Changes in store for university courses 11

New Minister of Higher Education and Training, Dr Blade Nzimande, has signalled his intention to look into university curricula in an effort to make them more relevant to South Africa.

“Curriculum is a deep, deep challenge – it is one of the most immediate things that we’ve got to tackle,” Nzimande said this week.

“While it relates to the international, global world, it is also a curriculum that is rooted in our own reality in terms of culture and developmental priorities.

“I am worried in terms of our own institutions that we are training students as if they are going to be working in New York. We need to train students to tackle some of the problems that are actually facing us, here in South Africa,” the Minister added.

Under previous Education Minister, Naledi Pandor there was some recognition that university courses were not relevant i.e. not providing graduates with the skills that the business world wanted. Nzimande’s call is somewhat difference as he is challenging the ideological standing of the curriculum itself.

Pandor and Nzimande have both worked as university lecturers in the past so know from the inside how our public universities work. I believe the difference is that Pandor accepted the status quo. She always came across as speaking on behalf of universities, an insider. Nzimande looks like he’s going to be the opposite – an outsider wishing to change the system. Not surprising really from a committed activist and SA Communist Party leader.

The new Minister’s challenge is to achieve his goals with institutions who aren’t directly reporting to him. SA universities are independent and regulated by statute. The education department can only influence the universities through the funding they provide.

Minister Nzimande can’t instruct universities to make changes. He will have to work through the university senates and councils and it seems likely that there will be resistance there.

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11 thoughts on “Changes in store for university courses

  • Ashwell Glasson

    I think the key here is to balance key inputs into the process of evaluating university curriculum and education programmes. We must ensure that the HESA, CHE, HEQC, the universities themselves plus the student community as well as the research and innovation centres and finally the business and home communities engage the process robustly. Curriculum reform and evaluation is inherently challenging for any university. That being the first step in a fairly lengthy process which will include curriculum modifications and changes based upon key inputs from acknowledged experts, scholar-practitioners and of course a variety of other stakeholders.

    We must be careful of just assuming that his approach will be a stalinist engagement with the system. rationalisation of the higer education system has been needed for quite sometime anyway. The recently completed merger and rationalisation process has been onerous for many, but has certainly added value in different ways to the universities. My personal concern is that we have already begun the curriculum update and registration process as required by the Act and SAQA for provider-based qualifications.

    So the timing of a fairly seminal curriculum evaluation process could derail the stability of the existing recent curricula changes which puts immense pressure on the academic staff who are already carrying remarkably high loads of work. Allot must be taken into account in this process and I personally feel that it should be a mandated project from the new DHET to the CHE and HEQC, not managed from the department itself. There I must add rather critically that they lack capacity and it would certainly create tensions with all the overlapping mandates that are involved. The HEQC is the Quality Council for Higher education domain and already has the scope of quality assurance of education and learning programmes and should use that mandate to look at curricula structure and content models. Also drawing in another prevaling perspective where my primary concern really lies, is the reality that the evaluation must be conducted whilst rooted in what the community needs, the historical curricula profile and identity, the philosphical influences, undeniably important the world of work, the evolving nature of the South African socio-cultural identity, global challenges and the robustness and resource base of the higher education institutions.

    A interesting dilema lies within the private higher education domain and how they fit into the broader higher education landscape as well as the ability to build a fairly strong evidence-based case for a mixed partnership approach to higher education and training.

    Considering the state lack of resources true public-private-education partnerships are needed to gear up our ability to resist the depredations of the global economic issues. The new DHET should consider following Andre Kraaks proposed model of ‘joined-up’ policy and foster strong ties with the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), the Department of Public Works (DPW), the Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETA’s), the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and the Science Councils. True integration of programmes or projects of action are too interdependent and cannot function in isolation.

  • Pat Pillay

    I think that Blade`s thoughts are excellent, at least we are moving in the right direction. Why teach or train students and after graduation, they have left the country, seeking greener pastures.However, I still think that there is still a disconnect between universities and South African industries – there needs to be a greater effort on alignment of curricula, so that when students do graduate they will be able to adapt to South African industries much easier.Let`s face it. South African industries are indeeed unique and as such the curricula need to be adapted or tailored to these industries.There is far too heavy focus on knowledge acquisition (theory) – there needs to be more focus on skills acquisition (practical).The onus lies on the University fat-cats to start delivering on the practical challenges that face our countries – this involves change, negotiations and a deep committment to add-value to our economy and our people.

  • Sylvia F. Hammond

    Producing students that have a clear understanding of the developmental challenges that face us – and see these as priorities – is eminently more appropriate that educating students as if they will operate exclusively in a first world situation. That does not imply that the quality of the education is any less than that acquired at a developed world institution. It is the underlying assumption that somehow everything that happens in the developed world is inherently superior to anything that happens in Africa or other developing countries – that is what needs to be challenged. What we need are students who will gain an understanding of our developmental challenges, and are able to apply lessons from international experience – from both the developed and developing world – and who value the opportunity to make an impact on these challenges as a worthy career choice. Our positions within the global competitiveness ranking for areas such as financial institutions, infrastructure, & technological development are far higher than the “bottom of the pile” ranking for human resource development – that derives not from the governments of the last 15 years, but rather from our heritage of apartheid education.

  • Brian Moores-Pitt

    I lecture at one such university and I am sure many students would be delighted with the Minister’s suggestion – particularly those in the political and social science faculties. Not sure about the management sciences though. An enhanced global perspective is likely to be more useful – particularly for those who are at university with the prime purpose of learning to generate a sustainable income through the private sector. Those wishing to enter the very lucrative SA public sector, as the Minister has done, might well be in need of another kind of socio-political injection. So in some ways, the Minister is right. But it has to be tailored and contextualised. Freedom of choice needs to be paramount.

  • Bronwyn Ann Hadfield

    Training and Education leaders in South Africa need to take the international community into account, South Africa does not run in isolation so why should learning change. I am not in disagreement with curricula becoming more related to our country but we need to have a broad view, narrow minded thinking is not what we need if we want our youth to be competitive in the international market. Universities aim to equip students with the ability to think out of the box and apply concepts, perhaps we should look at the opportunities available to South African graduates before changing curricula.

  • John Hill

    To my mind the most important aspect of university life in this century is for students is the learn how to learn. The best way for students to achieve this is through Action Learning and Research and Cognitive Apprenticeships. Each student should be required to keep a Personal Development Plan which should be checked by a university mentor. In this way students would really benefit as learning is a continuous precess and doesn’t stop once one graduates.
    I feel that our students should be encouraged to think globally for obvious reasons.

  • Klaas Riemann

    Learning outcomes in basic degrees have to be clearly defined, eg whether sort of free-lateral-thinking a la german system, or sort of parrot knowledge a la american system, also reflected in the books made available for study and later reference. African content must be included in a way which will instil pride in being South African, probably at the expense of adoration for first world achievements. Tough things to do for conservative institutions.

  • Marina le Grange

    The HEQC takes the responsibility to ensure that Curricula are designed in a scientific way. If the correct process if followed, including the necessary consultation with advisory committees and all relevant players the end product should be excellent. It is important that Higher Education who operates under the CHE are not prescribed on what should be in or out Curricula.

  • Rahman Murtuza

    I think that the Minister should be given the chance to express his views and already it is a change from the past regime since he is asking for public opinion on the matter. Our students needs to think globally and integrate their ideas and expertise within the local infrastrcture. There should be more focus on what is needed in order to increase oir output and become more competitive internationally. People enrol at Universities and pay exorbitant fees in order to enjoy a perfect career with a good remuneration. Hence we need to ensure that once they have completed their studies in the right field, jobs are available for them which will stop the flow of overseas recruit. Thanks

  • Mabule Matlala

    My perswonal view is that we need an integrated knowledge for ability to provide international and integrated service. We need a university student that know where they come from and who they are in order to relate with others that are different. The university professors should also be versatale about what goes on in real life. They must themselves integrate their teaching or training in order to bring out useful candidates. What we see as non performance is what the student learned from college where every professor sticks to their “school of thought” and spend time undermining each other about your views and qualifications but never set up a platform to integrate their different views to the benefit of all.