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Changes in store for university courses

By alanhammond, 21 May, 2009

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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