Democracy and the Discourse on Relevance Within the Academic Profession at Makerere University is set against the backdrop of the spread of neoliberal ideas and reforms since the 1980s. While accepting that these ideas are rooted in a longer history, the authors reveal how neoliberalism has transformed the university sector and the academic profession. In particular, they focus on how understandings of what knowledge is relevant, and how this is decided, have changed.
Taken as a whole, reforms have sought to reorient universities and academics towards economic development in various ways. Shifts in how institutions and academics achieve recognition and status, combined with the flow of public funds away from the universities and the increasing privatisation of educational services, are steadily downgrading the value of public higher education. As research universities adopt user- and market-oriented operating models, and prioritise the demands of the corporate sector in their research agendas, the sale of intellectual property is increasingly becoming a primary criterion for determining the relevance of academic knowledge. All these changes have largely succeeded in transforming the discourse around the role of the academic profession in society.
In this context, Makerere University in Uganda has been lauded as having successfully achieved transformation. However, far from highlighting the allegedly positive outcomes of this reform, this book provides worrying insights into the dissolution of Uganda’s academic culture.
Drawing on interviews with over ninety academics at Makerere University, from deans to doctoral students, the authors provide first-hand accounts of the pressures and problems the reforms have created. Disempowered, overworked and under-resourced, many academics are forced to take on consultancy work to make ends meet. The evidence presented here stands in stark in contrast to the successes claimed by the university. However, as the authors also show, local resistance to the neoliberal model is rising, as academics begin to collaborate to regain control over what knowledge is considered relevant, and wrestle with deepening democracy.
The authors’ careful exposé of how neoliberalism devalues academic knowledge, and the urgency of countering this trend, makes Democracy and the Discourse on Relevance Within the Academic Profession at Makerere University highly relevant for anyone working in higher education or involved in shaping policy for this sector.