English- and Portuguese-speaking Africa
EPSA REGIONAL CONSULTATION ON BIG ISSUES IN THE UNIVERSITY
Dar Es Salaam, 27-29 October 2017
The EPSA Regional Consultation brought together 24 students, university and staff from 12 different national movements in EPSA to discuss the issues they face as they seek to engage with their universities. The consultation was held in Tanzania over two days.
The consultation’s main point of reference was the idea of the university as a whole. As a tool for brainstorming, we began with a ‘spiritual map’, a way of visualising all aspects of the campus.
Participants had already sought rationales for this from their faith and ministry, as demonstrated by the series of ideas that quickly surfaced in the theology panel: God as Creator; the need to exemplify Christ; the Good Samaritan; ‘new creation’; ‘renewing our minds’; the importance of stewarding our resources and gifts (‘Jesus himself had to learn carpentry!’).
The phrase ‘big issues’ immediately resonated with participants, who were very much aware of ‘big issues’ on their campuses and ready to take action. The rubric of ‘big issues’ captures a wide range of experiences and situations common to movements across IFES-EPSA.
The group identified several issues across IFES-EPSA universities, including: religious fundamentalism, tribalism/ethnicity and decolonisation. In their own university contexts, they are facing challenging questions:
- Can I be a Christian and be involved in politics?
- How can I relate to people of other faiths?
- What is the purpose of a university in Africa?
- How can a university function with so few resources?
- What can we do about poverty, sexual immorality, corruption, and examination malpractice?
Grace Iyanda discussed the moment NIFES began identifying the need for research and development:
"Of course, we were doing all the things we should be doing: Bible studies, missions and all that. But despite those, many of the students were having deep problems. And then in 2003, there was this leadership of national students who said, ‘You have not asked us what we need.’ They said, ‘You are just fashioning your training models from perceived needs.’ And so we sent out a circular, asking, ‘How much do you think NIFES is relevant?’ The answers came out: NIFES is good in Bible studies, but NIFES is not asking the real questions. The students were grappling with adverse school policies. Some of them came from very difficult home backgrounds and they battled to see God as being a loving God. They had these underlying problems that prevented them from following God as they should. In Nigeria, we have backgrounds of real poverty. The women were being drawn back by the male friends or boyfriends who were sponsoring them. So the management decided that it was time to have a kind of mechanism that gets information from students so we could pattern our training models after their needs."
This ultimately led NIFES to create a Research, Development, and Publications unit (now employing four full time staff) and the School of Entrepreneurial Development (SOED). The SOED curriculum aims to equip students and graduates with business skills in order to seek financial stability.
Some of the questions arising from discussions included:
- How do we best strengthen the involvement of associates? Many IFES-EPSA movements already involve associates (graduates), but consultation participants were keen to explore associates involvement beyond the typical roles of financial supporter and guest speaker. This is about increasing cooperation, not necessarily increasing time commitment.
- How can we pursue conversation in high-conflict environments? In some contexts, there is serious mistrust and animosity between groups, for example between Christians and Muslims in parts of Nigeria. Regardless of the potential fruit of bridging the gaps, the very idea of attempting it may hold little appeal for Christians.
- How can we overcome challenges to integrity? In some contexts, such as Sierra Leone, students can exhibit a serious lack of trust in lecturers and faculty, who have generally been implicated in assessment malpractice, harassing or extorting students, and seeking their own welfare. This may pose a challenge to the idea of students and lecturers working together, even where the potential of such relationships has been identified as beneficial.
It was clear that ‘big issues’ are part and parcel of campus ministry. Along with providing new ideas, the consultation served as a sounding board and focal point for existing issues at the grassroots. The participants are continuing to keep in touch via a WhatsApp group to encourage each other as they engage with their universities.
Grace Iyanda, NIFES Nigeria
Arthur Davis, TAFES Tanzania