Research policy and research practise in the global knowledge economy – a comparative study between different geopolitical settings – the case of East Africa

Researcher: Måns Fellesson
Project established 2011

Research and higher education systems worldwide are currently undergoing extensive policy driven transitions, which to a large extent are informed by the idea of research and higher education as driving forces for economic growth, competition and positioning on a global market.

Even though the nation-state remains the principle site of policy making and is essential to the international capacity of national research and higher education institutions, the constantly changing features of international (global) developments in research and higher education tend to generate a dissonance with the former. One aspect of this dissonance could be derived from the variety of analytical models trying to understand, explain or extrapolate the transformation of the scientific system, such as the concept of “Mode 2” knowledge production, Triple Helix, academic capitalism and post-academic science. Despite their influence on policy development these analytical models have been criticised for not being empirically grounded enough and more importantly, for providing a misleading image of academic research and higher education by ascribing a commonality of characteristics (not least with regard to characteristics, logics and varieties of international relations in the fields) to all geopolitical settings and disciplines that they do not necessarily share. Adding to this, numerous of studies have shown a disjunction between the global character of academic relationships expressed in instant mobility of ideas and data, increased movement of people (albeit variable), programs and institutions on the one hand and the predominantly national character of policy and governance and the nationally shaped academic labour markets and career structures.

These problems refer particularly to many African countries currently undergoing extensive national policy driven developments in higher education and research - informed by the predominant global agenda on higher education and research expressed through international donors.

Within the context of current national policy developments in a selected number of East African countries (Tanzania, Uganda and Ethiopia) the project will map and analyse structures (extent, thematic fields and academic levels) and premises (strategies, funding and type of activity) in research and higher education. The interplay between three dimensions will be studied, 1) the national government’s interpretation of ideological developments and prerequisites in the global production of knowledge stipulated in specific policies guiding the development in national research and higher education, 2) the institutional interpretation of national government policies (here represented by research funding agencies and universities), translated into guiding documents (strategies policies, positions) in (i) research funding and (ii) in academic activities at university, faculty and department level and 3) the individual staff members (researchers and teachers, including individuals in executive positions at university, faculty and department level)   interpretation of (1) and (2) translated into individual strategies and orientation in research (collaborations, areas of investigation and geographical orientation) and higher education (student exchange, collaborations and course development). The project is methodologically based on quantitative data analysis and qualitative interviews grounded in critical discourse analyses and post-colonial theories.  

The project will supplement existing research on global developments in higher education and research by adding knowledge on the specific geopolitical outcome of policy and practice in East Africa. It will contribute to the understanding of how different policy agendas (international, national, donors) are interpreted and converted to practice by institutions and individuals in the research and higher education systems in Tanzania, Uganda and Ethiopia.

The project, which if funded by the Swedish research council, is collaboration between four Swedish researchers in the field of sociology looking at four different geopolitical settings, Europe (Sweden and the EU), China and Africa (East Africa).

East Africa
Higher education
International cooperation
Måns Fellesson
Research policy
academic research
academic capitalism
geopolitical settings
global economy
higher education institutions
international developments
national research
policy making
post-academic science
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