Through the end of the Third Republic, only tiny numbers of West African students managed to study at France's universities. Barriers to higher education began to fall after World War II, especially after African populations collectively gained citizenship. Higher education became a high-stakes policy area, as French officials and West African students and politicians vied to influence the parameters and possibilities of the postwar order. Amid escalating concerns about West African student migrations to the metropole, French officials eventually opened an Institute of Higher Studies in Dakar. However, this inchoate institution ended up highlighting the fundamental ambiguities of overseas citizenship. As West African students turned increasingly to anti-colonial activism, French authorities finally committed to establishing a full university in Dakar. Paradoxically, the construction and consolidation of this French university took place during the period of active decolonization.
Harry Gamble is Inez K. Gaylord Professor of French and Francophone Studies at the College of Wooster in Ohio. A specialist on colonial history, decolonization, and postcolonial relations, he is the author of Contesting French West Africa: Battles over Schools and the Colonial Order, 1900–1950 (University of Nebraska Press, 2017). He is currently working on a comparative project that explores decolonization and the making of the postcolonial francophone world through the revealing lens of higher education.