Southern Africa Rurality in Higher Education (SARiHE).

Project Details


The 30 month collaborative SARiHE project will address the knowledge gap that exists regarding the transition from rural school and home contexts to university learning in Southern Africa. The overall aim of the study is to trace the trajectory and implications of this transition in order to develop inclusive teaching and learning practices and support mechanisms and structures in universities.

Background: Widening participation has been a major and ongoing concern in South Africa subsequent to the 1994 democratisation. Of equal concern has been the lack of academic achievement of students from non-traditional backgrounds, in part due to a deficit in ‘epistemological access’ (Morrow, 2007) – students’ prior knowledge and experience are not recognised, becoming effectively excluded from the curriculum. Discussions around epistemological access, or lack thereof, have focused mainly on a ‘lack’ or under preparedness of the student, rather than the inadequacy and inappropriateness of the curriculum to meet their needs. Transformation is a strong focus of the current calls by students for the decolonisation of the curriculum. This has generally been framed with references to race, and occasionally social class, although these are often integrated (Badat and Sayed, 2014). We argue that one of the social categories most marginalised and affected by historical inadequacies is that of rurality, especially as it interrelates with race and ethnicity in South Africa and Southern Africa more broadly. There is a gap in the literature in South Africa on the influence of rurality on students’ achievement and participation in higher education.

Description of activity: The project adopts a participatory research approach, drawing on narrative inquiry principles and practices. SARiHE will work with student co-researchers across three South African universities – the University of Johannesburg, Rhodes University and Fort Hare University – who will document their prior learning in rural areas and their experience as university students, as well as how they negotiate the HE transition and what social and technological resources they draw upon. In phase two, we will interview academic and senior staff in the universities to explore their perspectives on rurality and curriculum change. The research will make significant contributions to debates and evidence gaps in relation to the concept of rurality, widening participation, equity, social justice and post-colonial curricula in higher education across Southern Africa and more widely across the global south. The project outputs and impacts will therefore be relevant to both policy and academic audiences, including other Southern African universities in the Southern African Universities Learning and Teaching (SAULT) forum, whom the project will collaborate with throughout the project.

This project is jointly funded by the ESRC and NRF Newton Fund
Effective start/end date1/10/1630/09/19

Structured keywords

  • SoE Centre for Knowledge, Culture, and Society
  • SoE Centre for Higher Education Transformations
  • SoE Language Literacies and Education Network


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