Decolonising African Higher Education: Practitioner Perspectives from across the Continent

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School of Education

University of Washington

Dr. christopher b. knaus serves as professor of education at the university of washington tacoma and professor extraordinarius at the university of south africa. he examines how systems of intersectional oppression shape schools, districts, colleges, and ideas of learning that i


This book looked at how practitioners across the African continent write, think, and struggle around decolonising higher education.

Conversations about decolonising higher education are largely theoretical, conceptual, or historical, with less discussion about what is happening today, in terms of current efforts. Many of the mainstream conversations are Western European or US driven. We wanted to specifically tap into the challenges and opportunities that African-based scholars see, to concretely think about what it really means to decolonise.

This book investigated what decolonising higher education looks like in different local contexts including in Namibia, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia, Ghana, and Djibouti. It vocalised these conversations to encourage a Pan African discussion.

Key Findings

Structures and infrastructures of higher education across the continent are still very colonial and white-centric which means that the funding mechanism is directly tied to the UK, the USA, or the European Union. For the vast majority of universities on the continent, research funding comes from white-centric spaces outside of Africa.
This means that teaching, scholarship, and service, the three fundamental missions of universities, are done in a colonial context. Most models, theories, articles and infrastructures are taken from European and Western contexts, even when local universities are trying to teach about how to solve local problems. To decolonise we have to transform the entire university and its infrastructures. This is a challenge because it means not getting funding.
Most efforts that appear decolonial, for example by centring African indigeneity, local Black communities, and local Black languages, are very siloed. They operate in a vacuum within this larger infrastructure of coloniality. These efforts are powerful but they are not systemic, and they ultimately rely on the work of individuals within a larger system, which is not sustainable.
Africans work within institutions that directly contradict the communities from where they come. These institutions deny local knowledge bases. For example, Ubuntu is one way of framing African indigenous learning systems. Ubuntu-based education is a collective conversation: individual learning should be shared with and applied in the community. This is contrary to western ideas of learning as an individual pursuit, designed for self-progression. This incompatibility shows how the existing knowledge system denies the existence of African indigenous knowledge.

How to use

We have to change the purpose of higher education. African higher education is based on individual acquisition of knowledge, which denies the existence of collective African knowledges and languages. Students need to be better equipped to address the global problems that operate locally in their context. They have to understand local contexts and speak local languages. This focus on local manifestations of global problems is a key. Recognising the nuances between different local contexts is important.
Locally, people on the continent need to push back against the Western influence of shaping higher education. They should spend time investing in what structured local knowledge systems and ways or learning with indigenous knowledge should look like.
To change the purpose of higher education in Africa, we need to change the funding model. Western research funders should listen and consider how to change the funding infrastructure to reflect local contexts, local purposes, and local languages, including adapting metrics for success and effectiveness. To change the way African higher education operates, western organisations that invest in African development must shift from a western orientation to an orientation of listening to and elevating African indigenous approaches.

The full paper is not available open access

Knaus, C. B., Mino, T., & Seroto, J. (2022). Decolonising African Higher Education: Practitioner Perspectives from Across the Continent. (1st ed.), New York: Routledge.

About this research

Takako Mino

Johannes Seroto

This research was independently conducted and did not receive funding from outside of the university.

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UN Sustainable Development Goals

This research contributes to the following SDGs

About this research

This research was independently conducted and did not receive funding from outside of the university.

This paper was co-authored


Takako Mino


Johannes Seroto

Recommended for

    What it means

    Most chapters help define decoloniality and how to localise knowledges in relation to universities. One specific example of decoloniality in practice is a chapter by Bitugu and Luguterah, who clarify the historic roots of physical education in Ghana. While schools and universities teach sports imported by the west (such as football and cricket), local indigenous sport and athletic games are still practiced by children outside of school. To decolonise physical education, the authors suggest, in addition to continuing western sports, shifting to a foundation in traditional games and sports, which are ways to teach history and culture, as well as teamwork, physical competence, and movement.


    The chapters, written by administrators in African higher education, reflected on their experiences of leading efforts to decolonise, and provided concrete examples of what decolonising looks like on the ground. Chapters clarify decolonial contexts in Namibia, Zambia, Uganda, Djibouti, Ghana, and South Africa.


    In education, this means knowledge and learning infrastructures that have been designed to eradicate the existence of Black and indigenous people.
    In education, this means ongoing efforts to challenge western influences as the only way to think and learn, and to instead invest in and center Black, African, and Indigenous ways of knowing.

    Let your research make a social impact

    Ramya Zwaal prepared this research following an interview with Professor Christopher B. Knaus.