Not enough Africa in African studies course, say graduates

Former UCL students complain about ‘Eurocentric’ curriculum

August 29, 2019
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There was not enough Africa in a leading university’s master’s course in African studies, three former students have claimed.

The UCL graduates – three women of African descent – say that they were disappointed by their course’s “Eurocentric” teaching and curriculum.

Their case – set out in an open letter – is the latest and perhaps one of the most eye-catching examples of the growing pressure on higher education institutions to “decolonise” their scholarship.

“The irony is not lost on us that we are calling for a centring of Africa in an African studies programme, and yet, it needs to be done,” the trio write.

In response, UCL maintained that its courses have “always been in collaboration with and influenced by leading African scholars”.

The graduates – Jesutofunmi Odugbemi, Orapeleng Rammala and Wangũi wa Kamonji – took the master’s in 2017-18.

In the letter, they complain that the majority of their lecturers were white and that the course used “Europe as a launching pad both theoretically and literally”.

“The first class of our core African studies module began with how Europe has seen Africa historically, and only when we got to the final class of the module did students finally get a chance to consider how Africans have seen and see themselves,” the letter says.

The curriculum, they say, “features a disproportionately large number of cis-white male voices”. The graduates also complain that students who enquired about the paucity of African scholars on the syllabus were encouraged to go and find them themselves – when they felt that African sources should be “the first and central sources in our courses versus being afterthoughts or the result of extracurricular research for assignments”.

They say that the course should have provided an opportunity to challenge “Western hegemonic concepts”, but instead “African ways of being and knowing [were] treated as quaint notions that no-one, at least none of the students, [was] expected to believe or live, and whose potential [was] not seriously entertained”.

Ms Kamonji told Times Higher Education that the main reason for writing the letter was to benefit “future students” who could “have a better picture of Africa through their studies”. She said she hoped that the reading list would be changed to include more diverse voices and African scholars.

Ms Odugbemi added that she would like to see academics drawing attention to the unconscious bias of Western scholars and being “more reflective on what they are asking students to engage with”.

A UCL spokeswoman said: “Students are at the heart of what we do, and we value their opinions and feedback to improve the education we offer and their experience while studying at UCL.

“Our work in Africa has always been in collaboration with and influenced by leading African scholars, and the course has received consistently positive feedback from students during the four years it has run.

“Our staff listened to the concerns raised by three students in the 2017-18 cohort, and wherever possible, implemented changes for the following year.”

anna.mckie@timeshighereducation.com

POSTSCRIPT:

Print headline: Why so little Africa in our African studies course?

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Reader's comments (1)

They might get more out of studying in an African university or college, if that is what interests them. There are several rankings of African universities available.

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