Home South African Mixed reaction to blueprint to revamp higher education structures

Mixed reaction to blueprint to revamp higher education structures

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There has been a mixed reaction to a draft policy on higher education, including concerns that higher education institutions could face being downgraded, but others say such concerns are missing the bigger picture.

Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation Blade Nzimande. Picture: Thobile Mathonsi/African News Agency (ANA)

THERE has been a mixed reaction to a draft policy on higher education, including concerns that higher education institutions could face being downgraded, but others say such concerns are missing the bigger picture.

Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation Blade Nzimande published the draft policy for the recognition of South African higher education institutional types on August 8.

According to the document, the amendments sought to provide criteria for the recognition of higher education colleges, university colleges and universities, to promote diversification of access, curricula and qualification structures, and ultimately fulfil the aspirations set out in the founding objectives of the higher education sector in South Africa.

At the same time, it would, according to the minister, encourage an open and flexible system based on credit accumulation and multiple entry and exit points for students in order to permit greater mobility of students in the higher education system.

The minister detailed that the purpose of the amendments would promote the development of an articulated, flexible learning system, with a diversity of institutional missions and programme mixes; and a system that improved the responsiveness of the higher education system to present and future social and economic needs.

The document explains: “The policy provides criteria by which institutions, including registered private higher education institutions, may be defined and officially registered as specific institutional types contemplated in the act.

“The draft policy provides a higher education structure that is well suited to accommodate the varying backgrounds, needs, interests and abilities of the students of the future, to enable them to realise their potential, and contribute the necessary range and quality of knowledge, insight, skill and capability to the development and reconstruction of the country.”

Following the announcement of the draft policy, concerns have been raised about institutions being likely to face downgrading should they fail to meet some of the amendments.

Professor Ahmed Bawa, CEO of Universities South Africa, acknowledged that there were risks associated with the amendments.

Bawa said people were justified in pointing out the risks that could see the redesignation of some institutions. He said the option and possibility for that had already existed for years through the Council on Higher Education.

Bawa said the council had for the past 20 years conducted audits on universities and were empowered to amend or redesignate institutions if it was unhappy with the qualifications offered at any point.

He said the the draft legislation sought to find an organic way to grow the university sector and deal with the worrying levels of participation.

He said as it stood the country was standing at 21% participation of 18- to 24-year-olds in the sector, even though the country should be way beyond that in line with the National Development Plan.

“If we are to meet the requirements of the National Development Plan as a country, it would mean that the sector would have to take in an extra 600,000 students, but as it stands there is no possibility of that.

“We would also need to build more universities, but taking into consideration the state of the economy such an option is not on the cards, so one way to try to fix this is to repurpose other institutions and give them leeway to expand.”

Bawa said through the changes, institutions such as nursing and agricultural colleges would be given the right to offer higher qualifications and also expand their capacity.

He said that the policy would assist in bringing private institutions into the sector as they were currently not allowed to call themselves universities.

Through the changes, the private institutions would be able to come into the sector in a more formal way.

This would lay the foundation for some of the institutions to eventually become universities in the future.

Education activist Hendrick Makaneta said the draft policy would certainly bring reform to higher education.

“We will recall that institutions such as the University of Pretoria started as a university college before it gained traction and became a fully fledged university. Of course, funding remains one of the biggest challenges as we speak, but the government will have to collaborate with relevant private sector organs to facilitate funding for new universities.”

Makaneta said Nzimande should be applauded for bringing about a shift in the higher education sector with a view to improving the quality of teaching and research.

“It is undesirable to exclude the vast majority of our students from poor communities. The issue of access and success remains a challenge, but at the same time we do not want the state to continue producing graduates who will be unemployed because of the skills mismatch in relation to the mainstream economy.”

Pretoria News

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