Cooperation, complexity and adaptation: higher education capacity initiatives in international development assistance programmes in sub-Saharan Africa.
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AbstractAt a time when global relations are characterised by great complexity, uncertainty and inequality, the role of higher education is crucial for a balanced and coherent development strategy, and achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This is especially true for countries of sub-Saharan Africa, where there is a critical need to generate knowledge that can be used in the service of social and economic development, human rights and climate change adaptation. The study concerns itself with that aspect of international development policy and practice which relates to aid-funded capacity development for systems and institutions of higher education, specifically in the sub-Saharan African context. Looking back over a period of thirty years, this study explores the role of higher education capacity as a component of international development assistance programmes to Africa, provided by international finance institutions, and by OECD member states (including Ireland). With reference to testimonies of authoritative informants and unpublished archival material, it examines the historical pathways which have supported aid-funded higher education capacity initiatives (AFHECIs), and their contribution to strengthening sub-Saharan Africa’s higher education systems and to wider societal transformation. The underpinning theoretical perspective which has been chosen as the lens through which to view and reflect on this important subject matter is that of Complex Adaptive Systems (CAS) theory, which has been gaining currency as a theoretical prism on topical problems in public management and organisational analysis. The study critically examines the adequacy of the conventional techniques used by bilateral and multilateral donor agencies in assessing what constitutes an effective AFHECI. It finds that farreaching policy decisions in relation to AFHECIs have in the past been heavily influenced by fickle donor proclivities regarding aid priorities and modalities, rather than the deliberative evidence-based policy-making which donor agencies ostensibly espouse. Finally, the study resolves the long-running ‘ends -v- means’ antinomy in which the discourse on capacity development has long been mired, and concludes that capacity development, when considered as ‘outcome’, rather than merely as instrument, constitutes a public or social good per se, albeit one which becomes discernible only over time.