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Urgent Need for Interdisciplinary Approaches: Embracing a New Culture of Knowledge Integration :: Uganda Radionetwork
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Urgent Need for Interdisciplinary Approaches: Embracing a New Culture of Knowledge Integration

Press release
It is crucial to initiate a new knowledge crusade in line with the cyber age, one that supports genuine teamwork and team science, transitioning from a science for society, characterized by epistemic apartheid, to a science with society.
By Professor Oweyegha-Afunaduula

Not too long ago, I wrote two articles titled "The Need for Emancipatory Change in Uganda's Higher Education" and "The Role of Universities in Knowledge Integration and Reintegration." I shared copies of these articles with Professor Mary Nakandha Okwakol, the chief of Uganda's National Council for Higher Education (NCHE), who strongly believes that intellectual and knowledge integration at African universities is long overdue. The articles have been widely distributed, even by Kenyan media. 

Just today, I approached the Dean of Law at Victoria University and requested assistance in posting what I consider an important resource on platforms such as Academia.edu, ResearchGate, and AFDEF websites. This resource focuses on the restructuring and governance of universities worldwide, with particular emphasis on Africa. The resource is titled "The Struggle for Critical Thinking, Genuine Interaction, Sustainability, and Future-Ready Professionals." 

The underlying assumption behind this resource is that our current university structure, function, and governance do not adequately promote critical thinking, critical analysis, genuine interaction, sustainability, and the production of future-ready professionals for the 21st century and beyond. The continued prevalence of disciplinary academic specialization, territoriality, and jurisdiction from the 20th century has hindered the necessary openness, interaction, and integration of knowledge for critical thinking, sustainability, and future-ready professionals. 

Despite the demand for a more liberal approach in the current century, many African universities, including Makerere University, have clung to 20th-century academic specialization, territoriality, and jurisdiction to maintain academic purity and superiority. This goes against the requirements of a more open and integrated society that demands greater openness, interaction, and integration of knowledge for critical thinking, sustainability, and future-ready professionals. 

It is crucial to initiate a new knowledge crusade in line with the cyber age, one that supports genuine teamwork and team science, transitioning from a science for society, characterized by epistemic apartheid, to a science with society. We need a new scholarship that promotes critical thinking, sustainability, and the production of future-ready professionals. Through this knowledge crusade, we can cultivate a new culture of science and integrative action research throughout the university system, developing new research skills for the future by incorporating alternative knowledge systems and cultures. To achieve this, knowledge integration needs to be prioritized, not only today but even more so in the future. 

Integrated planning and interactive governance within universities will create new opportunities for students and lecturers to pursue future-ready professionalism through alternative routes, fostering greater integration and relevance. Our academia must be more open and free, allowing students, lecturers, and professors the opportunity to create and innovate beyond disciplinary boundaries, learn from hitting knowledge barriers, and reconnect with society. 

This shift will lead to a knowledge-rich environment, where knowledge workers feel more comfortable interacting with each other and society at large, becoming less arrogant and more connected and relevant. While we have been advocating for economic liberalization, we have overlooked the need for political and knowledge liberalization. Similarly, while there has been talk of economic and regional integration, knowledge and practice integration within universities, where the majority of agents are produced, remains lacking. 

In universities, minds tend to be individualistic and disconnected, as we emphasize individual achievement rather than collective accomplishments. Integration, in any context, requires genuine interaction, respect, and teamwork free from greed and selfishness. Without these elements, integration momentum cannot be sustained in any dimension of human endeavor, be it political, economic, social, health, education, or governance. 

The genuine transformation of society requires universities that embrace a science of integrative action and research, co-produced knowledge aimed at genuinely transformative outcomes. It is clear that universities must train for the future. To accomplish this, the state must shape the education of tomorrow by embracing new cultures of knowledge production and practice. It is essential to prepare future teachers and leaders for integration. 

However, progress in this regard has been lacking. Continuing with methodologies transplanted from the 20th century will not facilitate the restructuring of our universities to accommodate new governance models that encourage interactive and intellectual discourses, open critical reflection, and promote integrative learning, research, and science. Decolonization of methodologies alone is not sufficient; the entire education system needs to be reformed to institutionalize new knowledge production and practice that align with genuine integrative science. 

This science should be anti-compulsory education, which has been the State's preferred approach. A new science policy agenda is needed to disengage from the past, where science was individualized and rewarded based on individual achievements within limited domains of knowledge. This policy should promote greater integration, team science, the revitalization of indigenous knowledge and science, and the integration of contemporary scientific thinking with the cultural heritage of indigenous communities. 

This will protect indigenous people from the excesses of globalization and foreignization that threaten to erode their connection to the land, traditional practices, continuous learning, meaning, belonging, and land-based identities. In the early years of the new millennium, Makerere University in Uganda seemed to have grasped the global educational climate. The Faculty of Law, in collaboration with the Ford Foundation, launched a university-wide project called "The Interdisciplinary Teaching of Human Rights, Peace, and Ethics at Makerere University."

The project, based in the Human Rights and Peace Centre (HURIPEC) within the Faculty of Law, involved all faculties of the university from 1997 to 2006. This initiative acknowledged the importance of virtues in education and science and recognized that higher education could sustain virtues such as human rights, peace, and ethics within a learning community. At that time, it appeared as though Makerere University would become the first university in Africa to embrace interdisciplinary knowledge discourse, institutionalize team science, and advance science through integration experiences. 

Many scholars advocating for more open academia believed that interdisciplinary knowledge discourse would challenge the entrenched habits of thought fostered by decades of disciplinary knowledge discourse. However, they were mistaken. Although the project formulated a policy plan for Interdisciplinary Education and Research, which was subsequently approved by the University Senate and Council, a renewed disciplinary current emerged, undermining the interdisciplinary current and reinforcing the supremacy of disciplinary knowledge over interdisciplinary approaches.

This made interdisciplinarity optional in determining academic progression and promotion at Makerere University, putting an end to interdisciplinary approaches at Makerere University. However, Mbarara University of Science picked up where Makerere University left off and embraced interdisciplinarity. They established a Department of Interdisciplinary Studies and Research, followed by a Faculty of Interdisciplinary Studies and Research. 

Unfortunately, the majority of universities in Uganda have remained closed to the new cultures of knowledge and continue to prioritize disciplinary knowledge as if it is the only relevant knowledge culture. This is despite the fact that in my paper titled "Interdisciplinarity: The Sense and Nonsense of Academic Specialization," which I presented at a 2004 workshop on "Confronting Twenty-First Century Challenges," I emphasized that the 21st century is not for disciplinary academic and intellectual discourses and specializations. Instead, it is a time for team science through the cultures and knowledge production strategies of interdisciplinarity, cross-disciplinarity, transdisciplinarity, and nondisciplinarity. 

I stressed that glorifying specialization, territoriality, and jurisdiction solely to produce individuals who hinder the interconnectivity and interdependence of knowledge and practice was not suitable for the 21st century. During my presentation, I had the privilege of having internationally-renowned public intellectual and Makerere University academic, Professor Mahmood Mamdani, in the audience. I was pleased to learn that Professor Mamdani had launched a Ph.D. program at the Makerere University Institute of Social Research (MUISR) to produce interdisciplinary scholars focused on social sciences. 

However, it would have been even better if Makerere University had produced such scholars across all disciplines, becoming a truly interdisciplinary university. This would have fostered interdisciplinary conversations throughout the curriculum, challenging the ingrained habits of thought formed by decades of disciplinary knowledge production and research. 

Today, there are professors of interdisciplinary science, cross-disciplinary science, and transdisciplinary science on numerous university campuses worldwide. However, nondisciplinary professors can only be found among indigenous communities, where knowledge is holistically utilized without compartmentalization. Cyber-based knowledge systems, similar to non-disciplinary indigenous knowledge systems, are also producing their own types of professors who are disconnected from traditional disciplinary backgrounds. 

It is evident that many universities globally have embraced not only interdisciplinary as a knowledge culture and system but also the cultures and systems of cross-disciplinarity, transdisciplinary, and nondisciplinary. They are weaving these approaches together to produce future-ready professionals and research skills for an interconnected and interdependent future. 

Integration can no longer be postponed on our university campuses, and we must also prioritize the experience of new structures and governance in our universities. Failing to embrace knowledge integration will result in our universities becoming academic and intellectual dinosaurs of the 22nd century. We cannot ignore the winds of change in higher education in our globalized, interconnected, and interdependent world, driven by new and different knowledge, information, and communication in the cyber age. 

We need new communities of knowledge production and practice, fostering learning, meaning, belonging, and identity. Interdisciplinary, cross-disciplinary, transdisciplinary, and nondisciplinary knowledge systems must guide our universities in the 21st century and beyond. They are the ones that will create a science with society, moving away from science solely for the sake of science that the disciplinary knowledge system promotes at the expense of society. 

This is the appropriate science for critical reflection, the environment, and sustainability. I must emphasize that this transformation should not be treated as an add-on process but as an integrated rethinking and restructuring of university curriculum and governance. Given that disciplinarity, interdisciplinarity, cross-disciplinarity, transdisciplinary, and nondisciplinary represent different cultures of knowledge production and different sciences, serious universities of the 21st century and beyond should prioritize cultural studies of science.

As there is greater openness to new cultures of science, it is essential to incorporate them into the structure and governance of universities. For God and My Country.      

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