Democracy, the university and student development

Project update: September 2013

Project manager: Dr Thierry Luescher-Mamashela  

During 2012 the project developed a ‘HERANA Citizenship Module’, which is a set of survey questions that can be ‘plugged’ into existing e-surveys with students. The questions are based in parts on HERANA Phase 1 student survey questions, questions from the ‘Student Experience in the Research University/SERU’ survey (especially questions about academic engagement, institutional culture and climate, and diversity), as well as new questions tailored to the research questions of the HERANA Phase 2 Project. The HERANA Citizenship Module covers: (1) academic and non-academic activities and competencies related to critical thinking and other citizenship attributes, (2) political engagement and community involvement, (3) the ability to engage with and appreciate diversity, and (4) attitudes towards democracy and citizenship. A paper detailing the development and components of the HERANA Citizenship Module was written and presented by Luescher-Mamashela and Lange at UC Berkeley in October 2012.

The survey at the University of Cape Town (UCT) was conducted electronically through an e-survey that was sent to all students. In order to ensure a high response rate (the survey has a census design and aims to get a response rate of between 20 and 45 per cent), numerous on-campus activities and student dialogues were held, promotional material developed and distributed, and a raffle held among survey respondents. By the closure of the survey at the end of May, 3 069 undergraduate students had responded, amounting to a respectable (but just below target) response rate of just under 20 per cent. In the meantime, Randall Lange, a HEMA (Higher Education Masters in Africa) M.Ed. student from the University of the Western Cape (UWC) started the analysis of the 2012 pilot data set as part of his dissertation.

Between April and June 2013, a parallel process of adapting and indigenising the HERANA Citizenship Module as a stand-alone e-survey at MAK ensued. Several meetings with MAK officials were held in the first half of 2013, including two working meetings on 3 and 6 May 2013 in Cape Town. The outcomes from the meetings determined the process and timelines going forward and produced drafts of the research instruments. In July 2013 the Vice-Chancellor of MAK was formally informed of the project and a contract was signed with Dr Vincent Ssembatya as the project leader at MAK. At the same time a Ugandan M.Admin. student in Political Studies from UWC, Jackson Taabo Mugume, was appointed as research assistant to the MAK case study. The CHET project team visited MAK at the end of August 2013 to conduct a series of workshops with stakeholders at the university and to finalise the surveying instruments and campaign in order to launch the e-survey mid-September. This process was put on hold after MAK staff announced a strike on 6 August which led to the closure of the university until 30 August. It is planned to conduct the survey during the latter part of September 2013.



Using the same three institutions as in HERANA Phase 1 (Dar es Salaam, Nairobi and UCT), the aim of this project is to follow up with further explorations of student attitudes towards democracy. Of particular interest would be to survey a group of graduates who have left their institution 3-5 years earlier and to determine how they differ from students at the university. Such information would be illuminating in terms of university–post-university attitudes and behaviours.


  • Through a series of dialogues advocate and enhance democratic citizenship development in universities.
  • Continue to develop a better understanding of African universities’ contribution to democratic citizenship. 
  • Develop the existing knowledge base in Africa on student development/student affairs for citizenship development as contribution to the further development of the HEMA masters programme.


  • A series of dialogues between governments, institutional managers, student development professionals and student leaders on the findings of HERANA research, its implications, and ways to translate key findings into student development practices;
  • Develop in-depth case studies of student leadership/student development practices at the existing case universities
  • Conduct a review of existing international and local literature on “student development for citizenship development” as a basis for developing a bigger project of in-depth investigations into best practices. 
  • Elaborate proposals for follow-up projects, including (1) in-depth investigations into existing democratic best practice of student development/student leadership development in Africa (“student development for citizenship development”); and (2) looking at recent graduates of the current case institutions (UCT, UDSM, UON) and expanding the number of case studies to (North/West) African countries currently in political transition.


Assistant Director, Institutional Research, University of the Free State