Is Higher Education for Development Producing the Right Kinds of Leaders?
Brendan Harrison (Commonwealth Scholarship Commission) & Paul Jackson (University of Birmingham)
This panel featured a wide ranging discussion centred on development-oriented learning in higher education. It brought together participants with academic backgrounds in development, gender, race, and international education. Participants also brought different mixes of experiential backgrounds to the discussion, as former international students, academics, course convenors, and researchers. While it is hard to do justice to the full content of the discussion, the following tries to summarise and connect the main themes that were explored over the course of the panel.
Development studies occupy a complex space; on the one hand students are tasked with critiquing the structural inequities that create the conditions that necessitate the need for development, while at the same time receiving learning and training designed to enable them to work for development organisations which are themselves a part of (and contribute to) those same structural inequities. Particularly problematic is the way in which development courses in the UK are taught from a UK-based perspective, which risks reinforcing frameworks and modes of thinking that are reflective of (and reinforce) the existing structural relationships without adequately problematising them.
Consequently, development studies needs to be more reflexive about interrogating the power structures and imbalances that it replicates when determining what should be taught and how. Many of these imbalances are rooted in neo-colonial frameworks that include both geographic imbalances that privilege the epistemic and experiential viewpoints of the global north, but also social imbalances around gender and race that were imposed through colonialism and persist to this day.
These imbalances become especially apparent when considering the international student experience with development studies in the United Kingdom, particularly those from the global south. Not only do courses not reflect their countries’ experiences with development, but there is an uncomfortable incongruity in students having to travel to the global north in order to learn about development, particularly when being taught from intellectual frameworks that contribute to or reinforce the structural inequities noted earlier.
In order to address these issues, efforts could be made to ensure multiple perspectives and experiences from both the global north and south are combined in order to produce a more representative and critical development study in higher education, where existing conventions within this space are questioned and existing colonial tropes removed. The incorporation of multiple viewpoints in the design stage of courses can help to better illustrate the relationship between structural inequity and underdevelopment and the social inequities that persist when it comes to gender and race. Subsequently, students could receive a far more critical and nuanced education with respect to development.