BookPDF Available

"South African Higher Education Reviewed: Two decades of Democracy" (including chapter on Governance)



Two decades ago, South Africa entered a new era of democracy. The initial euphoria has been tempered by the hard work that followed in transforming and rebuilding the major social institutions of the country to address the vast challenges of inequality, poverty and the need for economic growth. Higher education remains, as it was then, central to the projects of modernisation, transformation and renewal in the country, just as it too is subject to those same forces. In that propitious year of 1994, Beck wrote that, “the more societies are modernised, the more agents acquire the ability to reflect on the social conditions of their existence and to change them in that way”.1 What he was pointing to is the importance in a democracy of developing the ability to reflect on and analyse policy, and to influence the interventions that are designed to bring about a healthy and productive society. Not only is higher education important in and of itself, but it is a barometer of societal content or discontent, as academics and students are perhaps the freest agents in democratic societies to think, reflect and act. It is apposite at this juncture, therefore, to take stock of higher education in South Africa; to reflect on its achievements, its shortcomings, its contradictions and its various roles and purposes, and to apply the wisdom of hindsight, such that we may look forward more clearly to a re-imagined future. The contributors to this volume share a commitment and a passion for higher education. They have reflected and analysed the higher education sector from different vantage points, and brought their collective wisdom to bear on the intractable problems that beset the sector, as well as pointed out the milestones reached in the long journey towards a more equitable sector that “draws on the full range of human capacities for knowing, teaching and learning”, and “that forges stronger links between knowing the world and living creatively in it, in solitude and community”.2 Their insights and detailed analyses of data, documents and events serve to enrich our understanding of higher education, and provide a solid basis from which the CHE can draw in formulating future policy-impelling advice. It is also hoped that this volume will generate further discussion and research among academics and officials working in the higher education sphere, and that a broader readership will find it a useful overview of the developments in higher education since 1994.
South African Higher Education Reviewed: Two decades of democracy
Two Decades Of Democracy
South African
The Book of Expects_chosen cover.indd 1 3/18/2016 12:17:19 PM
The CHE is an independent statutory body established by the Higher Education
Act, no. 101 of 1997. The CHE is the Quality Council for Higher Education,
advises the Minister of Higher Education and Training on all higher education
issues and is responsible for quality assurance and promotion through the
Higher Education Quality Committee.
Published by the Council on Higher Education (CHE) in 2016
1 Quintin Brand Street
Persequor Technopark
South Africa
+27 12 349 3840
© Council on Higher Education, Pretoria, 2016
All rights reserved. Material from this publication may not be reproduced
without the CHE’s permission.
ISBN: 978-0-9946785-4-3
South African higher
education reviewed:
Two decades of democracy
Eight task team reports
A word from the CEO
Task team members: Colin Bundy, Jon File & Mala Singh
Writers and editors: Denyse Webbstock with Glen Fisher
Task team leader: Felicity Coughlan
Members/contributors: Trish Gibbon, Brenda Leibowitz,
Luke Mlilo & Martin Oosthuizen
Writers and editors: Yunus Ballim with Ian Scott,
Genevieve Simpson & Denyse Webbstock
CHE research assistant: Michael Gordon
Task team leader: Jairam Reddy
Members/contributors: Bennie Anderson,
Magda Fourie-Malherbe, Tembile Kulati,
Thami Ledwaba & Anthony Staak
Writers and editors: Lis Lange & Thierry Luescher-Mamashela
CHE research assistant: Ntokozo Bhengu
4Teaching and Learning
Task team leader: Matete Madiba
Members/contributors: Gerry Bokana, Vivienne Bozalek,
Siyabulela Sabata, Ian Scott & Yusef Waghid
Writers and editors: Sioux McKenna
CHE research assistant: Precious Sipuka
Task team leader: Prins Nevhutalu
Members/contributors: Rishidaw Balkaran, Robin Crewe,
Pamela Dube, Andrew Kaniki,
Steve Madue & Susan Veldsman
Writers and editors: Genevieve Simpson with Wieland Gevers
6 Community engagement
Task team leader: Brian O’Connell
Members/contributors: Samuel Fongwa, Glenda Kruss,
Sonwabo Ngcelwane, Jerome Slamat & Jayshree Thakrar
Writers and editors: Judy Favish with Genevieve Simpson
CHE research assistant: Neo Ramoupi
Task team leader: John Higgins
Members/contributors: Raphael de Kadt, Thandi Lewin,
Sean Muller & Chris Winberg
Writers and editors: Denyse Webbstock with Chika Sehoole
CHE research assistant: Mosa Phadi
Task team leader: Jenny Glennie
Members/contributors: Glen Barnes, Gerald Ouma &
Charles Sheppard
Writers and editors: Charles Simkins with Ian Scott,
Rolf Stumpf & Denyse Webbstock
CHE research assistant: Michael Gordon & Genevieve Simpson
Two decades ago, South Africa entered a new era of democracy. The initial
euphoria has been tempered by the hard work that followed in transforming
and rebuilding the major social institutions of the country to address the vast
challenges of inequality, poverty and the need for economic growth. Higher
education remains, as it was then, central to the projects of modernisation,
transformation and renewal in the country, just as it too is subject to those same
forces. In that propitious year of 1994, Beck wrote that, “the more societies are
of their existence and to change them in that way”.1 What he was pointing to is
            
healthy and productive society. Not only is higher education important in and of
itself, but it is a barometer of societal content or discontent, as academics and
          
and act. It is apposite at this juncture, therefore, to take stock of higher education
and its various roles and purposes, and to apply the wisdom of hindsight, such
that we may look forward more clearly to a re-imagined future.
The contributors to this volume share a commitment and a passion for higher
         
different vantage points, and brought their collective wisdom to bear on the
intractable problems that beset the sector, as well as pointed out the milestones
reached in the long journey towards a more equitable sector that “draws on the full
range of human capacities for knowing, teaching and learning”, and “that forges
stronger links between knowing the world and living creatively in it, in solitude
and community”.2 Their insights and detailed analyses of data, documents and
events serve to enrich our understanding of higher education, and provide a solid
basis from which the CHE can draw in formulating future policy-impelling advice.
It is also hoped that this volume will generate further discussion and research
education since 1994.
Professor Themba Mosia
Chair of Council
modern social order, Polity Press, Oxford.
2 P. Palmer & A Zajonc (2010) The heart of higher education: A call to renewal, Jossey-Bass, San
Higher education in South Africa in the post-apartheid era has never
been more volatile than it is currently, some two decades into
democracy, yet it is, contradictorily, perhaps the part of the entire
education sector that has advanced most in terms of achieving national
goals of quality, equity and transformation. There is much that higher education
can claim to have achieved: integration as a system from its fragmented past;
an established quality assurance and advisory body; a single dedicated national
department; a fundamentally altered institutional landscape; greater access and
a radical change in the demography of its students, with an 80% growth in the
number of African students; higher research output and international recognition
through large research projects, more attention paid to teaching and learning, to
curriculum and to student support; the implementation of a governing framework
than twenty years ago; and having nationally coordinated projects and grants to
Despite the many advances and achievements of higher education outlined
in this review, however, the student protests of 2015 and early 2016 have given
expression to underlying faultlines in quite a dramatic way. The pressures of
worsening underfunding in the context of enrolment growth, and increasing
          
to under-funding, the limits of academic staff capacity as a further crack in the
foundations that threatens to widen and have a detrimental impact on the quality
of provision. Immediate solutions to the particular crisis that higher education
       
understanding of the directions, trends and trajectories of the system in the past.
The successes and limitations of policy in steering the system, the responses of
the system to global trends to which it is vulnerable, and the agency of institutions
in shaping the system, are all aspects which lend themselves to careful unpacking
from various perspectives, in order that the past may inform the future.
The Council on Higher Education, as part of the mandate bestowed on it by the
Higher Education Act 101 of 1997, as amended, to “publish information regarding
developments in higher education, including reports on the state of higher
education, on a regular basis” (5.1.d), has thus undertaken a comprehensive
review of higher education in South Africa in the last two decades, resulting in
this publication. This has followed past CHE-led reviews of higher education.
A word from the CEO
   
            
making and policy implementation aimed at transforming South African higher
education. The 2004 review describes and analyses contemporary conditions
within South African higher education and the changes that have occurred during
the past decade, with particular reference to what we inherited in 1994.” It was
a comprehensive compilation and analysis, through commissioned research, of
the policy development undertaken in that period. The second, in 2007, a Review
of higher education in South Africa: Selected themes, was an edited collection of
commissioned research papers that analysed six major issues in the process of
transformation and restructuring of the higher education system: public funding,
governance, information and communication technologies, institutional culture,
access, and change. The state of higher education report of 2009 proceeded
differently, and attempted to assess, on the basis of empirical data in the main, to
   
comprehensive in its coverage, to include empirical data where necessary, and to
provide analysis of and insight into the key areas of higher education against the
backdrop of the intentions of the post-apartheid state, the trends that affected
covers many issues, inevitably there are aspects that could have received more
attention, and reference is made in the text to areas in which further research is
A reference group of higher education experts that had been established to help
conceptualise the project1 suggested a task team approach which would include
different academic perspectives, so that the resultant group reports were based
on extensive discussion and debate. The format of this review is thus most like an
academic journal in that the chapters are separate papers produced by different
groups of both academic experts and emerging researchers.2 Some events or
issues are hence discussed more than once, but from differing perspectives. There
is, thus, no overarching CHE view or conclusion on issues in this document: the
   
from the contributions in this volume.
reports were presented at a national colloquium, and thereafter revised in the
light of the discussion and comments received. The revised papers were then
blind peer-reviewed, and edited on the basis of reviewers’ comments. This volume
1 Saleem Badat, Ahmed Bawa, Trevor Coombe, Brenda Gourley, Molapo Qhobela, Barney Pityana
and Rolf Stumpf are thanked for their role in guiding this project.
2 The CHE put out a general call for papers ahead of the review and some of the emerging
is thus the product of the efforts of many people. The guidance of the reference
group, the work of the over 50 researchers and writers involved in the task teams
who gave so freely of their time and expertise, and the many peer reviewers who
 
goes to the CHE staff members, led by Dr Denyse Webbstock and assisted by Dr
Genevieve Simpson, who edited the publication, provided research assistance,
and arranged all logistics. Their various contributions have enriched the process.
We trust that this publication provides the reader with a broad overview of
the main trends and developments in different aspects of higher education since
1994, and will stimulate further debate and research, and inform future policy
developments to continue the projects of transformation and quality enhancement
of our higher education system.
Narend Baijnath
Acronyms 1
ANC African National Congress
APPETD Association of Private Providers of Education, Training and Development
ARHAP African Religious Health Assets Programme
ASAHDI Association of Vice-Chancellors of Historically Disadvantaged Institutions
ASGISA Accelerated and Shared Growth Initiative – South Africa
ASSAf Academy of Science of South Africa
CAO 
CEPD Centre for Education and Policy Development
CeSTII Centre for Science, Technology and Innovation Indicators
CHE Council on Higher Education
CHEC Cape Higher Education Consortium
CHESP Community Higher Education Service Partnership
CHET Centre for Higher Education Transformation
CPUT Cape Peninsula University of Technology
CSD Centre for Science Development
CSIR 
CTP Committee of Technikon Principals
DACST Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology
DBE Department of Basic Education
DEA Department of Environmental Affairs
DHET Department of Higher Education and Training
DoE Department of Education
DST Department of Science and Technology
DTI Department of Trade and Industry
DUT Durban University of Technology
DVC Deputy Vice-Chancellor
ETQA Education and Training Quality Assurer
FET Further Education and Training
FRD Foundation for Research Development
2 Higher education reviewed
GDP Gross Domestic Product
GEAR Growth, Employment and Redistribution
GER Gross Enrolment Ratio
GERD Gross Expenditure on Research and Development
GUNi Global University Network for Innovation
HDI Historically Disadvantaged Institution
HEIAAF Higher Education, Institutional Autonomy and Academic Freedom
HELTASA Higher Education Learning and Teaching Association of Southern Africa
HEMIS Higher Education Management Information System
HEQC Higher Education Quality Committee
HEQCIS Higher Education Quality Committee Information System
HEQF 
HEQSF 
HESA Higher Education South Africa (now Universities South Africa)
HSRC Human Sciences Research Council
ICSU International Council for Science
ICT Information and Communications Technology
IF Institutional Forum
IMF International Monetary Fund
JET Joint Education Trust
JIPSA Joint Initiative on Priority Skills Acquisition
LIASA Library and Information Association of South Africa
LMS Learning Management System
MBA Master of Business Administration
MEDUNSA Medical University of South Africa
MOOC Massive Open Online Course
NACI National Advisory Council on Innovation
NBT National Benchmark Test
NCHE National Commission on Higher Education
NDP National Development Plan
NEPI National Education Policy Initiative
Acronyms 3
NIHSS National Institute for the Humanities and the Social Sciences
NMMU Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University
NPC National Planning Commission
NPHE National Plan for Higher Education
NQF 
NRF National Research Foundation
NSC 
NSFAS National Student Financial Aid Scheme
NSI National System of Innovation
NWU North-West University
OBE Outcomes-Based Education
OECD Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
OPR Open Educational Resources
PIRLS Progress in International Reading Literacy Study
PQM 
QCTO Quality Council for Trades and Occupations
QEP Quality Enhancement Project
R&D Research and Development
RSA Republic of South Africa
RU Rhodes University
SAHECEF South African Higher Education Community Engagement Forum
SANREN South African National Research Network
SANTED South Africa Norway Tertiary Education Development Programme
SAPSE South African Post-Secondary Education
SAQA 
SARChi South African Research Chairs Initiative
SARIMA Southern African Research and Innovation Management Association
SASCO South African Students’ Congress
SAYAS South African Young Academy of Science
SETA Sector Education and Training Authority
SIP Strategic Infrastructure Project
4 Higher education reviewed
SOTL Scholarship of Teaching and Learning
SRC Students’ Representative Council
SU Stellenbosch University
TDG Teaching Development Grant
TEFSA Tertiary Education Fund for South Africa
TENET Tertiary Education and Research Network of South Africa
THRIP Technology and Human Resources for Industry Programme
TIMSS Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study
TOC Transformation Oversight Committee
TUT Tshwane University of Technology
TVET Technical and Vocational Education and Training
UCCF-SA University Council Chairs’ Forum South Africa
UDUSA Union of Democratic University Staff Associations
UFH University of Fort Hare
UFS University of the Free State
UJ University of Johannesburg
UKZN University of KwaZulu-Natal
UNESCO 
UNISA University of South Africa
UNIVEN University of Venda
UoT University of Technology
UP University of Pretoria
UV University of Venda
UWC University of the Western Cape
UZ University of Zululand
WIL Work Integrated Learning
WITS University of the Witwatersrand
WSU Walter Sisulu University
There is much written about the ‘crisis in higher education’
internationally in research and popular media, suggesting that in some
way, higher education is standing on a precipice – whether to disappear
into the abyss of irrelevance or to take off soaring to new heights in
an ICT revolution is not necessarily clear. What is clear is that universities, as
a particular institution of higher education, have endured since the middle
ages, yet, chameleon-like, they have adapted in form and function to changing
realities and social forces. As major social institutions, universities both embody
their times, and produce the people who collectively act as catalysts for social
change. They are subject to many forces – social, political and economic, whether
international or local – to which they are slowly responsive, and simultaneously
they lead the way to imagining and enacting new futures. The question of what
higher education is for is an especially loaded one, with the answer dependent on
time and place, ideological and individual perspective.
The higher education system in South Africa is shaped and understood according
to many different narratives – the story of higher education globally, and the
fundamental changes it has undergone, its own particular history and legacy told
from many perspectives, and the deliberate steering of the system through the
application of policy drivers to reach particular goals. Intricately interwoven with
the society in which it is embedded, the higher education sector in South Africa
today is as much a creature of its past as it is a creature of sustained effort, through
policy, legislation and institutional restructuring, to redirect and transform it. Just
as important to the narrative of South African higher education, however, are the
responses of the system and the institutions to forces and challenges in the realms
of economics, social and political change, and changes in the substantive heart of
higher education, that is, the knowledge that it preserves, produces, cherishes,
disseminates and that is fundamental to its very identity.
In the CHE’s review of higher education twenty years into the post-apartheid
era, the emphasis is on critically analysing the system in its current form from a
variety of perspectives and with different lenses, focusing on particular aspects
of the system, the better to understand the whole, to assess its strengths and
weaknesses and to provide guidance to inform the hard choices that need to be
made towards realising its imagined future.
The higher education sector in South Africa in 2015 is in many ways profoundly
different from its fragmented, insular, elite and uneven apartheid inheritance and
    
the sector in less desirable ways, and the stresses exerted by a challenging socio-
Writer: Denyse Webbstock
6 Higher education reviewed
economic context are having a far-reaching effect on the quality of the system as a
whole. A major restructuring of the institutional landscape has seen the creation
of new institutions through mergers, and the disappearance of old ones such that
there are now 26 public universities and over a hundred private higher education
fragmented 36 public institutions of different types that had been governed by
a range of regimes pre-1994, and the over 300 private institutions that in many
          
universities, the universities of technology and the new comprehensive universities
– with their inherited strengths and disadvantages, have sought actively and often
acknowledged dimension, to the processes of system change and transformation.
Much has been achieved in the twenty-year period under review. The higher
          
       
framework designed to create clarity with respect to degree and diploma
purposes and to bring coherence to the pathways between them. As much as the
      
        
position in relation to a vastly underdeveloped vocational education and training
sector, as well as schooling, which has been characterised by extensive changes at
continuing levels of inequality for students and differences in quality of education
within the sector, with some institutions focused on climbing the international
rankings while others have been placed under administration as government
intervenes to rescue them from particular governance and management crises.
The cohesion and integration have also left unresolved the question of potential
institutional differentiation, with continuing contestation about the nature and
identity of higher education and its fundamental purpose – or whether there are
multiple purposes to be achieved in different ways.
In terms of size, the differences from 1994 are marked. There are now almost
a million students in the public sector, which represents an exponential growth
from the half million in 1994, as well as some 90 000 in private higher education.1
Similarly, student demographics at institutions of higher learning have changed
            
black students. This must count as one the most obvious achievements in the
post-apartheid era, particularly as most higher education institutions now have a
majority of black students in their student complements. Yet participation rates
African students in 2013 – while overall the national participation rate, currently
around 19%, has changed only marginally from the reported 17% of 1996, albeit
1 CHE (2015) VitalStats: Public higher education 2013, p. 3.
Overview 7
in the context of population growth from 40.5 million to almost 52 million over the
period.2 Student success rates likewise remain sharply skewed by race and prior
education; higher education in South Africa was, and still is, as acknowledged in
the 2013 White Paper, a low participation system with high attrition. On the other
     
6.2% of the population over twenty years old in 1996 to 12.1% in 2011, can be
attributed to the growth of higher education.3
There has been slow and modest improvement in the representation of black
academics at faculty and senior leadership levels of universities, but inequalities
persist, with 17 753 black academic staff members in 2013 compared with 26 847
whites.4 Despite an increase in the number of African postgraduate enrolments
   
   
from 14 242 to 27 030, the pipeline of black postgraduates, from whom the ranks
      5
Many reasons have been posited for this, but the wealth of other opportunities
available in a society that is lacking in high-level skills is a major factor.
While the growth in student enrolment has been considerable, the growth in
the academic staff complement has not kept pace, such that the student to staff
ratio, always less than desirable, has worsened over the two decades.6 Indeed,
the South African institutions that feature on any of the international rankings
systems of universities may compare reasonably on other criteria, but with
respect to the staff to student ratio, they are not even in the same league.7
The recognition of the important role played by higher education is generally
given concrete expression through the levels of funding accorded it. Unlike
a number of other countries in sub-Saharan Africa that have responded to
UNESCO’s Millennium Goals by concentrating funding on the primary school
sector, higher education in South Africa has been regarded as key to social and
economic development. Nonetheless, the recent review of the funding formula
found that although South Africa spends a considerable amount on education,
its expenditure on higher education is much lower than desirable or needed.
With the budget for universities at 0.75% of GDP (2011), this compares well with
2 DoE (2001) National Plan for Higher Education, p. 16; Statistics South Africa, Census 1996 and
2011 from The use of UNESCO’s indicator of participation, the Gross
Enrolment Rate or GER, i.e. the total headcount enrolled in some form of higher education over
the national population of 20-24 year-olds of the population, has become widespread. CHE
(2015) VitalStats p. iii.
3 Statistics South Africa, Census 1996 and 2011 from The numbers
increased from 1 294 720 in 1996, to 3 750 112 in 2011.
4 CHE (2015) VitalStats, p. 47. The Statistics SA population categories are used in VitalStats – thus
African is distinguished from Indian and Coloured groups. Black in this instance refers to the
number of African staff or students.
5 Ibid., pp. 20-21.
6 In 1994 the FTE student to staff ratio was 24; in 2014, it was 27. Based on HEMIS data.
7 This is discussed further in the Research chapter. As an example, on the QS rankings for
BRICS countries, UCT is ranked no. 2 in terms of citations per paper, but (like all South African
universities listed) lower than 101 on staff to student ratio, which counts 20% of the total score
8 Higher education reviewed
Africa as a whole (0.78%), but not with the OECD (1.21%) or the rest of the world
(0.84%). The review estimated the proportion of the entire education budget that
was 20%, the OECD 23.4% and the rest of the world 19.8%. The average growth
rates show that in real terms, government funding per enrolled student (full-time
equivalent) fell by 1.1% annually between 2000 and 2010, while student tuition
fees per FTE increased by 2.5% per year, which is not a trend that is likely to be
sustainable.8 In recognition of the need of a growing proportion of students for
student loan scheme (NSFAS) has grown exponentially, from R1.3 billion in 1996
to approximately R9 billion in 2014; however, the average amount per student
remains well below the real cost of study.9 Costly and disruptive student protests,
     
higher education landscape and are likely to increase in frequency and intensity.
  
    
has remained high since 2009 and government departments are starting to feel
     
South African economy and the International Monetary Fund predicted a 1.7%
growth rate for 2014 as opposed to the 2.7% that was indicated in the 2014
national Budget Review. The indications are that growth will continue to slow.
of trade boom that supported South Africa through the global economic crisis is
coming to an end, with new challenges being faced. Rising global interest rates are
pushing up the cost of servicing government debt, weaker commodity prices are
contributing to lower tax buoyancy and the depreciation of the Rand is increasing
cost pressures. Along with rising unemployment, underperforming exports,
While the South African higher education system has experienced considerable
goals of higher education to be fully met, and the prospects of a sustainable
increase in funding are negligible.11 As a result of the imperative to increase
access, student numbers have grown, but the academic staff complement has
not grown concomitantly. Institutional managements and staff have to deliver on
sometimes competing objectives. The higher education system in South Africa is
undoubtedly under pressure, with a number of institutions struggling to keep the
higher education project alive.
8 DHET (2013) Report of the Ministerial Committee for the Review of Funding.
9 The average grant (although this differs per institution) was approximately R30 000 in 2012 and
R34 000 in 2013, while the average full cost of study was over R60 000. Derived from CHE (2015)
VitalStats, p. 94 and NSFAS (2015) Annual report 2014, p. 53.
process and the implications for the higher education sector’ (presentation).
11 The projected average increase in funding for the post-school sector for the next three is 7.7%.
for 2012-2013, including NSFAS funding, was in the region of R24 billion.
Overview 9
Despite the pressure, however, there are pockets of excellence in all parts of
the sector. In some parts this is evidenced in increasing research output at both
institutions with an established research culture and those relatively new to
it. Some institutions have, with perspicacious and visionary leadership and
commitment from staff and students, forged respectable academic identities from
apartheid-engineered roots, or successfully navigated the exigencies of mergers
to become more responsive and vibrant and attuned to the realities of the needs
of a developing South Africa. Considerable experience and expertise has been
developed among a growing proportion of academic staff and education specialists
over the last twenty to thirty years in dealing with the teaching and learning
challenges of a diversifying student body. While there is room for improvement,
a greater recognition of the importance of the teaching and learning function is
developing in reward systems and promotion criteria for academic staff. There
has been a general trend to make curriculum information and assessment criteria
and demands more transparent to students and to design more appropriate and
relevant curricula. Foundation programmes to assist in dealing with academic
under-preparedness have been funded since 2004, and government initiatives
to improve teaching and learning across the system through the Teaching
Development Grant are beginning to take hold.12
The system as a whole has managed to navigate two decades of fundamental
transition, unparalleled growth, extensive restructuring, funding constraints,
greater reporting and compliance demands from an increasingly complex
regulatory system, leadership challenges, governance concerns, student protests
and more. It has demonstrated its robustness under extreme pressure and is
arguably the strongest sector of the South African education system as a whole.
2. Broad context
In the larger context, higher education internationally has undergone
as a concept is a relatively recent phenomenon, suggesting the deliberate
conceptualisation of higher education institutions and their different purposes in
relation to each other in some crafted system, rather than as discrete universities
following their own trajectories. The identity and purpose of higher education
          
focusing on theology and philosophy, to the Humboldtian research university
that was integral to the modernisation of Europe and that formed the basis of
the great American universities; then from institutions that served to reproduce
the higher administrative classes to manage colonial interests, to institutions that
democratised knowledge post the 1968 protests that had challenged the prevailing
order in many Western countries. More recently, the shifts have been from the
institutions of the 1990s that served to educate greater and greater numbers
of young people in both conceptual knowledge and skills in the furtherance of
12 T. Lewin & M. Mawoyo (2014) ‘Student access and success: Issues and interventions in South
African universities’ (report).
10 Higher education reviewed
economic development and competition, to a current reality of a diversity of
higher education in different institutional types, and to play in national and global
leagues of universities at the same time.
In discussing the South African higher education system in 2015, it is necessary
to situate it within recent global trends, as well as to elucidate the stories of its
bearing on the South African situation is the trend in the late twentieth and early
21st century to provide higher education to many more people than was hitherto
 
been based on the extent of coverage of the youth of a society, often in terms
coined by Trow back in 1974, of ‘elite’, ‘mass’ and ‘universal’ systems.13 In many
parts of the world, the development and growth of higher education systems in
terms of participation rates has been very rapid, with many of the most developed
countries now reaching 70-80% (89% for the United States in 2009) participation
rates, the BRICs averaging 37.5% and Africa lagging at around 6%. In terms of
enrolment numbers, there were almost 30 million students in China in 2009, 19
million in India, 6 million in Brazil, 9 million in Russia and over 19 million in the
United States.14 The global inequities are obvious; in the belief that an educated
populace leads to both economic success and social goods such as a strong civil
society, countries able to compete in the global marketplace have invested heavily
keep pace. The skewed consequences of this are clear: extensive shifts of academic
knowledge and students to the countries of the global north, and new areas in the
east, with a further widening of the gap between the haves and the have-nots, as
well as the homogenisation of the knowledge base in favour of certain types of
knowledge. The character of higher education too, has changed, with far more
emphasis on the utilitarian purposes of higher education: the development of
skills useful for economic advancement, rather than generic broad education
preparing an elite class for governance; more business and management courses;
a greater emphasis on science and technology and a consequent perceived loss of
esteem for the humanities.
the size and shape of systems, in curriculum (from particular canons of knowledge
to curricula that are considered relevant and useful for economic purposes),
in pedagogy (from knowledge transmission to competency-based approaches,
generic skills transfer, and outcomes-based approaches), in modes of delivery
(from pure classroom-based approaches to open learning or blended approaches),
in research (from shifts in valuing pure research to so-called Mode 2 or applied
research) and in the relationship of institutions with external communities (from
town-and-gown approaches to community engagement).15
13 M. Trow (1974) ‘Problems in transition from elite to mass higher education’, pp. 51-101.
14 P.G. Altbach, G. Androushchak, Y. Kuzminov, M. Yudkevich & L. Reisburg (eds.) (2013) The global
future of higher education and the academic profession, p. 5.
15 The term Mode 2 knowledge production was popularised in M. Gibbons, C. Limoges, H. Nowotny,
S. Schwartzman, P. Scott & M. Trow (eds.) (1994) The new production of knowledge: The dynamics
of science and research in contemporary societies.
Overview 11
The unprecedented growth in the numbers of students enrolled in higher
education is arguably a major factor in ushering in an era in which external
regulation and external quality assurance have become widespread phenomena;
as the number of institutions, institutional types, educational offerings and
knowledge areas covered have grown, so too has the need for some means of
checking and comparing to sift through the complexities and offer some level
of assurance to students, parents, employers, publics and governments that the
expanding investment in higher education is resulting in both merit and worth,
and that higher education is achieving its purpose. Benchmarking processes,
in the Bologna process), and the more recent predominance of a whole range of
institutional rankings systems have spawned a major area of activity that would
Given that purpose is of course contested, this has led to somewhat antithetical
forces acting upon higher education and pulling it in different ways simultaneously.
At its simplest level, governments are generally concerned with productivity and
countries, particularly where the largest portion of funding still comes from the
public purse. Yet as the numbers have grown, the ability of governments to utilise
taxpayers’ contributions to fully cover the need has been stretched to breaking
point, putting pressure on student fees, necessitating a much higher reliance on
institutions’ capacities to raise third-stream income, and increasing private sector
investment considerably. This has brought with it different interests and ideas of
purpose – in the area of research, for instance, the research agenda is in the most
   
that fund them. It has also led to the unprecedented growth of private higher
education provision in many parts of the world to accommodate the growing
demand for higher education. In Brazil, for instance, the private sector has grown
rapidly such that 78% of the 6 million students enrolled are in private institutions
that cater mostly for undergraduate courses, with the large majority of the 150
000 postgraduate students being concentrated in the public sector.17 The growth
   
includes major initiatives in online learning environments as well, with the most
recent being an online university in Rwanda that utilises Massive Open Online
Courses (MOOCs) in addition to local tuition. Where such growth has occurred, the
private sector has generally been indirectly supported by governments through
tax incentives, land grants or funding schemes that facilitate student choice of
institution rather than funding being directed to institutions themselves.
An additional implication of changing funding patterns is that, given that parents
16 The Bologna process aims to improve transparency between European higher education
exchanges between institutions.
17 In 2009, there were 2 314 higher education institutions in Brazil, 90% of which were private, and
of which 186 had university status. See T. Schwartzman (2013) ‘Higher education, the academic
profession and economic development in Brazil’ in Altbach et al. (eds.) (2013) The global future
of higher education and the academic profession, p. 35.
12 Higher education reviewed
are generally paying more in fees in many countries (the UK, USA are cases in
point), and incurring huge debts, the relationship of students to institutions has
changed.18 No longer privileged apprentices being inducted into an academy
of knowledge, students are often conceived of as clients, choosing offerings
that enhance their individual life chances – often more directly vocational or
professional ones. The growth of the private sector, mentioned above, has also
altered many higher education landscapes towards the offering of programmes
designed to serve particular markets or market niches, and which are less
   
social sciences research.
The tension between education as a private right or a public good is writ large
in debates on the purpose of higher education. At the same time that the private
right idea is playing a major role in determining the character and purpose of
higher education, conceptions of higher education as a public good are widely
held; indeed, the impetus to increase student numbers is often predicated on
notions of equity, fairness and social redress, with access to higher education
being regarded as the sine qua non of a healthy democracy and economic and
social development. In many contexts there have been policy drivers such as
quotas, differential funding or deliberate campaigns to increase access to higher
education from lower socio-economic groups (as in the UK), or ethnic minorities
(as in the US). In these latter conceptions, higher education is regarded as having
a value that transcends the utilitarian; it is fundamentally about transformation,
enhancement and growth – of the individuals being educated as well as the
institutions and societies in which they live and work.
Given the increase in student numbers, including ‘non-traditional students’,
communities, the last few decades have seen the introduction on a large scale
of bridging and foundational programmes, student support programmes, more
sophisticated admissions and placement processes, more career guidance and
counselling, different pedagogies, more explicit and transparent expectations and
criteria for assessment and a much wider range of modes of delivery facilitated
by the developments in information and communications technology. Higher
education has become more complex.
Along with its more complex nature, and the more extensive scale of activities
carried out in higher education, has emerged a greater emphasis on managing
intricate systems and a wider variety of people, as well as calls for more reporting
and greater public accountability. At its worst, this is sometimes described
as embodying a new ideology of managerialism, based on neo-liberal market
principles; more neutrally it describes an empirically observable phenomenon
of increasingly robust management systems based on ever-more detailed data
collection and production of evidence; at best, it advances the case for the
importance of good, well-informed management and leadership of complex
18 UK graduate debt is £27 000 on average. Total graduate debt in the USA was estimated to have
risen by 51% between 2008 and 2012, and in 2013 was nearly $1 trillion (R. Simon & R.L. Ensign
Wall Street Journal).
Overview 13
organisations through a sea of competing interests in the advancement of the
knowledge project. There is little doubt, however, that an observable trend
world-wide has been a change in the relationship between those who carry out
teaching and research, and those who manage institutions. It is more often the
case than not that the leadership at all levels of the academy is no longer based
basis, but a system of appointed executives on short-term performance contracts,
with mandates to drive a system to reach particular targets. Again, what higher
education is for can have deeply different interpretations, even within an
A related observable trend globally, is an academic profession under great
stress. The demands on academics and the variety of functions required of
them have set up new tensions and competing priorities. Pressures to perform
in terms of measurable research output coexist with larger numbers of more
diverse students to teach in ways that demand increasingly specialist skills,
more complex and transparent assessment procedures, more attention to the
development of responsive and appropriate curricula, and more administration
and compliance with reporting and accountability demands. As noted above,
this is sometimes accompanied by less authority in academic decision-making
and a more subservient role in the leadership and management of institutions.
A counter-trend, however, is that of academics increasingly being able to pursue
their individual research careers on the basis of funding external to an institution
and effectively commanding their price and moving between institutions eager to
    
the divide between institution and profession through their consulting activities.
         
multiplicity of trends. As economies have become more inter-dependent, and
information and communications technologies have developed and opened up
new possibilities for access to knowledge and sharing data and research; as the
use of English as a communication tool has become ubiquitous on the internet
     
Disciplinary communities are now more properly global than national; institutions
          
‘champions’ leagues’; internationalisation involving the movement of large
numbers of staff and students to different contexts is one of the responses to the
globalisation of higher education. Top research universities set out to recruit the
most promising students from across the globe and the dissemination of research
19 And yet
higher education systems are also called on to organise themselves in the most
optimal ways to pursue national goals, whether these are motivated by narrow
political interests, competitive strategies or social justice agendas. The tension
between aligning institutional missions with national goals and the harnessing of
19 More than 80% of students from China and India who study abroad do not return home after
obtaining their degree, while 30% of highly educated Ghanaians and Sierra Leoneans live abroad
(See Altbach et al. (2010) Trends in global higher education, pp. 26-35).
14 Higher education reviewed
the energies of an increasingly mobile, changing and outward-looking academic
population that seeks its validation in international communities of practice,
lends an element of further stress to higher education systems.
2.2. Knowledge
Beliefs about what higher education is for tend to shape higher education
major trend globally that affects all systems, is the fundamental shift in the way
           
two main narratives here (and many sub-interpretations); in the dominant
one, knowledge is seen to be no longer residing in particular institutions and
embodiment of truth has become contested; knowledge has instead become widely
understood as constructed and partial and hence more egalitarian. The change in
the status of knowledge in this narrative has a direct implication in changing the
role of the university as an autonomous institution that furthers the pursuit of what
is understood to be truth to, on the one hand, a much more functional institution
concerned with increasing its performance, or, on the other, an institution that
is embedded in its communities and becoming more engaged with real-world
problems and concerns in both its practices and its scholarship. The democratisation
of knowledge has been enhanced through the rapid development in information
and communications technology, different modes of delivery and different sites
of production. In this narrative different knowledge types gain parity of esteem;
theoretical knowledge and practical knowledge, for example, no matter where and
how they are acquired become equally important, and this has implications not
only for pedagogy but for the size and shape of higher education systems and the
diversity of institutional types that constitute them.
          
it has become one product among many in a market-dominated consumer
  
it becomes necessary for the realisation of predominantly instrumentalist ends.
An implication of this view is that maximum output, minimum input models of
knowledge production become increasingly applicable at the expense of long-
the organisation of data for immediate problem-solving, with the ultimate goal
    
out in the way in which institutions are organised and in how they are managed
and funded. The trend in organising internal university structures appears to
be toward compartmentalising divisions or faculties in such a way that they can
be run on business lines, with an emphasis on income-generation and future
sustainability, which is assured through market forces. The consequence of this
has been a threatened existence for areas of study that lack immediate practical
application and employability, such as the humanities and the pure sciences.
A corollary of this view is that the skills indispensable to the furtherance and
maintenance of the economic and social systems become core to the academic
Overview 15
project. On the one hand, it is necessary to develop skills designed to tackle world
competition, which implies a growth in the management sciences and in the
society’s own need for internal cohesion, since the role of the university is no
longer to educate elites capable of leading nations towards their emancipation,
but to develop doctors, teachers, engineers and other professionals to meet
pragmatic ends. Most often, this is experienced as increasing vocationalism and a
trend towards more utilitarian emphases in government policies.
In the South African context, debates about knowledge have also shaped
questions relating to curriculum in profound ways, with local relevance and
global recognition often being seen as the poles of a debate about what should
be taught. This has deep resonance with ideas of what a university is for, and this
debate is by no means settled in South African universities. There have been many
projects focusing on African scholarship, or what it means to be a university in
South Africa and what knowledge is appropriate for this context, yet there are also
strident calls for a transformation of the curriculum that berate Eurocentricism,
some of which appear to endorse a fairly narrow view of what is appropriate in
a local context. Others, however, in challenging what has become orthodox, are
catalytic in re-imagining what possibilities exist for developing curricula that
are simultaneously relevant to current South African students and which lead to
extending the boundaries of current knowledge in a way that transcends the local.
Deep divisions about values, and also about language, still characterise the debate.
Simultaneously, discipline boundaries, where disciplines have traditionally been
the organising precepts of knowledge domains, are becoming more porous,
with interdisciplinary studies becoming more commonplace – particularly in
professional areas where knowledge from across many disciplines is called for
has major implications for how higher education is organised, for curriculum, for
research and for teaching and learning.
2.3. ICT and higher education
The rapid growth in information and communications technology that has
changed the way research is conducted, and how teaching and learning is
undertaken, is a third major feature of the global higher education landscape and
is arguably poised to change its very nature. A number of recent reports posit that
the combination of the forces of technology and globalisation are set to transform
higher education as a set of traditional 20th century institutions in which the
of institution that seek to exploit these changed circumstances to become globally
competitive entities focused on particular niche areas.20 While online learning
is not new, the advent of MOOCs has seen an improved quality online learning
20 M. Barber, K. Donnelly & S. Rizvi (2013) ‘An avalanche is coming: Higher education and the
revolution ahead’ (report).
16 Higher education reviewed
experience providing a global audience free access to prestigious institutions,
with the recognition of such credits by other institutions becoming more
widespread.21 The impact of such developments is still uncertain, particularly
as completion rates in MOOCs appear to be very low, but it could signal what
Barber et al. refer to as the “unbundling” of the traditional bricks-and-mortar
university to networks of dispersed learning centres utilising standardised
curricula for basic courses (Economics 101; Calculus 101) while facilitating the
development of content in niche areas to ensure the relevance of curricula to
local contexts, needs and languages. The potential implications for curriculum,
classroom’ in which professors become facilitators rather than lecturers and
lectures are accessed online in students’ own time), for assessment (which can
be modelled on gaming conventions – earning badges, or passing levels), for
degree structures (challenging the norm of a three or four-year full-time degree
in favour of a combination of work and study) and for institutional types, are far-
reaching. Barber et al. speculate about the emergence of a diversity of institutional
types, including a small number of elite universities focused on research, mass
universities providing good education for a rapidly growing global middle class
mostly through blended approaches, niche universities focusing on particular
areas such as law, local universities that provide for the development of skills for
local and regional economic development, and the lifelong learning institution
offering short courses to supplement workplace experiential learning.22 Whatever
the merits of this speculation, a clear trend towards an increasing diversity of
institutional types is observable.
The New Media Consortium’s 2014 Horizon Report lists six short to medium-
             
learning, all of which have policy implications at institutional level.23 Among
these are the ubiquity of social media and their increasing use in education
for enabling collaboration between educators and students and for creating
virtual professional communities of practice across institutions; online learning
environments providing opportunities for group problem-solving and peer-to-
peer collaboration and for making personalised learning scalable; the emergence
of data-informed learning analytics for monitoring student learning at a
personalised level and identifying students at risk of failing in order to improve
student success; and shifting students from consumers to creators through the
use of dedicated spaces equipped with video equipment, 3D printers and other
technology that allows students to bring their assignments to production and
to create entrepreneurial start-ups.24 Despite the new opportunities, there are,
21 As examples, Coursera is linked to Stanford University, EdX to MIT and Harvard, and Udacity,
started by an ex-Stanford professor, uses 4500 exam centres around the world to administer
22 Barber et al. (2013) ‘An avalanche is coming: Higher education and the revolution ahead’
23 L. Johnson, S. Adams, S. Becker, V. Estrada, A. Freeman (2014) NMC Horizon Report: 2014 higher
education edition.
24 See, for examples of professional communities of practice, SCIENTIX; e-Twinning; and WIDE
World from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
Overview 17
however, many challenges to the full realisation of the potential afforded by
digital technology even in the most developed countries, including the lack of
digital literacy among academic staff, the relative lack of rewards for innovation
in teaching and learning and the need to develop effective and pedagogically
sophisticated models of online courses. There is also a growing digital divide in
terms of access to technology; particularly in a context in which the global drive to
increase participation rates in higher education increases the number of students
who may not have the background to be successful without additional support.
Whatever the possibilities and limits of digital developments, the notion of a
knowledge economy, which sees knowledge production as the most important
determinant of a society’s development, has become commonplace. The positive
relationship between levels of education and economic and social development
has become a new orthodoxy. A contribution to the development of South Africa’s
National Development Plan (2011) puts this as follows:
Universities play three main functions in modern society. Firstly, they are responsible
for the education and training of professionals and high level human resources for the
wide range of employment needs of the public and private sectors of the economy.
applications for existing knowledge. In a country such as South Africa this knowledge
task is about innovation and application, local and global, and about knowledge
that equips people for a society in constant social change. Thirdly, higher education
provides opportunities for social mobility and simultaneously strengthens equity,
social justice and democracy. In the globalising knowledge society, higher education
becomes increasingly important. 25
Far from being in a crisis of relevance as suggested at the beginning of this
chapter, in this view higher education is considered absolutely integral to
development in a modern economy. For South Africa, as a developing and
modernising economy, higher education is one of the major vehicles to spur on
development, yet it is well-recognised that, twenty years ago, the system was not
fundamental question that must be asked in a review process is whether, twenty
          
these functions effectively.
3. The South African context
3.1. Themes and issues
What is understood as the process of modernisation, and what that means, has
evolved in the South African context over the twenty-year period in question.
In the early years of policy development in higher education, the emphasis
nationally in all spheres was on achieving social justice through redress – a
massive reconstruction and development programme was envisaged to right the
25 N. Badsha & N. Cloete (2011) ‘Higher Education: Contribution for the NPC’s National
Development Plan’ (unpublished paper).
18 Higher education reviewed
skewed ways in which all aspects of South African society had developed as a
result of social engineering according to race on a grand scale. The disjuncture
between higher education in its fragmented form and the needs of a developing
society was the main issue that needed to be addressed to achieve the goals
of the Reconstruction and Development Plan (RDP): growth in the economy
through a shift from mining to manufacturing, which would require high-level
skills development; reconstruction through addressing the challenges of poverty
such as the provision of housing, electricity, sanitation and health services to the
poor; and the building of a robust civil society to increase participation in the
26 It was relatively comfortable at the time for universities
to align themselves with the national project of building what was understood
as a developmental state. In this paradigm, skills development was not viewed
in a technicist or utilitarian way, but as part of a project of transformation
and enrichment of a society and its people. However, another strand of more
hard-headed economic thinking soon emerged that, faced with the realities of
developing an economic policy to deal with unemployment, emphasised the need
 
line with the international trend of neoliberalism and structural adjustment to
develop the economy on more market-oriented lines. The shift from RDP to GEAR
policy was to develop, from the early consensus and alignment of higher education
with the new ideals of reconstruction and development in a relationship with
government that was to be characterised by mutual trust, to a more complex
environment in which higher education has come to be seen as a vehicle for the
advancement of a knowledge economy, and in which the relationship of higher
education and government was to undergo some repositioning.27 The strands of
this story are interwoven in the discussions that follow, but are teased out more
comprehensively in Section 6.
Given that there are multiple roles for South African higher education, there
are at least three major themes explored in this chapter, and indeed in the
    
last twenty years having had to be fundamentally reimagined and reorganised
from its fractured, inequitable and isolated apartheid legacy in order to meet the
theme underlying this review is thus that of the modernising state: it includes
the narrative of policy intentionality – the policies, processes and mechanisms
employed to steer a deeply divided sector into a new era characterised by
integration, a more rational institutional landscape and the achievement of
national goals such as greater equity of access and success for students from all
population groups of South Africa in order to further the economic and social
development of the country.
26 A.C. Bawa (2012) ‘South African higher education: At the center of a cauldron of national
imaginations’ in Social Research, 79(3), p. 673.
27 The Growth, Employment and Redistribution (GEAR) strategy’s aim was to stimulate faster
economic growth which was required to provide resources to meet social investment needs
Overview 19
The second is the social justice and democratic imperative – the need for
the fundamental transformation of the system and the institutions within it
to create a more equitable platform in which all races and classes have equal
opportunities to realise their potential as part of the democratisation project and
in which past inequities were redressed. As much as changes and achievements
in higher education in South Africa have been brought about through deliberate
policy efforts on the part of the national departments concerned with education,
individual institutions as agents, other national departments focused on science
and technology or health or agriculture, particular individual leaders, national
        
bodies, the Council on Higher Education (CHE), staff and student unions and their
activities have each had some level of impact on the development trajectory of the
system. A common preoccupation and focus of activity of all of these has been the
achievement of a social justice agenda, and thus the second theme of this chapter
is transformation, including the shifting nuances and differences of meaning of
the concept as a particularly South African one, and how it has manifested in a
variety of goals and activities in different parts of the system.
A third theme underlying this chapter is the global context and
internationalisation and the extent to which higher education has successfully
been fashioned or been proactively responsive to position itself securely in the
globalising knowledge society. From relative isolation for most parts of the system
twenty years ago, the modernisation agenda has also entailed a reinsertion
          
massive world-wide shifts in higher education. These include, as introduced
above, changes in organisational culture, pedagogy, research and funding brought
arguably led to a phenomenon of increasing managerialism; the extensive use of
external quality assurance, international benchmarking processes and rankings
tables; the ICT revolution; as well as an increase in staff and student mobility.
3.2. Continuities and changes from the CHE’s 2004 review
These themes are not new, yet the current manifestations of these suggest both
continuities and changes from their initial framing. This review covers two decades
of post-apartheid South Africa. However, the CHE undertook a comprehensive
others, and this section of the chapter recalls the themes, issues and conclusions
of the 2004 review, partly to map the continuities but also to indicate how and
where the debates have shifted.28 In 2004, the decade captured in the CHE review
was characterised by intensive policy development which had set up the goals for a
the frameworks for new processes, such as national planning and external quality
assurance, that were to begin in earnest. By 2004, the debates that shaped, and
that continue to shape, the discourse around higher education – for example,
28 CHE (2004) ; CHE (2007) Review
of higher education in South Africa: selected themes; CHE (2009) ‘The state of higher education
report’ in Higher Education Monitor, 8.
20 Higher education reviewed
the equity versus development debate; the transformation agenda, a distinctly
South African conceptualisation that continues to shape thinking about higher
education; and the so-called differentiation debate, were well-established.29 As in
the quote that informed the National Development Plan above, the 2004 review
asserts the important role of higher education in enhancing national economic
competitiveness within a global knowledge-driven economy, although, unlike in
many other countries, it situates that role in the context of transformative goals as
put forward in the White Paper of 1997. That review foregrounds the social and
public value of higher education, placing on it the responsibility for “providing
equitable opportunities for learning and (self-) development; to be responsive to
societal needs, producing relevant knowledge and socially committed graduates
to contribute positively to the development of the country and to be publicly
roles”.30 It is predicated on the assumption of a strong link between knowledge
production and economic and social development, and hence a focus on the
need for South Africa, post-apartheid, to ‘catch up’ in developing high-level skills
to increase its international or global competitiveness. There is also a sense
that the digital divide, in what Castells termed the ‘network society’, would be
considerably widened were the purpose of higher education, i.e. to further South
  31 At the same time, there
was an understanding of higher education as a catalyst for the advancement
of a more equitable, engaged and democratic society through fostering critical
intellectual debate, developing public intellectuals and a new intelligentsia, and
contributing to a ‘vibrant and engaged civil society’ – evident in the theme of
social responsibility.
In short, the major themes encompass many of the concerns that were evident
in other higher education contexts at the time – seeing higher education in the
context of the knowledge economy, the focus on high level skills development,
the need to demonstrate quality and greater accountability for the way in which
public monies were being used, a concern to further economic growth – as well
as the need for redress and transformation relating to the peculiarities of South
Africa’s apartheid past.
  
rubric were the issues of equity, social justice, the need to renew civil society
and the need for engagement with emerging social policies. An extrapolation of
this was the attention paid to increasing student access. Underlying the equity-
development tension lay not only ideological and political contestation, but the
hard realities of limited resources, and a gap between the high expectations that
priorities and demands – not only in higher education – and limited government
and institutional capacity.
All of these concerns endure in the current context. The difference is that the
29 See Section 5.2.
30 CHE (2004)  p. 15.
31 M. Castells (2009) The rise of the network society: The information age: Economy, society, and
culture, Volume 1.
Overview 21
policy intentions and drivers that were announced or foregrounded in that review
have been implemented to greater or lesser extents in the last decade, with
varying levels of success. If the 2004 review was characterised by discussions of
policy development and intentionality relating to such concerns, this one focuses
on the analysis and assessment of the implementation of those policies in three
as a whole, its transformation and pursuit of demographic goals, and how it has
been planned and funded. The second domain considers structural and systemic
matters – the reorganisation of the higher education system and the institutional
landscape – including its situation in the new territory of post-school provision. A
third domain is that of organisational matters – how management and governance
at system and institutional level have been affected both by policy implementation
and other factors and how matters of accountability through regulation and
quality assurance have had an impact on constituencies within organisations, such
  
i.e. the main activities of higher education – teaching and learning, research and
community engagement to consider how these have changed, not only through
policy implementation, but how they have been affected by broader factors such
as the rapid development of information and communications technologies, and
what their future directions might be.
the post-apartheid era, the CHE observed that:
Given the complexities and constraints inherent in the South African higher education
policy process (and probably in any policy process), it is not possible currently to
predict with certainty the implications, future effects and long-term impact of policy
             
current South African higher education system, the effects of policies are likely to be
co-produced by the state, the higher education sector, individual HEIs, and other social
At the end of a second decade, some of those implications, effects and impacts are
somewhat clearer, and more readily unpacked, while the long-term implications
remain uncertain. This review focuses thus on what has been achieved in the
           
forward in order to outline the constraints and opportunities likely to affect that
uncertain future.
4. Achieving purposes at a system level
4.1 Policy intentions
4.1.1 Modernisation
This section examines implementation of the policy and legislative drivers
of the higher education system as a whole in the post-apartheid era, an era in
which deliberate efforts were made to develop a more appropriate system
32 CHE (2004) , p. 37.
22 Higher education reviewed
for a modernising state. These foundations had been laid in the midst of an
epochal political transition, a critical period where the reintegration of the
country into the global economy, and the rebuilding of academic linkages that had
become attenuated under the impact of the academic boycott and the isolation
of the apartheid regime were shifting the economic and political as well as the
higher education policy discourses. In the post-apartheid era, higher education
faced a problem of trust, especially amongst the disenfranchised majority, and a
       
higher education to contribute to the transformation of society became at the same
time a call for the sector to transform itself. At the same time, the post-apartheid
imperatives of access, equity and redress stood starkly alongside the imperatives of
economic as well as social inclusion, and the call for a new growth path to address
the challenges of widespread poverty and unemployment. This tension was cast in
the higher education debates and policy documents of the time as a tension between
‘equity and development’ – the form of that development, and the ‘development
path’ was left rather vague – and much discussion centred on the question, whether
it was possible to achieve both. Indeed, the question was whether the path to
development might not lie through a more inclusive and equitable higher education
sector, from which the (black) managers, technicians, scientists and professionals
which a growing economy would require would emerge.
4.1.2 Transformation
The radical alteration of the size and shape of the higher education system and
the introduction of the policy drivers to steer the system towards particular goals
discussed above, were motivated by the need to achieve a state of affairs that was
qualitatively different from that which preceded it. Breaking with the inequalities
of the apartheid past, a transformed higher education system would play a critical
role in an emerging, non-racial, progressive democracy, in producing critical,
independent citizens as well as skilled and socially-committed graduates who
would be capable of contributing to social and economic development. In short,
the vision and goals of the founding post-apartheid policy statements related
not simply to the achievement of an equitable demographic composition of the
student body in terms of access and success, the achievement of equity in the
staff body and improvement in research outputs and the production of high-
level skills for the economy, but to a higher education system that would play a
and an informed, critical, and socially aware citizenry.
While an imprecise concept, transformation was understood to be the broad
organising precept for taking the system forward. From the very early policy
debates on, it was recognised that transformation would imply the need to make
hard choices between sometimes competing ends – the achievement of equity in
a system that had been inherently inequitable by design, while at the same time
bringing about the socio-economic development of a newly democratic society. A
similar tension that underlay the goal of transformation was that between equity
 
way individual institutions responded to perceived, or real, external stimuli. At
Overview 23
the same time, the terrain on which the struggle over transformation in higher
education would take place, and on which an equity-development tension would
be played out, was wider than that of higher education institutions and the new
Ministry of Education alone. It was the terrain of a larger, and still more complex,
transition from apartheid to democracy.
One of the recommendations of the National Commission on Higher Education
(NCHE) of 1996 for taking the system forward to achieve greater equity was to ‘massify’
the system; in other words, to grow the numbers radically to achieve a much higher
participation rate of the age cohort, thereby increasing the proportion of previously
disadvantaged students as well as delivering on the high-level skills and knowledge
situation in which school preparation was unequal and in which the staff to student
ratio would deteriorate could result in an overall reduction in quality and a further
skewing of the intake away from the science, engineering and technology (SET) area
was not explicitly stated, given concerns from some of the historically disadvantaged
institutions that inherited hierarchies would remain unchanged. It would not be
feasible to grow a system that included only research universities – other types of
institution serving different higher education purposes would be needed.
The actual policy choice made, as in the White Paper of 1997 and the Higher
Education Plan of 2001, was for ‘planned growth’ towards achieving both the equity
    
the transformation objectives through the policy drivers discussed above, with
         
incorporations of several colleges, the higher education system comprised universities
(albeit some to be focused on technology) only, and remained an ‘elite’ one, in terms
           
largely disestablished, such that while the higher education sector continued to grow,
it was unable to provide for all the school-leavers seeking some form of post-school
           
narrow band of universities, rather than across an entire post-school landscape.
A decade later, and the issue of increasing participation rates in post-school
education, largely through expanding the college sector exponentially, is again
radically different, target of 30% by 2030 for participation in higher education to
be achieved through increased enrolments; while the White Paper for Post-School
937 000 students in 2012 to 1 600 000). The vocational and training enrolments
in the post-school sector were to expand from the 345 000 of 2010 to 2.5 million
      
was to increase to 1 million learners in new community colleges. The targets for
growth in the whole post-school sector are ambitious; the White Paper, however,
education part of the post-school sector, while the enrolment plans of individual
universities together currently indicate a proposed growth of 2-3% per annum,
it is evident that rapid and extensive growth in the existing universities, given
24 Higher education reviewed
           
demonstrated in the Chapter 8 of this review. In addition, the work undertaken
for the CHE Task Team’s Proposal for Undergraduate Curriculum Reform indicated
that growing the number of students, for example from an intake of 42 000 to
58 000 in order to achieve even 15 000 more graduates than the 21 000 that
          
a very costly option. Indeed, it was calculated that the amount of unproductive
subsidy i.e. subsidy not resulting in graduates, would rise by 50%.33 The rebuild
of the vocational education and training college sector will also rely heavily on the
universities to provide the teaching capacity needed. Part of the solution mooted
in the NDP and the 2013 White Paper is, as the NCHE had suggested almost twenty
years ago, to increase enrolments through different modes such as a growth in
distance education offerings. A new distance education policy has thus been
deemed necessary, partly to remove the prohibition on the offering of distance
education by contact institutions that was imposed in the wake of unregulated
growth in the early 90s. The motivation for increasing the participation rate is both
to bring about transformation through increasing access, and a developmental
one in that the need for high and mid-level skills in the economy is acute.
As much as transformation has been a broad concept, it has also engendered the
monitoring of numbers and trends in a narrow interpretation that foregrounds
demographics. Race has been the major preoccupation, but gender, age and disability
are also categories for redress. In a pervasive discourse, transformation has become
equated with equity, and equity with race. Twenty years into democracy, the student
composition of the universities is radically different from its apartheid inheritance,
albeit in a relatively small system with low participation rates, yet the issue of race
is becoming even more emotive and volatile. Ways of measuring transformation/
equity are quite divergent: on one hand, some institutions are reassessing their
admissions policies, arguing that with the development of a substantial black
middle class, many of whose children attend private schools, race is no longer an
accurate proxy for disadvantage, and that other indicators of disadvantage, such
as quintile of school, would be more equitable.34 On the other hand, attempts
have been made to measure equity on an index that equates equity with race as a
singular indicator of transformation, and while there has been vociferous critique
of the index, (its methodology, assumptions etc.) it has gained some traction in
national fora and reignited the ‘transformation debate’, to some extent returning
to the understanding evident in the initial application of the Employment Equity
designated population groups.35
33 CHE (2013) 
curriculum structure, p. 134.
34 J. Etheridge (2014) ‘UCT admissions: Race will still be considered’ in Mail and Guardian, 29 May.
35 K.S. Govinder & M.W. Makgoba (2013) ‘An equity index for South Africa’ in 109(5/6), p. 109;
K.S. Govinder, N.P. Zondo & M.W. Makgoba (2013) ‘A new look at demographic transformation
for universities in South Africa’ in South African Journal of Science, 109(11/12); T. Dunne (2014)
‘Mathematical errors, smoke and mirrors in pursuit of an illusion: Comments on Govinder
et al. (2013)’ in South African Journal of Science, 110(1/2); T. A. Moultrie & R. E. Dorrington
(2014) ‘Flaws in the approach and application of the Equity Index: Comments on Govinder et al.
(2013)’ in South African Journal of Science, 110(1/2); and V. Borden (2014) ‘Anything but simple:
Inappropriate use of Euclidean distance in Govinder et al. (2013)’ in South African Journal of
Science, 110(5/6).
Overview 25
While transformation in South African higher education discourse has more
often than not been associated with demographic changes in student and staff
complements, a further dimension to the ‘transformation debate’ that takes it
beyond numbers is institutional culture. The aspect of student integration across
race groups and integrated institutional cultures is still an issue, particularly in a few
historically advantaged institutions. Despite conscious efforts having been made to
for transformation charters for all institutions to “defeat racism and patriarchy”
at South African universities which is believed to be “rife”.36 These incidents have
illustrated that change in terms of numbers without a transformation of institutional
culture and practices is not conducive to harmony and cannot be considered to have
created an equitable climate for higher education.37
The Ministerial Committee Report on Transformation and Social Cohesion of
on the agenda, and led to the development of a recent draft national policy on
social cohesion in the post-school sector.38 In 2013, Higher Education South Africa
(HESA) initiated a project facilitating the development of institutional Integrated
Transformation Plans in which institutions put forward their understandings
of the challenges of transformation and how they planned to address them.
A considerably more complex and nuanced understanding of transformation
emerged from this process which incorporates change in institutional culture,
inclusiveness, diversity and redress and many other dimensions. Indeed, some
institutions have transformation charters in which the notion of transformation
of an institution. Nevertheless, it is clear that effecting profound change in the
        
male, is a shared challenge that has no easy solutions.
4.1.3 Integration
Perhaps the most obvious policy consideration in pursuing the goal of
  
to overcome past fragmentation (different departments responsible for higher
education, different national bodies for different sectors, different types of
institution managed differently, and a split between education and training and
between science and technology).
In a wider context, this is sometimes conceived of as a major impetus of recent
times towards ‘de-differentiation’, i.e. the democratisation of knowledge that seeks
to achieve equal status between different kinds of institution and equivalence
between different kinds of learning as evidenced in a number of countries in
36 B. Phakathi (2014) ‘Nzimande punts social inclusion policy after spate of racial incidents’ in
Business Day, 22 August; DHET (2014) ‘Draft Social Inclusion Policy Framework for Public Post-
School Education & Training Institutions’.
37 For example, the 2008 Reitz incident at the University of the Free State and the investigation into
initiation practices at North-West University.
38 DoE (2008) Report of the Ministerial Committee on Transformation and Social Cohesion and the
Elimination of Discrimination in Public Higher Education Institutions.
26 Higher education reviewed
         
seamless articulation and the abolition of binary divides between institutional
types.39 In the South African context, this was expressed in White Paper 3 of
1997 as the intention to “transform higher education through the development
of a programme-based higher education system, planned, funded and governed
as a single coordinated system”.40 The various early policy processes had led to
the major focus for the future of higher education – that is, redress and quality,
41 The White Paper had outlined
three major policy intentions and steering mechanisms:
1. Planned expansion of the higher education system to increase
participation (which gave rise to the need for external quality assurance
2. to achieve greater responsiveness through planning (a national plan and
three-year rolling plans for institutions) and
3. goal-directed, performance-related funding to steer the system towards
This was to be achieved through a system of cooperative governance, with the
state playing a steering and coordinating role through the funding and planning
levers, autonomous institutions managing their resources but being publicly
accountable, and an intermediary body (the CHE) having both policy advisory
and quality assurance functions.
4.2. Funding
by the development of a new funding framework that included institutional
restructuring grants, earmarked funding, block grants, research output grants
and institutional factor grants. The previous SAPSE funding formula had been
perceived to be inimical to the achievement of the policy goals in its bluntness as
uses to which public funding could be put in pursuance of the public good ends
of higher education.42 Indeed, the SAPSE formula was a mathematically-based
system of resource allocation, predicated on a relatively homogenous system
(i.e. the previously advantaged institutions for which it had been developed)
in which market forces rather than political predilections would play a role in
achieving a fair distribution among them. The post-apartheid reality of a diversity
of institutions that had been governed by different funding regimes, from the
39 M. Young (2010) ‘Alternative educational futures for a knowledge society’ in European
Educational Research Journal, 9(1). By de-differentiation, he is referring to the idea that in a
networked society historically distinct institutions and activities are becoming more alike.
40 DoE (1997) White Paper 3: A programme for the transformation of higher education.
41 Examples include the National Education Policy Initiative (NEPI) 1993; Union of Democratic
University Staff Associations (UDUSA) policy work in the 1990s; the Centre for Education and
Policy Development (CEPD); and the National Commission on Higher Education (NCHE) 1996.
42 DHET (2013) Report of the Ministerial Committee for the Review of Funding.
Overview 27
different ‘bantustans’ or different national departments that had engineered huge
for such a system to be equitable. The 2003 funding framework, which was fully
implemented only from 2007 onwards, was based on the principle of shared
costs between government and students. It was conceived of as a goal-oriented
mechanism for the distribution of government grants to individual institutions
in accordance with national planning priorities, the quantum of funds available
and the approved enrolment plans of individual institutions.43 Essentially, it was
a mechanism to steer the system towards achieving the modernising goals of the
system on a more equitable basis between institutions; that is, using one set of
rules across all institutions. Some allowance was, however, built into the formula
to take account of the need for redress funding for those institutions that had
been disadvantaged in the apartheid era, although the quantum of actual redress
funding awarded remains an issue of contention; at the same time, it rewarded
those activities thought desirable to attain national goals, such as research
output. In terms of the grant’s major component, the teaching input portion, it
funded enrolments based on the number of places available (through negotiation
with the Department of Higher Education and Training) in particular cells of a
  
and planning in terms of in which areas it would be more advantageous for
          
process, in which all programmes offered by an institution needed to be approved
by the Department on the basis of their importance to the country’s needs and in
terms of the institution’s capacity to offer them, and on the basis of whether they
met the requisite minimum standards in terms of quality determined through an
accreditation function undertaken by the Higher Education Quality Committee
(HEQC) of the Council on Higher Education.
Not only was there a funding/planning driver at the level of programme
offerings designed to steer the system towards producing graduates in the more
resource-intensive disciplines necessary to build a modernising economy, but
there was also an attempt to apply a greater rationality to determining the overall
size and shape of the system through the introduction of institutional three-year
rolling plans, and more recently, of a much more intensive process of enrolment
planning on the basis of negotiations between the DHET and institutions in which
attempts are made to match growth to available resources.
The funding driver has been met with mixed success; indeed, a comprehensive
to achieve its intended goals, particularly in the midst of the continued existence
and exacerbation of wide disparities between institutions and their output
and performance was called for and undertaken in 2012-2013. From some
perspectives, the critique was that the use of a funding system in which a
decreasing proportion is formula-based in favour of earmarked funding renders
43 DoE (2004) New Funding Framework: How government grants are allocated to public higher
education institutions.
28 Higher education reviewed
      
          
had been disadvantaged in the past such that one set of rules is inherently
inequitable.44 Amid wide expectations that the entire funding system would be
overhauled, the review in effect recommended a continuation of the use of the
For universities, the pressure for access combined with a tight funding
environment has, as in other parts of the world, led to upward pressure on fees,
and the need to increase third-stream income. Although it differs quite widely
across the system, the average ratio of subsidy:fees:third-stream income for
universities in South Africa is roughly 40:30:30.45 It is evident that the funding
   
output in journal and publication units by South African universities since 2005;
it has, however, been less successful in stimulating a growth in the numbers of
doctoral graduates, where supervision capacity is a key constraint.46 This may
be a result of individual academics and institutions focusing limited amounts of
energy and capacity where the rewards are greatest, and it supports the widely-
    
carry out all demands on them equally well – research, teaching, postgraduate
supervision, community engagement, administration and contributing to the
raising of third-stream income on which a number of universities are becoming
reliant. For a few institutions, third-stream income constitutes almost half their
income, which requires a considerable time investment. With subsidy income
fee income that is the only really elastic element in the overall funding scenario,
            
At an individual student level, access to higher education by students from low
socio-economic backgrounds has been facilitated by the government national
          
loans and bursaries to students who qualify in terms of a means test. A number
          
   
          
in the past decade, 659 000 students had been assisted with over R12 billion in
loans and bursaries.47  
it to achieve its full potential. In the context of a situation in which there are an
estimated 2.8 million (or over 40%) 20-24 year olds who are not in employment,
education or training, relative to just under a million places in higher education
44 Lewin & M. Mawoyo (2014) ‘Student access and success: Issues and interventions in South
African universities’ (report).
45 CHE (2014) VitalStats: Public higher education 2012, p. 95.
46 DHET (2013) Report of the Ministerial Committee for the Review of Funding, p. 297.
47 DHET (2010) Report of the Ministerial Committee on the National Student Financial Aid Scheme, p. xiii.
Overview 29
 
scheme are daunting; despite rapid increases in the allocation of funding to
the scheme, demand far outstrips supply. The review found that the quantum
      
qualifying applicants in the current situation, without taking into account the
extensive growth in participation envisaged in the vocational college sector.48
The NSFAS review also noted that 2010 data indicated that 48% of NSFAS-
funded students had dropped out or otherwise not completed their studies.
Among the reasons advanced are that the funds in some institutions are diluted
among greater numbers of students to ensure wider access, resulting in funded
students being required to make up a shortfall, which they are mostly not in a
position to do. There are concerns too that the means test system is open to abuse,
while many poor school matriculants who qualify academically but fall just above
the minimum income levels (the so-called ‘missing middle’) remain excluded from
accessing funding and hence from higher education studies altogether. It is also
the case that some institutions have disproportionate numbers of NSFAS-funded
students, and carry the burden of increasing debt caused by underfunding. In
addition, the scheme exhibits a poor rate of recovery – the review estimated this
to be at 26% of funds dispersed – which is exacerbated by the high number of
students who do not complete their studies and who do not earn enough to become
liable for repayment.49
allocation of funding, the NSFAS scheme is piloting a process of centralised online
   
directly to students. The pilot is yet in early days; and owing to some problems
having been experienced, it is likely to be extended before full implementation
takes place. In the meanwhile, student protests continue unabated.
In this context, the government’s espoused policy of pursuing ‘fee-free education
for the poor’ has led to widespread misunderstanding of what is intended, and
added fuel to the many student protests related to demands for government
‘to open its coffers’ to increase NSFAS funding.50 The student protests are often
volatile and some have led to violence and damage to property.51 Indeed, this and
the harder edge to charges of racism and calls for institutional transformation
have contributed to potential instability in the system twenty years after the
         
throughput rates and pressure to increase participation has created arguably the
48 Ibid. pp. i – xx.
49 Ibid.
50 A special study group was requested by the DHET in 2012 to explore the feasibility of fee-free
higher education for the poor; DHET (2012) Report of the Working Group on Fee Free University
Education for the Poor in South Africa
that sustainable additional funding would be needed to make this feasible.
51 A Vice-Chancellor is quoted as saying, for instance, that “There is this notion of free education being
thrown around and therefore students will demand, and this demand will be on universities, not
the Department or Parliament” in B. Phakati (2014) ‘State’s student funding scheme unable to meet
demand’ in Business Day, 11 September.
30 Higher education reviewed
4.3 Quality assurance
The last decade saw the implementation of a comprehensive system of external
quality assurance. The principle of quality as a key element in the relationship
between the state and higher education, in the context of institutional autonomy,
was highlighted, and the need for a coordinated external quality assurance
system for a newly-integrated sector was realised in the establishment through
the Higher Education Act of 1997 of the Council on Higher Education and its
permanent committee, the Higher Education Quality Committee, at one remove
from government, to carry out programme accreditation, institutional audits and
quality promotion. Quality assurance as the third driver to steer a system, along
with planning and funding, was intended to be the guarantor of rationality in the
application of the drivers, protecting against arbitrariness or the apportioning of
scarce resources to programmes of poor quality, and assisting to increase levels
of public trust in the higher education system as a whole. In the early policy
debates (NCHE etc.), an independent Council as a non-political distributor of
funding related to performance and quality, much like funding councils in some
other systems, had been mooted; in the event, the White Paper of 1997 and the
Higher Education Act ensured that the funding responsibility stayed with the
national department, while the CHE that it established became responsible for
quality assurance but without the direct link to funding allocation, as well as for
providing advice on higher education matters to the Minister of Education (or
Higher Education and Training as from 2009).
There are, however, two main players in the narrative of external quality
assurance, with somewhat differing underlying philosophies and ideas regarding
the primary purpose of higher education, and a range of others that had an impact
     
on Higher Education, through its Higher Education Quality Committee (HEQC),
conducted a series of external quality audits of all public institutions, and some
of the larger private ones, in a cycle that began in 2004 and which is currently
nearing its conclusion. The keywords characterising external quality assurance
accountability purposes, alignment of quality assurance with strategic planning
and resource allocation, quality and equity to be realised concurrently, deliberate
quality management, a particular emphasis on the quality of teaching and learning
and the institutionalisation of a quality culture.
The approach to audits was an avowedly developmental one; the purpose
was to stimulate the development of comprehensive institutional processes
and policies to assess the quality of three core functions of higher education,
those being teaching and learning, research and community engagement. The
methodology stressed the need for institutional self-evaluation, as well as peer
review, in an effort to develop capacity in the system to improve and demonstrate
major principle guiding the audits was that institutional purposes could also be
  
South Africa was a major consideration. Perhaps the overarching concern of the
Overview 31
audit process was the transformation agenda; the yoking together of both quality
and equity in a bid to improve the social justice ends of higher education. While
the origins of external quality assurance processes in other parts of the world
had lain in the neo-liberal agendas of competitive governments in the 1990s,
and their need to measure and demonstrate the quality of their higher education
institutions, the CHE’s approach was instead to use tools with conservative origins
for progressive ends.52
The audit reports on each of the institutions, while paying attention to their
achievements, also provided recommendations for improvement and required
progress reports and monitoring of their implementation. This aspect of
external quality assurance was not directly linked to funding, as noted above,
being conducted by a different agency from the national department. In some
interpretations, this was important for the success of the enterprise, as mutual
trust between institutions and the HEQC was considered a determining factor
in allowing for a greater engagement with institutional concerns than had they
          
consequences. In other interpretations, the lack of a direct connection to
funding weakened the impact that the three steering mechanisms – funding,
planning and quality assurance – might have had in responding more quickly
and comprehensively to institutions that found themselves in governance or
management crises that impacted on the quality of their core functions. The impact
on institutions of external quality assurance was nonetheless considerable, with
many developing much more robust internal quality assurance systems than they
had previously enjoyed. The audits also focused attention on improving the quality
of teaching and learning which was placed at the centre of the higher education
enterprise, with an emphasis on the need for curricula to be contextually relevant
and related to institutional missions. They also provided comprehensive accounts
on the extent to which individual institutions were responding to the national
transformation goals. The analyses of teaching and learning problems across the
sector have led to a new phase of external quality activity in the HEQC’s Quality
Enhancement Project (QEP) which is designed to bring about improvements in
the actual quality of teaching and learning activities at institutional level.
Other aspects of ongoing external quality assurance carried out by the HEQC
were focused on the programme level, rather than the institutional. National
        
and more recently social work programmes – and the accreditation of new
programmes have been concerned to ensure that minimum standards across
the system are met. The combined quality assurance efforts have arguably
contributed to the external pressures on institutions, fuelling the trend towards
greater regulation and accountability, but they have also assisted on focusing
attention on the analysis and potential resolution of quality concerns in the
system. In all the activities of the HEQC, a broad view of transformation pertained;
the various processes underscored a broader purpose for higher education than
the utilitarian, with transformation applying as much to the nature and conduct
52 L. Lange (2006) ‘Symbolic policy and “performativity”: South African higher education between
the devil and the deep blue sea’ in Kagisano, 4, p. 40.
32 Higher education reviewed
of institutions, the design and delivery of their curricula as to the changing
demographics and inclusion of women and people with disabilities.
A second major player in the external quality assurance sphere was the South
      
different ideas base. Emanating initially from concerns in the Labour Department
about the poor skills base for human resource development in South Africa, the
         
on which all education and training offerings would be registered. A common
currency of credits and unit standards was established in the late 1990s in an
attempt to create access and articulation opportunities in a seamless way across
 
the learning had taken place. A complicated architecture of standards generating
and quality assuring bodies in different economic sectors was erected. The trend
towards ‘de-differentiation’ noted above was uppermost in a system based on
applied competence and generic skills acquisition and that viewed the main
purpose of higher education being to provide the high level skills necessary for
economic growth. The growth of external monitoring was also evident in the
establishment of the Sectoral Education and Training Authorities (SETAs) which
were accredited by SAQA as Education and Training Quality Assurers (ETQAs)
comprising a range of mostly external stakeholders, with responsibility for
          
those whose quality was assured by the HEQC. Along with a growing number of
professional councils, both statutory and otherwise, many of which understood
their role as the registration of professionals to include programme accreditation
– there was, what the 2004 CHE Review terms, “a burgeoning complexity in the
realm of quality assurance jurisdiction”.53
Indeed, the period until 2004 was characterised by the growth in external
regulation through SAQA policy and regulations, against which higher education had
chafed – particularly against a unit standards methodology. Contestation from higher
education was instrumental in leading to a protracted review of the NQF and the
external quality assurance bodies culminating in 2001, which focused on the creation
of three so-called bands of the learning system (general education, FET and higher
The NQF Act of 2008 saw a major reorganisation of the external quality and regulatory
environment, with the intended streamlining of the SETA environment and the
ETQAs, and the establishment of three Quality Councils, one for each area – general
and further education, trades and occupations and higher education.
The last decade has seen a repositioning of the roles of the various agencies,
with, for higher education, the major focus of activity being the development,
(HEQSF) within the NQF and the beginning of a process of aligning existing
programmes with it, requiring major curriculum development by some
institutions in order to ensure the integration of higher education offerings on
a single framework. In the preoccupation with creating a single system with
one set of rules, the reorganisation of higher education offerings onto a single
53 CHE (2004) .
Overview 33
      
of 2007 had perhaps inadvertently fuelled the ‘mission drift’ in universities of
technology that had earlier been considered undesirable – as discussed in 5.2
below. While the Framework was successful in bringing some coherence to the
system through creating a set of parameters for all higher education offerings
to adhere to no matter where they were offered, the original version tended to
       
particularly into the postgraduate level. While the Framework gave some weight
only a 360-credit diploma amidst a plethora of offerings of various sorts that
had all purported to be diplomas, it also arguably privileged pure academic
all levels, bringing it more in line with the international trends towards a greater
mainly in terms of credits and levels to the foregrounding of the purpose of a
         
        
a view that all credits at a particular NQF level were equal and exchangeable,
regardless of the curriculum in which they had been designed, which perhaps
created unrealistic expectations of access to a higher education system that,
      
the education aspirations of the youth cannot all be met by the higher education
system, and that the expansion of the further education and training system
         
major imperative. One of the current major concerns is that the so-called ‘inverted
pyramid’ of South Africa’s education system, with the most students in higher
twenty-year period under discussion.54
As the bringing together of disparate types of offerings in higher education is
being undertaken and contributing to a new cohesiveness, so are large questions
about the boundaries of higher education being raised. With the creation of
a separate Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) in 2009 into
which aspects of the education system that had formerly been under the auspices
of the Department of Labour (the SETAs etc.) and other national Departments
(Agricultural colleges) were brought, the canvas has expanded beyond universities
to include vocational training and the provision of all types of post-school
offerings. The changed landscape has brought to the fore the issue of the nature
54 NCHE (1996) A Framework for Transformation. In 2013, there were 983 698 enrolments in public
higher education institutions; 639 618 in Further Education and Training colleges, and 249 507
in Adult Education Centres (DHET (2015) Statistics on post-school education and training in South
Africa 2013, p. 3).
34 Higher education reviewed
of the relationship between the HEQSF and the other frameworks, and the extent
to which it is possible for students to move between workplace-based vocational
has been to attempt to integrate education and training in the kinds and nature
  
universities of technology (although this has sometimes been precluded by the
incompatibility of different knowledge types);55 the question now, as put forward
for example in the 2013 White Paper, is how to integrate the three frameworks and
at the same time ensure a differentiated set of offerings straddling the whole post-
school landscape. In terms of technological and vocational training, the impetus is
for comprehensives and universities of technology in particular to prioritise the
establishment of closer relationships with the FET sector and industry, whereas
in the past decade, developing the critical attributes of traditional universities
had arguably been uppermost in their activities.
4.4. Planning
           
of higher education was the need to integrate a fragmented system, and to give
expression to changing purposes through different institutional forms and
        
offerings was to be achieved through planning at the programme level through
the introduction of state steering of the offerings of higher education institutions
         
the additional purposes of which were to give effect to decisions about the
restructuring of the system, to curb the growth of distance education programmes
at contact institutions, to halt the proliferation of satellite campuses and to
reduce regional duplication of offerings. The theme of integration applied also
to the private sector, which was considered to be under-regulated, and thus it
too became subject to new legislative and external quality assurance regimes, as
described in Chapter 2 of this review.
The intended rational steering of the system through planning has become more
complex given the wide-scale restructuring through mergers and incorporations,
themselves and their missions – which has implications for their programme
mix and their research output – with other institutions simply trying to manage
in the aftermath of great upheaval and thus not necessarily being responsive to
the change stimuli as intended, and yet others continuing in terms of already
established identities and offerings. In many senses, the post-merger period has
been one of consolidation and an attempt to re-establish stability for the most
part, but with a number of institutions coming under great stress such that
reappraisals of particular mergers have had to be undertaken.
55 See, for example, SANTED (2010) ‘Differentiation, knowledge and curriculum’ (conference report).