Studies of the specific impact of higher education on democratic citizenship are rare. The standard operationalization of most variables measuring formal education is “years of education” which assumes that all positive contributions to democratic citizenship accumulate monotonically the longer one stays in school, and then in college or university.
The overall, system-level impact of college and university education in Africa is likely to be minimal simply because so few citizens ever progress to these levels. However, there are good reasons to suspect that the micro-level democratic dividend of higher education might be more substantial. If Africa’s schools are the sites of rote learning, its colleges and universities offer at least the possibility of a different pedagogy that may be more effective in promoting critical skills and habits, and enabling students to appreciate diversity, difference, ambiguity, contradiction and nuance.
Indeed, university students were a driving force behind the popular protests that brought down autocratic leaders in many countries across Africa in the early 1990s. And younger, university-trained elected representatives have also formed the core of cross-party coalitions that have initiated key reforms in some African parliaments.