Social sciences and humanities in Senegal: a critical appraisal
1. Objectives of the study
This study aims at providing a state of play of the teaching and research system in social sciences and humanities in Senegal, so as to identify its deepest flaws and propose change. For this, we conducted a critical assessment of the courses and teaching methods in Senegalese public universities (except Senegal’s Virtual University); a critical evaluation of research followed by an exploration of innovative teaching methods and relevant research topics and teaching modules that may be taken care of by universities.
The methodology is based on a combination of qualitative and quantitative data. 15 semi-structured interviews with resource persons, were carried out with the purpose of reflecting SSH diversity: philosophy, sociology, anthropology, history, economics, linguistics, geography, law, political science were represented. These informants were chosen for their expertise, knowledge of the higher education system, their background and their experience in university administration.
Furthermore, a questionnaire for faculty was sent by internet on various mailing lists to which we had access. Seventy faculty from five universities responded to the questionnaire, thereby providing valuable information in addition to interviews and data collected from the Ministry of Higher Education and Research as well as various services of universities.
3. Findings: major trends and peculiarities
It appears from this review that while pockets of innovation, commitment and performance are maintained or created, the world of higher education and research in social sciences is experiencing various and cumulative failures. This is reinforced by the faculty members’ very negative perception of the situation in their universities.
Contrary to a stubborn cliché, SSH represent only about 26.5% of teaching staff while their departments welcome 70% of students. The teacher / student ratio in SSH therefore remains particularly high.
The on-site teaching model largely remains the old fashioned lecturer-centered. Moreover, for 78% of surveyed faculty, teaching is first about transmitting knowledge. This teaching remains most often a reproduction of the model inherited from colonization (a classical, conservative and repetitive teaching). This tendency to repeat poses the issue of the instrumental relationship maintained with knowledge. Furthermore, there is no effective control system to determine whether teachers have taught courses that were allocated to them or not, or to what level. In such a permeable system, the best and the worst cohabit.
In addition, the university’s disintegration were manifested by three concurrent factors that appear to have had a particularly negative and cumulative impact on the quality of teaching. These are an impressive massification, the freeze of infrastructures, and the freeze of funding (budgets, missions, recruitment).
Faculty must jointly conduct teaching and research. As for SSH, only researchers from IFAN (Institut Fondamental d’Afrique noire - Cheikh Anta Diop) escape this rule and have no statutory teaching load. The Senegalese model is thus based on a system where teaching and research are functionally coupled.
Until very recently, research was not organized centrally. There is now a Directorate General for Research. At the local level, universities have full autonomy to organize their research. However, this research is not sufficiently supported in terms of funding and the laboratory’s equipment. Research is undoubtedly the area that crystallizes all the shortcomings of the system. Since it is not assessed and there is very little obligation to do research (apart from the faculty’s promotion policy through the CAMES - African and Malagasy Council of Higher Education), it does not seem a policy priority, given the current budget allocation schemes. Faculty for many reasons have mostly chosen teaching private classes and consulting, at the expense of research. Yet consultancy only funds research for 21% of them. It is not always a hindrance to research, it even seems an elitist space, since consultancy is captured by a relatively small number of happy few faculty.
It seems also that research, that is to say the scholarly production (articles, books, communications, working papers etc.) is the poor relation in faculty calculations. This results in a decoupling between teaching and research. A related issue to low knowledge generation, is the journals’ escheat which is both a consequence and a cause. Consequence of funding’s scarcity and inefficient administration to support faculty, but also a cause of ’under-publication’ in universities.
The individualization of research paired with the lack of ’conversation spaces’ within academic institutions have gradually became rules. As a result, research becomes individualized, compartmentalized and monolingual. This is revealing a triple deadlock which is geographical, thematic and epistemological. That the system still somewhat ’stands’ is owed to a few high-level scholars who remain committed and who manage to circumvent or mitigate the constraints.
There is a need for a vision and funding for SSH. Just as there is now is a fairly clear orientation towards STEM. This is precisely to avoid making the same mistake that led to an unbalanced system between social sciences and natural sciences. It is necessary to think STEM and SSH together. To do this, it seems important to:
• Best use of ICT to set up a platform for information, knowledge sharing and collaboration. This will also facilitate the establishment of an action oriented research which would rely on the priorities identified by policies. Thus, the university could better meet its mission of community engagement.
• Facilitate the publication of PhD’s dissertations (could be done by the Directorate of dissemination). This project could be the opportunity of pooling and rationalizing the current universities’ publishers (Presses Universitaires de Dakar and Saint-Louis) in a bigger academic publishing house.
• Establish a system of communication and outreach such as a radio (as ’France Culture’ is in France for example) that would promote the broad dissemination of research findings and a discussion space.
• Gradually establish in conjunction with faculty, an incentive scheme for evaluating the study trips.
• Develop a circulation system for faculty. The PhD colleges could play this role. This implies that they are networked (Network of PhD colleges in SSH). The network could define common frameworks and common areas of research. Such doctoral schools should encourage merger into larger structures that receive support in terms of equipment and through an efficient administration.
• Strengthen multilingualism of faculty; with an upgrade in languages including English and African languages.
• Learn to move from the current mandarin’s culture to a culture of effective mentoring. Faculty training must be improved. They currently learn by trial and error mainly in isolation. It would be wise to set up a mentoring system that ensures better integration of retired faculty.
Finally some innovative topics that could feed either new courses or articles to be developed. Each of the 12 following thematic may be invested in various ways: Knowledge and societies / Health / Law, societal and states’ dynamics / State, governance and governability in Africa / Economies and societies / African Modernity / Vulnerable and marginalized groups / Democracy, Freedom and rule of law / Religion and religiosity / African Migration / Environment and sustainable development / Global and transversal issues