HIGHER EDUCATION CHANGE IN SOUTH AFRICA: ACHIEVEMENTS AND CRITICAL ISSUES AND CHALLENGES OF THE NEXT DECADE
Prof. Saleem Badat : Chief Executive Officer, Council on Higher Education
National Assembly Education Portfolio Committee
7 June 2005
Thank you for the opportunity this morning to engage with the Education Portfolio Committee.
Taking as my point of departure the final chapter of the CHE’s publication South African Higher Education in the First Decade of Democracy (November 2004) I want to focus on two issues with respect to change in higher education (HE).
First, what have been the achievements in HE during the first ten years of democracy.
Second, what will be some of the critical issues and challenges that face HE in the next decade.
We have purposefully and creatively defined a comprehensive transformation agenda and policy framework for HE that puts us on the road to overcoming our apartheid past and creating a HE system that is more suited to the needs of a socially equitable and developing democracy.
The foundations have been laid for a new HE landscape constituted by a single, co-ordinated and differentiated system of HE encompassing universities, universities of technology (technikons), comprehensive institutions, and various kinds of colleges. Within this, private HE institutions have become a feature of the HE landscape, subject to more or less the same governance, qualification and quality assurance regulatory framework as public institutions. Largely effective controls have been put in place to prohibit ‘fly-by-night’ providers of HE.
Student enrolments have grown from 473 000 in 1993 to some 675 128 in 2002. The participation rate is nearing 18% (compared to the medium-term National Plan target of 20%).
The extent and pace of the deracialisation of the student body and of many institutions must be a source of pride and celebrated.. Whereas African students constituted 40% (191 000) of the student body in 1999, in 2002 they made up 60% (404 000) of overall enrolments.
There has also been commendable progress in terms of gender equity. Whereas women students made up 43% (202 000 out of 473 000) of enrolments in 1993, by 2002 women constituted 54% (363 000 out of 675 000) of the student body.
In relation to the benchmarks of the National Plan, there have also been positive shifts in enrolments by field of study and qualification level.
There has been a welcome internationalisation of the HE student body overall and especially at some institutions. Foreign student enrolments increased from 14 124 in 1995 to 46 687 in 2002, constituting 7% of the total student body.
Students from the South African Development Community bloc increased from 7 497 in 1995 to 31 724 in 2002. Students from other African countries increased from 1 769 in 1995 to 6 317 in 2002.
Turning to the core functions of HE – teaching, research and community service:
To address changing economic and social and educational needs there have been efforts on the part of various institutions to be more developmentally responsive and build a greater outward focus, including a greater internationalisation of activities
A national QA infrastructure has been established and key policies and mechanisms with respect to institutional audit and programme accreditation are being implemented from 2004. These developments have significantly raised the profile of quality issues across the sector, and have linked notions of quality in delivery of teaching and learning, research and community engagement, to the goals and purposes of HE transformation. There has also been a concomitant emerging institutionalisation of quality management within HE institutions.
A new goal-oriented, performance-related’ funding framework has been instituted. Furthermore, the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) has been successfully established and expanded as a means of effecting social redress for poor students. The number and average amount of NSFAS awards has increased steadily over the past decade, while NSFAS funding as a percentage of overall government appropriations for HE has settled at around 6%.
Overall, to the extent that key actors face up to the critical issues and challenges that are discussed below, South African HE has great promise to contribute to social equity, economic growth, social development and democracy in South Africa and the economic and social development needs of the Southern African region and the African continent.
CRITICAL ISSUES AND CHALLENGES
The progress of women students, however, masks inequalities in their distribution across academic programmes and especially at higher levels of post-graduate training. Women students tend to be clustered in the humanities and, in particular, teacher education programmes. They remain seriously under-represented in programmes in science, engineering and technology and in business and management.
The rapid increase in African students again masks inequalities that are similar to that of women students. Large proportions of African students are enrolled in distance education programmes, most of which are humanities and teacher-upgrade programmes. The numbers and proportions of African students in programmes in science, engineering and technology and in business/management remain low. Post-graduate enrolments across most fields are also extremely low.
Academic and administrative staff overall, at senior levels and especially at the historically white institutions remain overwhelmingly white and male.
Creating opportunities for black and women students to undertake masters, doctoral and post-doctoral studies through adequate scholarships, effective mentoring and appropriate induction and support remains a critical challenge.
A key challenge remains improvement of the overall HE efficiency in terms of reduction of drop out rates and enhancement of throughput and graduation rates. However, how these rates are calculated, a common approach to their calculation, and what are appropriate efficiency benchmarks will need to be agreed.
Inadequate funding to support students adequately is one likely reason for drop outs. However, the extent to which cultures and conditions exist to facilitate students becoming highly educated, and to graduating with real knowledge, competencies and skills, and with attitudes that are appropriate to functioning as socially committed and critical citizens, must also be posed.
In the light of the above, the assurance, promotion and enhancement of the quality of academic programmes and institutions are crucial issues.
Too often, poor quality academic programmes are justified in terms of under-prepared learners and/or in terms of providing access and opportunities to historically disadvantaged social groups. This represents a cynical notion of equity and also confuses certification with meaningful education. It may confer institutional benefits and private benefits to those that are certified, but may generate little public benefits.
In some quarters, it is contended that the imperatives of increased participation in HE, equity and redress must necessarily result in the reduction of the quality of provision, qualifications and graduates. This is certainly a risk, but such an outcome is not pre-ordained. There may be an intractable tension between the simultaneous pursuit of equity and quality but there is no inevitable conflict between quality and equity.
Sadly, innovation, renewal and transformation in teaching, learning and of the curriculum, in research and the production of knowledge, and in community engagement, which are the vital core activities of HE institutions, are sometimes neglected or relegated to a side issue in the institutional transformation agenda.
Yet, ultimately, the curriculum, teaching and learning are key determinants of the integrity of institutions, the value of their contribution to the social transformation agenda, and to economic and social development in South Africa.
The critical issues are whether, how, and in what ways and to what extent institutions
The production of thinking, competent and committed graduates will crucially depend on the transformation of learning and teaching and the curriculum.
HE institutions were created as part of the segregation and apartheid systems of white privilege and black subordination. The mergers offer the opportunity the historic opportunity for HE institutions to break decisively and forever with their historical origins and to recreate themselves as high quality equitable and excellent African universities.
However, there is a huge difference between declaring merged institutions and actually creating ones that indeed
There will be huge tasks ahead since the merger and transformation agenda ‘is far-reaching in its vision, ambitious in scope and range and complex in its implementation’. It will stretch capacities and resources and will ‘require strong management and leadership to guide the process to a successful conclusion’ (NPHE: 94).
Whether the mergers and other restructuring create HE institutions that are more equitable, more responsive to new economic and social imperative, more effective and efficient, of higher quality, and better governed remains to be seen.
HE and its institutions are buffeted by the cross-currents of the state, market and civil society, each with its specific, varied and different expectations and demands. A common experience of all institutions, therefore, is an exceptional ‘demand overload’. By this is meant that institutions
It is indisputable that the current inefficiencies in HE, which waste valuable public finances, must be vigorously addressed
Yet it is also increasingly clear that public funding of HE is inadequate in the face of the legacy of past inequities and the new demands on and expectations of HE.
At least five areas of HE are in need of additional funding:
A dimension of the current HE context is the increasing marketisation, commodification and trans-nationalisation of HE.
The market is increasingly, intruding into HE and HE institutions and reshaping teaching, research, institutional culture and previous modes of governance and management.
Business seeking new sources of profit sees HE as a multi-billion dollar industry. This is well-illustrated by the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) definition, with the push of particular developed countries, of HE as a service like any other service, such as the sale and purchase of insurance policies or McDonald burgers, and by the incorporation of HE into the General Agreement on Trade and Services (GATS).
In this context a key challenge is how to maintain the integrity of the core social purposes of HE and the public good function.
An issue that merits especial attention is the reproduction and transformation of the social composition of the next generation of scholars and researchers.
From one angle, that of the current social composition of our academic labour force we have a serious and immediate ‘crisis’ in relation to employment equity. The roots of this crisis are well known.
From another angle - that of the age profile of our academic labour force, the remuneration of academics, the pull of the public (government, public enterprises and science councils) and private sectors that offer considerably better remuneration, the opportunity costs for first generation black graduates in terms of family expectations and deferred income, competition from knowledge producing institutions, and the emigration of experienced and emerging scholars - the crisis is not immediate but one that is looming. Over time it will become more immediate, unless something begins to get done soon.
We can also pose whether we are nurturing the next generation of critical scholars – the historians, sociologists, philosophers, educators and other scientists that are passionately committed to both justice, and honest, critical and independent scholarship, and who must be the critical voices and public intellectuals of our society.
Given the context and challenges, creative and effective change leadership and management are critical for the successful initiation, mobilization, steering and management of changes and transformation.
Yet the extent and depth of leadership and specialist personpower to steer, manage, implement and consolidate change and transformation must be a concern.
Inspiring, conceptualising, managing, communicating and implementing a comprehensive change and transformation agenda is an immensely demanding undertaking, whose complexity and enormity may not always be fully understood at the beginning.
It requires sober, careful, detailed and realistic planning, that gives attention to strategies, structures and instruments, available financial resources, sources of expert personpower, time frames, and so on. It also places huge pressures on institutions and personnel and requires financial resources and specialist personpower.
At the same time that change is being undertaken in certain areas, various other areas of institutional activity have to continue to be steered, supported and maintained.
In short, institutional restructuring, the introduction of other institutional innovations and institutional maintenance have to be managed simultaneously (not consecutively). If not managed effectively and efficiently, parts and areas of the institution that are functioning relatively well could also become dysfunctional, creating new problems for what is an already comprehensive and demanding transformation agenda.
In her budget speech in mid-2004 the Minister of Education indicated that her focus would be on
stability and consolidation linked very directly to our existing positive policies and to any necessary adjustments that strengthen the framework of education, so that it provides the opportunities for transformation and development set out in various acts and policy instruments (emphasis added).
The theme of consolidation was one that the Minister addressed again at the CHE colloquium in November 2004:
Given the significant changes that have taken place over the past ten years, it is now time for a period of consolidation in the policy arena over the coming
two to three years (emphasis added).
Of relevance to the theme of consolidation, the CHE had by late 2003 concluded:
The higher education ‘system’, and its constituent parts and actors continue to be in flux and to face major challenges. Priorities are for the Ministry to purposefully effect the restructuring that is necessary and to build and consolidate the system through planning, funding and quality assurance activities. There is considerable stress, strain and anxiety within higher education and a further and urgent priority is to work diligently to create system and institutional stability (emphasis added).
The Minister’s view on the need for consolidation therefore strongly accords with that of the CHE. It is also likely to enjoy widespread support within higher education.
However, concepts and notions such as ‘consolidation’ are sometimes under-specified and therefore a barrier or poor guide for purposeful communication and collective or individual action on the part of key social actors. Alternately, they are interpreted in myriad ways, set into motion unintended behaviours and over time begin to obfuscate as much as they clarify.
In the light of this it would be useful if there were some explication of the notion of ‘consolidation’, and consensus could be achieved on its meaning, purpose, aims, scope and objects and its implications for higher education and for different constituencies and social actors.
We would suggest that: