SARiHE – Southern African Rurality in Higher Education

The SARiHE project is investigating the transition from rural school and home contexts to university learning in Southern Africa.

The project is a collaboration between the University of Bristol, the University of Johannesburg, Rhodes University, the University of Fort Hare and the University of Brighton. Student co-researchers at the three South African universities will document their prior learning in rural areas and their experience as university students, as well as how they negotiated the transition to higher education.

The research will develop inclusive teaching and learning practices, and support mechanisms, in universities. It will also make significant contributions to the concept of rurality, widening participation, equity, social justice and de-colonised curricula in higher education across Southern Africa and more widely across the global south.

This 30 month collaborative project is part of the ESRC-NRF Newton call for collaborative research on Higher Education in South Africa.


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 academic backgrounds. These students’ prior knowledge and experience are not recognised, becoming effectively excluded from the curriculum. Previous discussions 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. There is a gap in the literature in South Africa on the influence of rurality on students’ achievement and participation in higher education. 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.

Outputs and impacts

The project is relevant to both policy and academic audiences, including other Southern African universities in the Southern African Universities Learning and Teaching (SAULT) forum. This forum includes academics and academic developers from Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe. SARiHE is working closely with the SAULT forum to share the research methodology and will examine to what extent the implications of the findings are common to the Southern African region.

Advisory board

  • Chair: Amanda Hlengwa, Senior Lecturer at Rhodes University, South Africa.
  • Robert Balfour, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Teaching and Learning, North-West University, South Africa.
  • David Baume, independent international higher education consultant and link for ICED (International Consortium for Educational Development) with the SAULT (Southern African Universities Learning and Teaching) forum.
  • Vivienne Bozalek, Director of Teaching and Learning at University of the Western Cape, South Africa.
  • Mandisa Cakwe, Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), South Africa.
  • Piyushi Kotecha, CEO of SARUA, Southern African Regional Universities Association.
  • Catherine Montgomery, Professor of Education University of Bath, UK.
  • Amasa Ndofirepi, Senior Lecturer, Ali Mazrui Centre for Higher Education; Department of Education and Curriculum Studies, University of Johannesburg, South Africa.
  • Andre van Zyl, Director of the Academic Development Centre and manager of the South African National Resource Centre for the First-year Experience.
  • Merridy Wilson-Strydom, Associate Professor, Centre for Research on Higher Education and Development, University of the Free State, South Africa and Co-Investigator on the Miratho project.

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