News & events


The higher education transformation agenda: Opening the debate on innovation and socio-economic inclusion

09 February 2016
09:00 - 16:00

Date: 9 February 2016
Venue:= Top Floor, “The Diz” @ Wits, 111 Smit Street (corner Eendracht and Smit Streets) Braamfontein (2 blocks from Senate House, on street parking or walking distance), University of Witwatersrand

Twenty one years after democracy, universities in South Africa are facing a renewed call for transformation, not only in terms of broadening access, but in terms of their orientations and institutional cultures, their curricula, and their research. The transformation debate is primarily framed in terms of race and language, in terms of whose knowledge is taught and how it is taught. The aim of this seminar is to open up another facet of the transformation agenda: who benefits from university knowledge and how?

The predominant emphasis in higher education and innovation debates in South Africa has been on how universities can support economic development and growth through industrial innovation processes, and what research, new knowledge and technology can contribute, particularly in relation to high-technology formal sectors. The policy questions centre on how to enhance technology transfer, establish effective incubation facilities, support patents and licencing, or other forms of profitable commercialisation of intellectual property. These entrepreneurial forms of interaction are promoted to bolster university sources of funding, or are typically to the benefit of the private sector, although they may contribute extensively to knowledge production and new science.

However, in both developed and developing countries, thinking about the role of universities is shifting away from the dominant trend to promote innovation for global competitiveness. There are growing claims that science, technology and innovation-led growth can, in fact, result in higher levels of poverty, inequality and unemployment within a country like South Africa. So, while in the recent past the link between innovation and growth was indivisible, a new debate has emerged, on the connection between innovation and social inclusion. There is growing recognition that the dominant discourses tend to obscure a more inclusive and developmental form of university engagement that could contribute through innovation. Universities are increasingly challenged to rethink their roles, to become key agents for inclusive social and economic development, in continental strategies such as the African Union’s Science, Technology and Innovation for Africa 2024 Strategy (STISA 2024). Greater emphasis is accorded to the roles the knowledge work of university academics can play in poverty reduction and the ability of all social groups to create opportunities, share the benefits of development and participate in decision-making.

Here, we can draw on an emergent literature on ‘innovation and inclusive development’. Until recently, the poor hardly featured in innovation studies, but there has been a rapid growth of interest since 2006, reflected in research on innovation for social inclusion, inclusive innovation, below the radar innovation, grassroots innovation and so on. Although it is difficult to categorise neatly the differing perspectives emerging, three competing trends or notions of development are evident: business as usual (typical in bottom of the pyramid approaches), reform (typical in inclusive growth approaches), and transformation. The transformation strand questions prevailing models, in relation to the issues of social exclusion, marginalization and inequality in low income or highly unequal middle income economies. It questions how knowledge and innovation processes can include the demands, perspectives and knowledge bases of poor and marginalised communities. Innovation for Inclusive Development (IID) can thus be defined as “innovation that aims to reduce poverty and enables as many groups of people, especially the poor and marginalized, to participate in decision-making, create and actualize opportunities, and share the benefits of development” (IDRC 2011). These transformation imperatives raise a different set of issues for university transformation, and challenge the ways in which universities give effect to the commitment to community engagement as their third mission. Interaction with marginalised communities has traditionally been addressed through a paradigm of community service or community engagement, rather than the paradigm of innovation and technology development. How can an IID approach inform the roles and missions of South African universities as they respond to the challenges of equitable socio-economic development? Is an IID focus possible for all types of universities in the differentiated university system? What changes may be required to universities’ missions, identities of the academics, and to institutional policies, structures and mechanisms? Where and in what ways do universities need support?

Aims and objectives of the workshop
The workshop will bring together leadership, researchers and policy actors in the university, innovation and development spaces to debate the role of universities in IID. It proposes to generate evidence-based advice to inform a new Innovation for Inclusive Development Strategy. What does an IID approach mean, and how can it add to strategic policy at the national and organisational levels?

The aim of the workshop is to address the following objectives:

  1. Debate the concepts and policy frameworks emerging globally to orient knowledge production and innovation towards socio-economic inclusion and development.
  2. Consider whether different types of universities should play distinctive roles in inclusive development.
  3. Examine how an IID framework can inform policies, structures and mechanisms to support and promote innovation and community engagement, from a range of contexts.
  4. Debate policy and strategic options at the national and organisational levels.

Programme and speakers

Chair: Luci Abrahams, University of Witwatersrand

Panel 1 Conceptualising innovation and inclusive development: a global perspective on an emerging research and policy agenda

  • Prof Susan Cozzens, Georgia University of Technology, Atlanta

Panel 2 How do universities and communities interact to innovate in informal settings? Evidence from the UNIID Africa research

  • Dr Glenda Kruss and Il-haam Petersen

Panel 3 Facilitating programmes that support innovation for inclusive development in South East Asian universities: What is possible?

  • Dr Segundo Joaquin Eclar Romero, Ateneo School of Government, Phillipines

Panel 4 Extending knowledge to wider socio-economic benefit: South African models and practices

  • Dr Francois Bonnici, Bertha Centre for Social Innovation, UCT; Prof Sibusiso Moyo, SARIMA SAHECEF – TBC

Panel 5 Science and innovation policies to promote innovation for inclusive development: How can government support university initiatives?

  • Imraan Patel, DST and Chief Mabizela, DHET Universities South Africa (TBC)

National organisations that represent universities and inform higher education policy will be key participants and special effort will be made to involve their constituents in the workshop:

  • Universities South Africa, Research and Innovation Strategy group
  • Council for Higher Education
  • South African Higher Education Community Engagement Forum (SAHECEF)
  • Department of Higher Education and Training
  • Other agencies in the national system of innovation that promote innovation, university interaction and inclusive development are included to facilitate transversal coordination:
  • National Advisory Council on Innovation
  • Southern African Research and Innovation Managers Association
  • National Research Foundation, Community Engagement programme
  • DST/NRF Community University Partnership Programme
  • Technology and Innovation Agency Technology Stations programme

Research groups working on aspects of higher education, innovation and inclusive development are invited to contribute to the discussion by offering alternative perspectives and research insights, including:

  • Centre for Higher Education and Human Development, University of Free State
  • Centre for Higher Education and Transformation (CHET)
  • Centre for Research on Science and Technology (CREST), University of Stellenbosch
  • Institute for Economic Research on Innovation (IERI), Tshwane University of Technology
  • Economic Policy Development, HSRC

The value of such a workshop is that it can bring together researchers, academics, policymakers and knowledge producers to engage critically around current practice, to inform orientations, policy, strategies and mechanisms that may facilitate the promotion of science, technology and innovation to wider socio-economic benefit.