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Thursday, 02 May 2013 10:13

Universities, knowledge production and people-centred development: Reflections from Cuba.

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This PDF is taken from Umsebenzi online - Vol. 11, No. 6, 23rd Feb. - the University student voice of the South African Communist Party. It is written by Blade Nzimande, General Secretary of the Party, and outlines his experiences at a conference on Universities and Sustainable Development, held in Havana, Cuba.

The Conference was attended by a total of about 3000 delegates, with 2000 delegates drawn mainly from Latin America and the rest of the developing countries, with a few from Europe and the United States. The other 1000 were draw from all the 68 Cuban universities. It was a high level conference attended by a combination of ministers of higher education, directors-general and vice chancellors and deans of universities. He notes that Latin America has become an important centre of progressive left-wing ideas, perhaps more than anywhere else in the world today. This is a reflection of the broader political shifts taking place in that region, a shift away from neo-liberalism into intellectual and political discourses that seek to place the people at the centre of development and knowledge production.

 
He first problemetises the so-called 'knowledge economy'. This is an idea that economies today are based on knowledge, often capturing the shifts in the North away from manufacturing into services, especially financial services and information technology. Indeed there is no doubt that knowledge is important, and has increasingly become so. But the question is whose knowledge and in the service of which classes?

A close interrogation of the meanings embedded in the concept of a 'knowledge economy' today reveal that knowledge is a commodity, to be bought and sold, rather than as something that should be in the service of the people. He questions whether we should be talking about a 'knowledge economy' or about harnessing and developing knowledge in the struggle for a just and equitable world, free from poverty and ignorance.

He then challenges the 'internationalization of higher education'. This concept is also overladen by the neo-liberal conceptions embedded in conceptions of 'knowledge economy'; where higher education institutions, especially in the North, are being driven towards becoming 'knowledge factories' - producing education to be sold in the global market-place rest of the world. This practice has been reinforced by two developments. The first is that universities in the North, and indeed in many other parts of the world, are experiencing severe financial cutbacks, thus being forced to operate as commercial entities.

The problem for nation states in nthe face of the "knowledge economy" and the globalisation of knowledge involves a simultaneous shrinking of state resources to support public university education in many countries in the South. In Africa in particular, the policies imposed by structural adjustment policies and the World Bank in the 1980s, forced African countries to shift their focus away from higher education to primary education. This reversed the significant advances made in expanding higher education after independence, leading to a shrinking higher education sector, thus opening our continent to all manner of private higher education institutions. Not only has education been sold to developing countries, but has also been a major vehicle for neo-liberal ideas and the intellectual (re) colonization of the African continent and the South.

Nzimande places all of these factors into the context of the current collapse of the capitalist economic system and the need for new and transformative forms of education that are based on a people-centred ideology.

 

To download the PDf  click here

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