Rhodes>Community Engagement>Engaged Research>African Journal for Higher Education CE

African Journal of Higher Education Community Engagement

Community engagement, a recent function of higher education in South Africa, aims to advance the developmental role of higher education institutions. Community engagement is intended to contribute to community development and inculcate civic and social responsibilities in students. An African journal of higher education community engagement has a critical role to play in promoting a Global south perspective of the scholarship of engagement, build community engagement as a discipline and highlight the importance of community-university partnerships for addressing some of the issues of development that beset the continent.

The 2021 RU-DUT Community Engagement Symposium shed light on the potential of community-university engagement in terms of the transformation and decolonisation of higher education institutions. Conference presenters explored the role of community engagement in the reimagination of higher education during and post the Covid-19 pandemic, considering the ways in which engaged citizenship, engaged research and community based service learning contribute to building student social responsibility, educating for life, knowledge democracy and orientating universities towards the public good. This transformative potential is exciting, but, as many presenters concurred, is dependent on the embedding and infusing of community engagement in higher education functions of learning, teaching and research. Otherwise, what results is a more limited “silo model” where learning and teaching, research and community engagement are falsely separated, and where the potential of community engagement to transform higher education is unlikely to be realised (Bender, 2008: 87).

Academic journals dedicated to community-university partnerships may play a role in embedding community engagement in the other core functions of higher education. Rallison (2015: 90) argues that the importance of academic journals goes beyond a means of communication, knowledge dissemination and public record. Journal publications are often considered the final stage of research output, and are a signal of the significance of research (Rallison, 2015: 90). The value ascribed to academic journals in higher education means that they are deeply embedded in academic infrastructure (Rallison, 2015: 90).  While journals provide an opportunity of career advancement and funding opportunities for early academics particularly, the intended purpose of this journal is to orientate academics towards collaboration for the coproduction of knowledge.  A journal focused on community engagement in higher education could therefore play a significant role in signalling the significance of this core function in universities, and could be a step towards the embedding of community engagement in our learning, teaching and research activities.

Several community or civic engagement journals do exist around the world. However, the majority of these journals come from North America (and the West in general) and most provide insights about distinctly American social contexts. A few international journals do exist, but even these spaces are dominated by Western editorial boards, and very few editions speak to the South African or African context and its developmental issues. Moreover, of the 33 journals currently in existence that are related to community engagement considered in a desktop survey, not a single journal is accredited by the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) in South Africa.

This reality raises two important questions. The first is, where do South Africans (and Africans) publish their community engagement work, experiences and research findings? Often, it appears that one can publish in a community engagement special edition of DHET accredited education journals like the South African Journal of Higher Education or the Journal of Higher Education in Africa. Alternatively, one could try to find journals in one’s discipline that are open to papers on community engagement in its various forms. While these approaches may aid in starting community engagement conversations within various subjects, neither of these solutions is ideal: what results is a fragmented body of knowledge that does little to build community engagement as a discipline.

A second, significant question is about how we build knowledge about community engagement in the African context, when existing community engagement journals appear orientated towards the Western context. This issue is part of a much bigger problem, where Western knowledge systems are dominant in higher education. Hall and Tandon (2017: 7) mention four epistemicides (killing of knowledge systems) – the conquest of Al-Andalus, the conquest of indigenous peoples in Americas, the slave trade in Africa, and killing of millions of women through witch-hunts – where ancient libraries were burned and oral knowledge erased. These epistemicides, according to Hall and Tandon (2017: 7) have made the West the centre of intellectual power globally. As a result, the knowledge of universities, which generally subscribe to the Western canon, represents only a small proportion of our global treasury of knowledge (Hall and Tandon, 2017: 7).

This monopoly of knowledge in higher education, and consequent marginalization of many other forms of knowledge, illustrates the need for the recovery of the intellectual traditions of the global South. Furthermore, it also illustrates the need to consider the knowledge that takes place beyond the university, knowledge and wisdom that is rooted in communities. Hall and Tandon (2017: 13) argue that universities need to move towards a knowledge democracy, which embraces multiple epistemologies, knowledge created and represented in various ways, and the sharing of knowledge through open access channels, as we aim to decolonise and transform higher education in the 21st century.

It therefore appears that there is a noteworthy gap in terms of spaces where South African and African community engaged researchers (both in the university and community) can publish and contribute to academic discourse about community engagement and issues of community development. Community engagement for the African continent needs to be established on philosophies and theories that are relevant to the history and context of Africa which resonates to varying degrees with other countries of the global South. An African Journal of Community Engagement has the potential and provides a space for African perspectives about the contribution of community engagement in higher education (Stranack, 2008: 6).  Stranack argues that this form of publishing may aid in closing a “knowledge gap” between well-funded and powerful voices from the global North and the often side lined ideas, innovations and input of the global South (2008: 6). This new journal could therefore be a significant contribution not only to embedding community engagement in university functions but also to growing an African canon on community engagement, and moving towards knowledge democracy.


Key objectives for this proposed journal

  1. To contribute to the body of knowledge produced in Africa. The encouragement of the African voice, and voices from the global South in general, may aid in combatting epistemicide and marginalising alternative knowledge paradigms at higher education institutions.
  2. To grow community engagement as a discipline with philosophies and theories relevant to the African context and a practice that contributes to all the dimensions (social, economic, cultural, psychological, spiritual, political) of community development.
  3. To embed community engagement in all activities of the university, especially research, and signal the importance of scholarly work on community-university partnerships.
  4. To advance participatory and collaborative research methodologies, and community-based participatory research (CBPR) especially, where communities and academics are knowledge co-creators, in research practice and knowledge dissemination. This kind of research, which values the input of and produces knowledge for and with local communities can contribute to the process of decolonisation of universities in Africa.
  5. To provide a space for discourse on community engagement and sharing knowledge through the scholarship of engagement in the African context.

 Access the African Journal of Higher Education Community Engagement here



African Journal of Higher Education Community Engagement Editorial Board




Dr Margie Maistry

Rhodes University

Prof Budd Hall 

University of Victoria

Prof Tim Stanton 

Stanford University

Prof George Ladaah Openjuru 

Gulu University

Prof Vhonani Netshandama

University of Venda

Prof Angela James

University of Kwazulu Natal

Prof Peter Clayton 

Rhodes University

Prof Vishanti Sewpaul

Emeritus Professor-University of KwaZulu Natal

Prof Darren Lortan

Durban University of Technology

Dr Rajesh Tandon

Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA)

Dr Maria Nieves Tapia


Dr Duane Booysen

Rhodes University

Dr Rene Oosthuizen

Rhodes University

Dr Bertha Sibhensana

Rhodes University

Dr Bruce Damons

Nelson Mandela University

Dr Rajesh Tandon

Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA)

Dr Mammusa Lekoa 

University of Zululand

Dr Mwemezi Rwiza 

Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology (NM-AIST)

Ms Nqobile Msomi

Rhodes University

Di Hornby

Rhodes University

Mercy Nkatha 

MS Training Centre for Development Cooperation

Claire McCann

Oxford University


Last Modified: Thu, 23 Nov 2023 10:28:32 SAST