Tag Archives: college

Nzimande’s varsity funding review goes ahead

A review of funding framework for higher education institutions that could lead to more money being allocated to historically disadvantaged universities is going ahead as planned this year.

Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande told parliament during his budget vote on Thursday that a ministerial task team will also study university student housing and assess the need for additional accommodation, the quality of existing facilities and options for the financing of new student housing.

In 2008, the South African government increased funding to universities to R3.6 billion to reverse a funding decline, reward institutions that produce more graduates, improve infrastructure and relieve financial pressure to raise fees – an issue that propels student protest countrywide.

Nzimande said there were discrepancies in the current funding model for universities in that more money is being channeled to the top universities while the historically disadvantaged continued to suffer infrastructure backlogs. “What is of concern to me is how we address the problems of historically disadvantaged universities which I have been told they are still disadvantaged by the way,” he said.

More than R3.2 billion from the department’s budget has been allocated to infrastructure funds to universities for the next two financial years. Nzimande said the funds will help universities to increase production of graduates in the critical areas of engineering, life and physical science, teacher education and health sciences. About R686 million of the funding will be used to improve student housing. About R431 million goes to teaching development grants while R185 million has been set aside for provision of foundation courses.

Source: BuaNews

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Top university tackles transformation in South Africa

The University of Cape Town (UCT), one of South Africa’s top institutions, is undertaking an ambitious programme to balance race relations on campus. The university is accelerating its pace of transformation in the light of a government-commissioned probe into racism in higher education. “The report forced universities to think about these issues and to respond, which is what its real benefit has been,” said Crain Soudien, chair of the committee that oversaw the investigation and head of the transformation programme at UCT.

The investigation, launched in March 2008 following a racist scandal at the University of the Free State, exposed pervasive racial and sexual discrimination at university campuses across the country, and the failure of institutions to confront these challenges.

The subsequent report, based on questionnaires and visits to the country’s 23 universities, provides a range of key recommendations that universities are expected to adopt to varying degrees. They will be expected to talk about what steps they have taken at a conference to be held later this year.

Soudien, a professor of education at UCT, said both black and white racism occur quite predictably at the nation’s higher education institutions, although generally not on the same scale as the Free State incident. “Race relations continue to be a problem,” said Soudien. “The ongoing transition we face is extraordinarily difficult.”

A key finding of the report is that institutions have complied with national legislation and drafted policies to deal with racial integration, but that these have in most cases not been put into practice. “The response to the new legislative platform is largely one of compliance,” said Soudien. “With this report we’re trying to get universities to think about what this platform is truly about.”

The report did draw criticism. The official opposition Democratic Alliance released a statement accusing the committee of providing impractical recommendations by not grasping the funding crunch plaguing universities. But the party did acknowledge that it raised legitimate concerns about racism at various levels in universities.

The report’s recommendations fall into four categories: curriculum, student life, governance and institutional climate.

UCT has, for the moment, chosen to focus on institutional climate, which looks at staff relations. It has so far tackled the issue by circulating two sets of surveys, which polled staff members on whether they feel fairly treated by the university and their colleagues. It also launched the Kahuluma programme, a series of two- and three-day workshops that look at the relationships between staff members.

But, like any programme of this nature, there are challenges to overcome. The surveys are not representative, with low return rates of 30%. Soudien said many people see transformation initiatives as tedious and as an administrative burden.

“I think our challenge as leadership in a university is to help people see what a real opportunity this is to getting down to business,” said Soudien. “With global issues such as climate change and sustainability, this is an important moment in thinking about our responsibility as producers of knowledge around the world.”

One recommendation affecting many universities is the issue of governance. The report revealed that university councils in particular are not providing adequate leadership to their institutions, largely due to limited leadership capacity.

One result of many decades of apartheid is that the number of black people with university experience is considerably less than their white counterparts, which means many of the people serving on the councils are not necessarily qualified.

But for UCT, issues around governance are less of a problem than at other universities. Soudien said historically UCT has had a very active council, with council members deeply involved in policy issues and able to anticipate questions surrounding issues of racial integration.

“We’re leading by example,” said Soudien. “Other universities have started to look at what we’ve done here.”

Other universities have also been making strides. Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University is launching a center for the advancement of non-racialism and democracy, for instance, and the University of the Free State last year appointed its first black Vice Chancellor, Professor Jonathan Jansen.

But UCT believes it is the leader in crafting policies around racism, sexual harassment, and the integration of residences. It has also developed an admissions policy that uses race-based criteria when admitting students. “The policy recognises the need for redressing the difficulties and injustices that arose from the past,” said Soudien.

But the policy is contentious. Opponents have argued that in a post-racial society, with race no longer on the statute books, disadvantage not race should be the qualifying factor.

“The position we’ve taken is that we’re looking at the vestiges of ongoing effects of racism in the lives of young people,” said Soudien. “But we do want to get to a point where race isn’t in the admissions criteria, so that we can recognise other forms of disadvantage in young people.”

It’s not only staff members taking up the issue. UCT’s Student Representative Council has undertaken a campaign to draw attention to and encourage racial integration on campus. The campaign is aimed at getting young people to question whether or not they are racially integrated, and whether their inter-racial interactions are on a meaningful or a superficial level.

“We decided this year that we wanted to look beyond UCT and speak to broader societal issues,” said Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh, SRC president and a third year politics, philosophy and economics major. “We felt young South Africans weren’t thinking about racial integration so it was the first issue we wanted to address.”

The campaign will have an aggressive run in the first two weeks of the academic year, which is just starting, and is centered on specific projects, using UCT media to promote the cause. Students will arrive in February to posters strewn across campus and to artistic constructions relating to racial integration erected in Jameson Plaza, the main social meeting ground for students and hub of campus life. The SRC will also organise screenings pertinent to the issue of race and arrange for diversity workshops for students.

“This campaign is absolutely necessary,” said Mpofu-Walsh, who calls himself black and white, being the product of mixed race parents. “We saw what could happen with the Free State incident, and we didn’t want that to happen at UCT.”

South African tertiary institutions face a particularly tough challenge in recreating their identity in a post-racial sphere. There are very few universities worldwide that have come out of an unequal and divided past, leaving institutions here without a model to serve as a guide.

But for Soudien, thinking of transformation issues presents educators with a valuable opportunity. “We have the chance to imagine this university in a new space and time,” he said. “It’s exciting and so stimulating. It’s a privilege to be a part of the process.”

Source: universityworldnews.com, mediaclubsouthafrica.co.za, pacific.edu, academic.sun.ac.za, monash.ac.za

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South Africa International students – big numbers, small income

South Africa is the eighth most popular destination for international students in the world, with 2.2% of the global share, and it is the only country in Africa that receives far more students than it sends abroad. But fees from international students are not a major income stream for universities – most come from other Southern African Development Community countries and receive the same state subsidies and pay similar fees as home students.

According to the Council on Higher Education (CHE), 6,638 South Africans studied abroad in 2006 and the country hosted 53,738 international students. In 2007 the government counted some 60,000 international students at South Africa’s 23 public universities, nearly 8% of a total student population of 746,000.

The end of apartheid in 1994 marked the beginning of an international student boom. Not surprisingly – given geographic proximity, historical connections, use of English and South Africa’s relatively strong, accessible and affordable higher education system – most of the students who came pouring in were from other African, and especially Southern African, countries.
Around 85% of international students are from elsewhere in Africa, including in 2007 some 71% (more than 43,000) from other Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries, especially those where English is the second language.

Zimbabwe is the major ‘source’ country, with about a quarter of all international students – especially since political and economic crises hit that neighboring state. The next biggest sending countries are Namibia, with more than 10,000 students in South Africa in 2007, and Botswana (nearly 5,000).

According to the Unesco Institute for Statistics (UIS) Global Education Digest 2009, there were more than 2.8 million students enrolled in higher education institutions outside their country of origin in 2007. The top six destination countries – the US, UK, France, Australia, Germany and Japan – account for 62% of all international students followed by Canada, South Africa (2.2% of the global market), Russia and Italy.
UIS pointed to two new trends in flows of students from 1999 to 2007: “First, mobile students are more likely to stay within their regions of origin. Second, mobile students now have a wider choice in destinations.”

The result has been a shift in international student patterns. “Some countries which have historically been popular destinations saw their shares of mobile students grow even higher: Australia, Canada, France, Italy, Japan, New Zealand and South Africa.”
Sub-Saharan Africa sends 5.8% of its students abroad – about three times more than the global average – and 7.8% of all mobile students (218,000) are from Sub-Saharan Africa, according to UIS report, which states that “South Africa is a notable exception as a major destination for mobile students, especially those from the Sub-Saharan African region”. In 2007, one out of five mobile African students were in South Africa.

Growing international student numbers has been an explicit policy of the South African government. The National Plan for Higher Education targeted increased recruitment of students from SADC, particularly postgraduates.

“Increasing these numbers is considered beneficial for the development of the region as well as for enriching the experience of South African students,” said the CHE in a 2009 report Higher Education Monitor – The state of higher education in South Africa.

South Africa sees attracting students from the rest of Africa as a way of contributing to the continent’s human resource development and helping to stem a crippling brain drain from the continent (even if many students stay on in this country).

“International students are counted for enrolment and graduation subsidies in the same manner that South African students are and postgraduates from the SADC region have access to some categories of National Research Foundation funding,” the report said.
International students may be charged higher tuition fees than home students, but still the level of fees is comparatively low – around R15,400 (US$2,000) a year for home students in 2007. The sector’s income from international students is not substantial, though individual institutions with high proportions of foreign students do benefit financially.

A pressing question for South African universities is whether they will continue to be able to attract international students.

The country does not market itself well as a destination, although some universities conduct vigorous campaigns. International students often encounter difficulties in obtaining visas, and a rise of xenophobia on campuses in recent years is bound to be a deterrent to students from other African countries.

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Developed nations should invest in African universities

Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor has urged developed nations to invest in rebuilding African universities.

Pandor, who was speaking at the Africa University Day Symposium, said strengthening higher education through active collaboration was an important strategy for enhancing human development and attaining regional integration in Africa.

“Developed nations must invest in rebuilding African universities, and provide funding for scientists to pursue postgraduate and postdoctoral work in Africa.

“In today’s globalised and interconnected world, we encourage brain circulation through cultural and material incentives. We need to support Africa to become an attractive location to pursue high quality research,” she said.

 

Four in ten African scientists live and work in Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, according to the Network of African Science Academies (NASAC), and this has crippled research development in Africa.

According to Pandor, there was also a sharp renewal in enrolment in sub-Saharan African countries.

“Enrolments in sub-Saharan African universities tripled between 1991 and 2005, expanding at an annual rate of 8.7 percent, which is one of the highest regional growth rates in the world.

“We also see a renewal in the growing number of African students looking for higher education elsewhere in Africa and abroad.

“Studies show that the international mobility of students has increased significantly over the past 10 to 15 years,” she said.

The former Education Minister said not all universities can be research intensive, adding that if such institutions were to be built, the continent should look towards new and innovative partnerships to support their vision.

Maybe Africa should start looking for funding from within the continent and stop asking for handouts from developed nations?
Maybe if developed nations see Africa trying to fend for themselves, then they will look to invest in the continent?

Source: BuaNews

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University students can’t read

The recent publication in South Africa of the results of pilots of the new National Benchmark Tests – tests which measure the performance of school-leavers in three key areas and aim to predict whether or not they will have difficulty as they enter university – has brought a flurry of outrage from academics and politicians. They are reported as claiming that standards are dropping and students can’t read or write. While this sort of knee-jerk reaction to tests conducted at a national level is largely predictable, especially in a country where the school system still experiences huge problems, it is also questionable given research produced in the field of academic development – an area which has long concerned itself with the issue of student ‘under-preparedness’ at universities.

Entrance to South Africa’s 23 public universities has long been problematic because of the history of apartheid. Before the shift to democracy, the education system was segregated along racial lines. This not only meant that black students were allowed entrance only to certain universities but also that the demographic profile of the student population was far from representative of the general population.

Following the 1994 democratic election, the challenge has been to provide access to higher education to the black majority. Since this has had to be done in the context of a school system which continues to serve different sectors of the population in unequal ways, universities have not only needed to identify those students with the potential to succeed but also to identify those who can succeed if some additional support is provided.

Current thinking in academic development argues that it’s not just the ‘plain old reading and writing’ much lauded by ‘back to basics’ advocates that universities require but rather much more specific kinds of literacy. Universities require students to make inferences and draw conclusions from what they read, and to use reading of other texts and their knowledge of the world to question what they are reading. This kind of reading is very different to the sort of reading involved in, say, following a set of instructions, finding a plumber in the Yellow Pages or doing the types of comprehension passage taught at school level.

It’s not simply that reading at university is more difficult than other sorts of reading but rather that it involves the reader taking up a different position in relationship to what she reads – a position which is ultimately derived from values and attitudes related to what can count as knowledge and how that knowledge can be known. This makes reading in university disciplines and fields qualitatively different to many other kinds of reading. So, there’s reading and there’s reading.

What the National Benchmark Tests show is not that the South African school-leavers who took the tests can’t read and write per se, but rather that many can’t read and write in ways specific to the university.

Only about 16% of South African 18 to 24 year olds are at universities and the pilots tested only a small sample of this 16%. The new tests tell us nothing about how the other 84% of young people can read and write yet strident pronouncements about ‘falling standards’ and the need to go ‘back to basics’ are made on the basis of them.

As for teaching the students who can’t yet read and write in the specific ways required by universities, that’s a responsibility which has long fallen to those of us working in academic development programmes. We have come to realise, this isn’t as easy or as obvious a task as it might appear.

I have a PhD in applied linguistics and years of experience working in language development yet I can’t teach students to understand a natural scientific article or write a lab report as I can’t do either of those things myself.

What I can do is teach my own students to read and write in ways my own field of study expects. As I teach my students to make knowledge in the field, so I teach them to read and write in ways demanded by the field. This means that I teach my students how to read and write right up to doctoral level, as demands at postgraduate level are very different to those of an undergraduate assignment.

What I can also do is what the research of Cecilia Jacobs of Cape Peninsula University of Technology has shown that people like me can do – I can help academics in other disciplines understand the ways of reading and writing which underpin knowledge production in their own fields of study in order to open them up to their own students.

Sadly, the lure of an easy solution is hard to resist. So pundits make claims about falling standards, call for outcomes-based education to be abandoned in favour of a return to more traditional approaches, and demand that people like me ‘fix’ the students. Yet, contemporary theories of language question the assumptions about language on which these traditional models are based.

In South African higher education, moreover, a wealth of research shows that attempts to develop language and literacy in special classes outside mainstream learning have not had the effect anticipated. Despite this research, commonsense and unexamined experience rule – even though, as many thinkers have argued, commonsense and unexamined experience can be very dangerous things.

Rather than knee-jerk reactions to the results of the National Benchmark Tests, we owe it to the learners of South Africa to think much more carefully and ask more probing questions before we pronounce on what should be done in the name of language and literacy development. We also need to explore the theoretical and ideological basis of the pronouncements we make.

If we don’t do this, the young people who will learn to read and write in powerful ways are those who pick up those ways of reading and writing outside the formal learning environment – young people who are already privileged because of the educational and social background of their parents and what that exposes them to – while commonsense is left to disserve the masses.

Source: universityworldnews.com, britannica.com, international.uiowa.edu, en.wikipedia.org,

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