Can an economically struggling university bolster community engagement as a learning city? Exploring one university initiative in Malawi

  • N.M. Nkhoma Postdoctoral Fellow University of the Free State


There is growing need to link universities and their cities in Africa.  Yet current research paints a picture that the development relationships between universities and learning cities do not appear to have functioned sustainably in the African contexts. This paper draws from UNESCO guidelines for a learning city to analyze one university efforts of linking community engagement that bolsters a learning city initiative. The case is based on empirical data with a total of 16 actors in community engagement that included deans, heads of departments, faculty in general and university administrators. The evidence, suggested that rather than a formalized and centralized approach, the current university case on the contrary employs an open-ended and ad-doc systems that still bring to the fore the agenda for a learning city. The paper concludes with a call for alternative ways to structure partnerships that do not always structure bureaucratic approaches in poorly resourced universities.

Author Biography

N.M. Nkhoma, Postdoctoral Fellow University of the Free State

Nelson Nkhoma is a Post-doctoral Research Fellow 

in the Center for Research in Higher Education and Development CRHED at the University of the Free State.



Altbach, P. G. (2004). The costs and benefits of world-class universities. Academe, 90(1), 20.

Axtell, J. (1998). The pleasure of academe: A celebration and defense of higher education. NE:University of Nebraska Press.: Lincoln.

Bathelt, H., Malmberg, A. & Maskell, P. (2004). Clusters and knowledge: local buzz, global pipelines and the process of knowledge creation. Progress in human geography, 28(1), 31-56.

Bennis, W. G. (1969). The temporary society. The Journal of Creative Behavior, 3(4), 223-242.

Birch, E., Perry, D. C., & Taylor Jr, H. L. (2013). Universities as anchor institutions. Journal of Higher Education Outreach and Engagement, 17(3), 7-16.

Boni, A. & Walker, M. (2016) Universities, Development and Social Change: Theoretical and Empirical Insights (London and New York, Routledge)

Boyer, E. L. (1996). The scholarship of engagement. Bulletin of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 49(7), 18-33.

Bridges, D. (2008). Educationalization: On the appropriateness of asking educational institutions to solve social and economic problems. Educational Theory, 58(4), 461-474.

Brubacher, J. S. & Rudy, W. (1968). Higher education in transition: A history of American colleges and universities, 1636-1968. Los Angeles: Harper & Row.

Brubacher, J. S. & Rudy, W. (1997). Higher education in transition: A history of American colleges and universities. (4th ed.). New Brunswick: Transactio Publishers.

Cochrane, A. & Williams, R. (2010). The role of higher education in social and cultural transformation. Higher education and society: a research report, 20-26.

Clark, B. R. (1998). The entrepreneurial university: Demand and response 1. Tertiary Education & Management, 4(1), 5-16.

Cloete, N., Bailey, T. & Pillay, P. (2011). Universities and economic development in Africa. Cape Town: African Minds.

Doloreux, D. & Parto, S. (2004). Regional innovation system: a critical review. In XLème Colloque de L'ASRDLF, Bruxelles.

Ehrenberg, R. G. (2004). Econometric studies of higher education. Journal of econometrics, 121(1), 19-37.

Etzkowitz, H. (2002). Incubation of incubators: innovation as a triple helix of university-industry-government networks. Science and Public Policy, 29(2), 115-128.

Etzkowitz, H. (2008). The triple helix: university-industry-government innovation in action. London: Routledge.

Florida, R. (1995). Toward the learning region. Futures, 27(5), 527-536.

Fitzgerald, H.E. & Zientek, R. (2015) ‘Learning Cities, Systems Change, and Community Engagement Scholarship’, New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 145, Spring, 21–33.

Fongwa, S. N. & Wangenge-Ouma, G. (2015). University as regional development agent: a counterfactual analysis of an African university. Africa Education Review, 12(4), 533-551.

Furco, A. (2010). The engaged campus: Toward a comprehensive approach to public engagement. British Journal of Educational Studies, 58(4), 375-390.

Freeman, C. (1995). The ‘National System of Innovation’in historical perspective. Cambridge Journal of economics, 19(1), 5-24.

Goddard, J. & Vallance, P. (2011a). The civic university and the leadership of place. Centre for Urban and Regional Development Studies (CURDS) Newcastle University UK.

Goddard, J. & Vallance, P. (2011b). The Civic University: re-uniting the university and the city. Higher Education in Cities and Regions: For stronger, cleaner and fairer regions. Paris: OECD.

Grobbelaar, S., & De Wet, G. (2016). Exploring pathways towards an integrated development role: The University of Fort Hare. South African Journal of Higher Education, 30(1), 162-187.

Guerrero, M., Cunningham, J. A. & Urbano, D. (2015). Economic impact of entrepreneurial universities’ activities: An exploratory study of the United Kingdom. Research Policy, 44(3), 748-764.

Hale, C. (2008). Introduction. (pp, 1-31). In Engaging Contradictions: Theory, politics, and methods of activist scholarship (Ed. Charles R. Hale).Berkeley: University of California Press.

Hassink, R. (2005). How to unlock regional economies from path dependency? From learning region to learning cluster. European Planning Studies, 13(4), 521-535.

Hegger, D., Lamers, M., Van Zeijl-Rozema, A. & Dieperink, C. (2012). Conceptualizing joint knowledge production in regional climate change adaptation projects: success conditions and levers for action. Environmental science & policy, 18, 52-65.

Katz, D. & Kahn, R. L. (1978). The social psychology of organizations (Vol. 2). New York: Wiley.

Kenway, J. (1990). Gender and education policy: A call for new directions. Geelong: Deakin University press.

Lee, S. (2003) ‘Building Cities and Towns as Learning Communities’, Canadian Association for the Study of Adult Education. Online Proceedings (pages unnumbered), accessed 20 November December 2017.

Lebeau, Y. (2008). Universities and social transformation in sub-Saharan Africa: global rhetoric and local contradictions. Compare, 38(2), 139-153.

Mambo, M., Meky, M., Tanaka, N. & Salmi, J. (2016). Improving Higher Education in Malawi for Competitiveness in the Global Economy. World Bank Publications.

Mazrui, A. A. (2003). Towards Re-Africanizing African Universities: Who Killed Intellectualism in the Post Colonial Era?. Alternatives: Turkish Journal of International Relations, 2(3&4).

Melhuish, C. & Bletter, R. H. (2015). The role of the university in urban regeneration: The sources of Bruno Taut's Glashaus. Arq: Architectural Research Quarterly, 19(1), 5.

Nussbaum, M. C. (2006). Education and democratic citizenship: Capabilities and quality education. Journal of human development, 7(3), 385-395.

O’Mara, M. P. (2012). Beyond town and gown: university economic engagement and the legacy of the urban crisis. The Journal of Technology Transfer, 37(2), 234-250.

Oladejo, M. A. & Gesinde, A. M. (2014). Trends and future directions in open and distance learning practice in Africa. Journal of Education and Practice, 5(18), 132-138.

Perry, D. C., Wiewel, W. & Menendez, C. (2009). The university’s role in urban development: From enclave to anchor institution. Land Lines, 21, 2-7.

Preece, J. (2017). University Community Engagement and Lifelong Learning: The Porous University. Springer.

Samoff, J, and Bidemi, C. (2004). “The Promise of Partnership and Continuities of Dependence: External Support to Higher Education in Africa.” African Studies Review 47 (1): 67-199.

Psacharopoulos, G. & Patrinos*, H. A. (2004). Returns to investment in education: a further update. Education economics, 12(2), 111-134.

Silver, H. (2007). Higher education and social change: purpose in pursuit? History of Education, Vol 36, Nos 4-5, 535-550.

Titchen, A. & Hobson D. (2011). Understanding phenomenology through reverse perspectives (pp 121-130) In Somekh B. and Lewin C. (Eds). Theory and methods in social research (2nd edition). Los Agngeles, London: Sage.

Tödtling, F. & Trippl, M. (2005). One size fits all?: Towards a differentiated regional innovation policy approach. Research policy, 34(8), 1203-1219.

UNESCO UIL (2014a) ‘Lifelong Learning Policies and Strategies’,,

accessed 08 December 2017.

UNESCO UIL (2014b) ‘Conference Report. 21–23 October 2013, Beijing, China. International Conference on Learning Cities. Lifelong learning for all: Inclusion, Prosperity and Sustainability in Cities’,,

accessed 31 December 2017.

UNESCO UIL (2015a) ‘UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities: Guiding Documents’,,

accessed 31 December 2017.

UNESCO UIL (2015b) ‘2nd International Conference on Learning Cities 28–30 September 2015b, Mexico City. Building Sustainable Learning Cities. Conference Report’,, accessed 20 December 2017.

Van Manen, M. (1990). Researching lived experiences: Human science for an action sensitive pedagogy. New York: State University of New York.

Walker, M. (2012). Universities, professional capabilities and contributions to the public good in South Africa. Compare: A Journal of Comparative and International Education, 42(6), 819-838.

Wittmayer, J. M. & Schäpke, N. (2014). Action, research and participation: roles of researchers in sustainability transitions. Sustainability science, 9(4), 483-496.

Yang, J. (2012) ‘An Overview of Building Learning Cities as a Strategy for Promoting Lifelong Learning’, Journal of Adult and Continuing Education,18(2), 97–113.

How to Cite
Nkhoma, N.M. 2018. “Can an Economically Struggling University Bolster Community Engagement As a Learning City? Exploring One University Initiative in Malawi”. South African Journal of Higher Education 32 (3), 280-302.
General Articles