Original Research

The question of access and spatial justice in universities in sub-Saharan Africa: A capabilities approach

Nomanesi Madikizela-Madiya
Transformation in Higher Education | Vol 6 | a124 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/the.v6i0.124 | © 2021 Nomanesi Madikizela-Madiya | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 11 April 2021 | Published: 26 August 2021

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Nomanesi Madikizela-Madiya, Department of Educational Foundations, College of Education, University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa

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Background: The discussions related to access in higher education collate enrolment with the provision of education. Yet, when considering what the university education should provide, some enrolments still restrict capabilities, freedom and rights to quality education. The article argues that the debates regarding access to higher education are incomplete without addressing this divide.

Aim: The article aims to expose the injustices that exist in some university spaces in sub-Saharan Africa. Space is politically and ideologically produced, a situation that legitimises a need for the exposure of injustices in terms of access to quality and dignified physical and technological resources for education. The article posits that if the spatial injustices that are embedded in the universities are not exposed, the universities will fight endless battles towards providing adequate access for students and academics.

Setting: The article reports on research conducted in three of the seven universities in sub-Saharan Africa that participated in a research project.

Method: A multiple qualitative case study design was followed. Data were generated through semi-structured interviews with academics and focus group interviews with students in the universities.

Results: Quantity and quality of the physical and technological structures in these universities are dehumanising, unjust and unfair to students and staff who must compete economically with their counterparts in other spheres of society.

Conclusion: The physical and technological structures in the universities demand a reconceptualisation of access. Presently, transformation, as it pertains to access and spatial justice, is minimal. A focussed developmental strategy is proposed for the universities in order to improve and provide relevant access to knowledge and skills for relevance and quality.


Higher education access; spatial justice; capabilities approach; spatial conditions; higher education inequalities; rights and freedoms; sub-Sahan Africa; technological development


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