Session highlights

As soon as the protests in South Africa stopped the universities stopped paying attention to decolonisation so if you ask academics today what has changed since Rhodes fell, most of them will say nothing. That is a very sad outcome and the question is why did it happen? The main reason, I believe, is that the activists did not pay enough attention to the university as an institution, place in which the rules, the norms, the regulations etc prevent radical change.” Jonathan Jansen, Professor of Education at Stellenbosch University

  • A historic moment for change in South African universities was wasted because five years after the Rhodes must fall student protests, very little has changed, according to Jonathan Jansen, Professor of Education at Stellenbosch University. Based on in depth interviews with academics at 10 of South Africa’s 26 public universities, he told the conference that it had been left to individuals to do their own thing as there had been no agreement on what de-colonialism meant.
  • There is a danger in creating a consensus around what needs to be done to decolonise higher education because such a uniform approach would not suit different institutions in different circumstances thought Candace Brunette-Debassige, special advisor to the Provost of the University of Western Ontario, Canada. “We don’t want to de-contextualise the different institutions because we wouldn’t want it to become a check list, uniform approach. That is one of the logics on which colonialism operates and that would be going down that road,” she added.
  • To bring about change, deep questions need to be asked about institutions themselves, it is not enough to make piecemeal curriculum changes, argued Professor Jonathan Jansen, Professor of Education at Stellenbosch University.  “We must require that universities pay attention to decolonisation in a more structured way. They have a permanent sub-committee on finance so why not have one on decolonisation which would report back on what is doing and how effective it is.  The faculties which were most successful in our case studies were those in which the Dean understood and was committed to not only providing resources but providing ideas around it,” he said.

Session summary

​Universities globally are grappling with issues around decolonisation, equity, diversity and inclusion.

This panel, drawn from the Association of Commonwealth Universities' network of over 500 universities around the Commonwealth, will consider the growing global body of university practice and innovation in this area, and how universities may best respond to these issues in their own context.
The panel will also consider the value and potential for the sector to develop a consensus approach to inclusive and decolonised higher education.


  • Chair: Dr. Joanna Newman, CEO & Secretary General, Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU), UK
  • Candace Brunette-Debassige, Special Advisor to the Provost (Indigenous Initiatives), University of Western Ontario, Canada
  • Prof. Jonathan Jansen, Dis, tinguished Professor in the Faculty of Education, Stellenbosch University, South Africa
  • Meera Sabaratnam, Senior Lecturer in International Relations, SOAS (School of African Studies), University of London