Only in South Africa


“Only in South Africa” says Professor Michael Burawoy, congratulating the Minister of Higher Education and Training on an extremely brave initiative. To bring together the stakeholders of “the academy”: management and academics, students, unions, and support staff – anywhere else other than South Africa he says, would be a recipe for trouble.

From the university of California, Professor Burawoy is also Vice President of the International Sociological Association, and delegates to the HE Stakeholder Summit were given his sociological review of the event. He says he from these two days he has concluded that: “Transformation is not for sissies”.

He emphasized that SA has an amazing Higher Education system, there is nothing like it in the rest of Africa, he says. Diverse, and differentiated, and for all the problems we face, really the jewel of Africa.

Transformation is one of the challenges of universities internationally, they are being destroyed and reconstructured. Why? Because the university has changed its character, it was previously both inside and outside, both within society and an observer. That is no longer the case – universities are now deeply embedded within society.

He has characterised universities of today into Four models :-

First is the commercial model. The university of California has been in deep crisis, and in responding to cuts in funding has resorted to enormous restructuring, laying off non-academic staff and increasing student fees by 30%. In addition, there has been a lowering of faculty salaries. This as a product of the “corporatisation” of the university, a trend which began in the 1980s, but also changes in patents legislation, which universities cashed in on. This produced a collaborative relationship between private industry and the university for scientific research. Seeing this trend, the State stopped funding, thereby increasing dependent relations with industry.

The second model he calls the regularatory, Soviet model – a Thatcherite project he says – the state regulating, resulting in academics monitoring themselves on behalf ot he state. They’ve introduced measurements and indices, and spend 25% of their time figuring out how to increase their publications. The irony he point out is in the arch conservative Thatcher bringing in Soviet type state planning.

The third model, contains Brazil, India, and China, who are still committed to public education. Brazil is the only place where academics can still live on your salary, in other countries academics live on consultancy fees and their teaching suffers. China is also investing very heavily in universities. He could put SA is in this model. However, he suggests there may be a new original fourth model.

The fourth one – may in fact be the South African model – a bringing together of the stakeholders. He repeats the Minister’s words, “I want you people to empower yourselves, I want strong representation from universities”, and this Professor Burawoy points out is an example of deliberative democracy. This is an amazing event: deliberations, debate and even “struggle” with the state. He recalls that it was particularly SA sociologists that during the struggle argued that if you have representative strong trade unions, you can control conflict. That the state should recognise them to engage with them – a healthy constructive view.

He concludes that this has been an exercise in mutual education – we have learnt from the perspectives of other stakeholders within our own institutions. I congratulate the “comrade” Minister for this example of “EPG” – empowered participatory government – this is a developmental and transformative project that defines South Africa – worthy of its own categorisation.

Prepared by sylvia hammond

For the skills portal and skills-universe

23 April 2010

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