As an important first phase of the research, the SARiHE project is currently undertaking a review of existing published data and literature on key ideas, concepts and theories. By summarising and synthesizing previous scholarship, we will be able to provide a context for the research and show where it fits into the existing body of knowledge, and to identify where the project contributes to gaps about the influence of rurality on students’ achievement and participation in higher education.

Sheila, Karen and Brenda are leading on the literature review, and are focusing on mapping existing research on social practice, decolonisation of knowledges/the curricula, higher education in Southern Africa, identity, transitions, agency and methodology, and how rurality is conceptualised in the different relevant contexts. Importantly, we need to develop our insight into how rurality is understood in relation to learning and teaching in higher education. We are also gathering recent policy reports and basic statistical information on Southern Africa.

Karen has identified a number of emerging themes following her review of the literature on decolonising knowledges/the curricula. These are:

  • what constitutes ‘legitimate knowledge’, e.g. the Eurocentric curriculum and the marginalisation of rural African knowledges;
  • epistemic violence/injustice;
  • decolonising the university as an institution;
  • centring epistemologies of the South;
  • de-racializing the curriculum;
  • legitimising and valuing indigenous languages in education;
  • recognising indigenous knowledges as dynamic; and
  • conceptual nuances, e.g. decolonisation, decoloniality and anti-coloniality.

Sheila has identified emergent themes around higher education in South Africa, such as:

  • language;
  • social justice and higher education;
  • theories of social justice;
  • decoloniality;
  • rurality;
  • technology;
  • transition to higher education;
  • mode of delivery e.g. does face-to-face attendance disadvantage those from rural areas?;
  • ‘transformation’; and
  • student protests.

Brenda is reviewing the literature on rurality.

Over the next few weeks, we will critically summarise and evaluate the current literature in relation to the project’s aims and research questions. We aim to provide a first draft of the literature review by 30 June 2017 so that the wider research team can read and comment. Perhaps our main challenge is the sheer volume of literature that we are locating and that we are finding much of it so fascinating that our progress is a little slower than we had anticipated.

By Karen Desborough and Sheila Trahar