RSA
  • Ms Rakhi Kabawala - IOE
  • Ms Caroline Mavhutha - Wits, RSA


Proceedings papers


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