Taking as its starting point the question ‘sustainability of what?’ this paper aims to open out critical thinking about the state and purpose of higher education (HE). Beginning with an overview of the profound transformations in globalizing HE, it critically examines the changing imaginaries of HE and situates the aspirations for higher education and development in:
i) a regional context of struggles for decolonization and Africanization,
ii) a global context of increasing inequalities and ‘really existing unsustainability’
Against this context, it considers the role of universities, and further considers current national questions, such as student access and success; about what next-generation academics will look like and critical questions about how the HE curriculum should be transformed.
The discussion considers gender initiatives in development and HE, which have tried to address existing inequalities and achieve structural transformation and asks what can be learned from four decades of experience.
For HE to be ‘transformative’ suggests a re-imagination of HE as a developmental public good, as a core support for creating societal transformations toward sustainability. ‘Public good’ can be defined by mutual awareness, scientific reliability and experienced equality. Re-tooling HE for sustainable transformation involves efforts to develop equitable collaboration, inter/transdisciplinary working, integrated scholarship and integral leadership.