Prof. Thierry Luescher

DEPARTMENT: Inclusive Economic Development (IED)
TELEPHONE: 021 466 7994

Prof Thierry M Luescher is the Research Director for Postschooling and Work in the Inclusive Economic Development research division at the HSRC and Head of the IED Cape Town office. He is an affiliated Associate Professor of Higher Education at the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein. Prof Luescher?s research focuses on the politics, polity and policy of higher education. His particular niche of research expertise is student politics in Africa, the student experience and the development and professionalisation of student affairs and services. Thierry is an NRF-rated researcher.

In the HSRC, he has come to be involved in a variety of projects related to higher education community engagement, student financial aid, studies of skills drivers and tracer studies. These include From #RhodesMustFall to #FeesMustFall (funded by the Andrew W Mellon Foundation) which documents, describes, critically analyses and interprets the diversity of #MustFall campaigns that started with #RhodesMustFall in March 2015 in order to explore the significance of the movement as well as document and ensure that issues raised during that time are retained in the higher education agenda. Another related project explores Violence and wellbeing in the context of the New South African Student Movement (funded by NRF) focussed on the University of Venda, as well as a project on the history of student leadership in education in South Africa (funded by the Council on Higher Education). In addition, Prof Luescher is responsible for Learning Activity 4: The Future of the University in Africa for the IED flagship project The Imprint of Education funded by the Mastercard Foundation.

He continues to work closely with colleagues in the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), the Council on Higher Education (CHE), Universities South Africa (USAf), the National Advisory Council on Innovation (NACI), and other governmental and non-governmental organisations in the postschool sector and its institutions. On behalf of the HSRC, he has served for several years in the Higher Education and Research Chamber of ETDP SETA and the HSRC Research Ethics Committee. Prof Luescher holds an undergraduate degree (BA) in Political Studies, History, and African Languages and Literature (isiXhosa) and a PhD in Political Studies from the University of Cape Town. His PhD thesis analysed the changing representation of students in decision-making on institutional and national levels in South Africa since the early 20th century, tracing the impact of various changes at the political level, in the student body of universities and in university governance, including university democratisation and the emergence of managerialism, in higher education governance from that perspective. Prof Luescher also holds a Postgraduate Diploma in Higher Education Teaching & Learning from the University of the Free State (with distinction).

Before joining the HSRC, Prof Luescher was responsible for institutional research at the University of the Free State (UFS) (2014-2017). He joined the UFS after having been a Senior Lecturer in Higher Education Studies and extra-ordinary Senior Lecturer in Political Studies at the University of the Western Cape, and a Senior Researcher in the Centre for Higher Education Transformation (CHET), Cape Town. He was the first researcher of the South African statutory ministerial advisory body on higher education, the Council on Higher Education (CHE) from 2002 to 2008. After having been Vice-President of UCT?s Students Representative Council in 1999/2000 for SASCO and a member of the NEC of the South African Universities SRC (now SAUS), he became the research assistant of the Dean of Students and the Dean of the Centre for Higher Education Development at UCT.

Thierry has been part of a number of national and international high-level research projects including the CHE?s projects into higher education governance and the governance of mergers (2001-2004), the CHE?s 20 year review (2014-16), and its University Leadership Reflections project (2018-2020). He has been part of the Higher Education Research and Advocacy Network in Africa (HERANA) (2009-2014) coordinated by the Centre for Higher Education Transformation (CHET) and the ESRC-NRF project Higher Education Pathways to the Public Good (2014-2018).

Prof Luescher has published numerous chapters in international books and scholarly articles in scholarly journals. They include writings on student representation and activism, conceptual and theory development in higher education and his concern with improving the student experience of higher education in Africa. This includes his theoretical development of Philip G. Altbach?s work on student activism as well as new work on South African education theorists. Luescher has recently published the following books: Reflections of South African Student Leaders, 1994-2017 (2020, with D Webbstock and N Bhengu), Innovation Policy at the Intersection: Global Debates & Local Experiences (2020, with MBG Cele and A Wilson Fadiji), and Student Politics in Africa: Representation and Activism (2016, with M Klemenčič and J Otieno Jowi). Prof Luescher?s publications can be open accessed via his website at, and under ORCID ID: 0000-0002-6675-0512.

Prof Luescher is a member of the International Association of Student Affairs and Services, the Consortium of Higher Education Researchers, and a trustee of the publisher African Minds. He is on the Editorial Board for the research publications of the National Students Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS). He is also an editor of the Makerere Journal of Higher Education, the Journal of Student Affairs in Africa, and the Journal of College Student Development. The National Research Foundation commended him in 2018 as the `most published researcher on student politics in Africa?.