Academics must draw together
Date Released: Fri, 6 September 2013 10:58 +0200
A consortium of tertiary associations is needed if the humanities are to be strengthened.
An in-depth investigation into the state of professional associations in the humanities and the social sciences in South Africa has resulted in several carefully considered interventions aimed at strengthening them.
The investigation is the latest in a series of developments that have followed Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande’s launch in 2010 of the ministerial special project on the future of the humanities and social sciences.
The minister commissioned a task team, under the leadership of social scientist Professor Ari Sitas, to explore ways in which the humanities and the social sciences in the tertiary education sector could be strengthened to ensure that they take their rightful place in facilitating the development of our society during this time of transition.
The task team’s subsequent report, the Charter for the Humanities and Social Sciences, was released on June 30 2011. The charter made a number of recommendations with the aim that, “by 2030 the humanities and the social sciences in our [the South African] tertiary system will be an epicentre of scholarship, pedagogy, community practice and social responsibility in Africa”.
Strong and vigorous professional associations play an important role in ensuring that the humanities and social science disciplines could achieve this goal and therefore need to be fostered. One of the “catalytic projects” envisaged by the charter therefore focused on strengthening professional associations in the humanities and the social sciences. (See “Networks for scholarly excellence”, Getting Ahead, June 7.)
The main recommendation based on the investigation is the establishment of a consortium of humanities and social science associations, an umbrella body to assist and enable existing and new professional associations to deal with issues of mutual concern highlighted in the report, as well as other areas of concern that might begin to emerge in discussions and investigations.
The establishment of this consortium would have a significant impact on the continued growth and sustainability of existing associations and the rejuvenation of those with weakened structures.
It would be in a position to create opportunities for collective consultation between the associations, the department of higher education and training, the National Research Foundation, the South African Humanities Deans’ Association, university management structures and other stakeholders, all of which are important role-players in advancing the intellectual project.
The consortium should be established under the auspices of the academy or institute for the human and social sciences envisaged by the charter. Doing so would require the provision of the necessary infrastructure where professional associations could register.
The consortium should entail the following:
› It must host an annual general meeting, to which delegates from all professional associations in the humanities and the social sciences are invited. This would provide a platform to discuss issues related to the operations and activities of their associations and unite associations that are currently fractured because of South Africa’s apartheid history;
› Individuals who have played long-standing roles in professional associations in the past should be involved because this is an important opportunity for skills transfer, skills development and mentorship for future association leaders;
› A similar meeting of the editors of journals should be hosted during this time. This should perhaps be expanded to include all South African academic journals in the humanities and the social sciences to provide a platform for young scholars to publish with the help of mentors as a way to transfer skills
› A database should be maintained, accessible online, with information about each association;
› A social-network group should be created, where individuals in the humanities and the social sciences can interact in a virtual space; and
› Through this body universities should be requested to encourage all academic staff to belong to their respective professional associations to facilitate the growth of their academic fields.
In addition, it could also:
› Serve an entrepreneurial purpose by raising funds; and
› Act as an advocacy group on behalf of professional associations on issues such as requesting universities and funding bodies to provide more recognition to participation in professional associations.
The two main objectives of the consortium should be the provision of infrastructural support and the allocation of grants. Infrastructural support includes the availability of a centrally located office. The main function of this office would be to provide administrative assistance and support to professional associations.
It is clear that in large part the challenges that professional associations face are related to both financial and time constraints. We recommend that a process is implemented through which professional associations can apply for grants from the consortium to support their operations and activities and that an amount is made available annually.
Success in implementing these recommendations will only be achieved if there is significant buy-in and commitment from the majority of the professional associations’ executive committees and its members.
There are two issues that need to be considered. First, although the assistance made available to professional associations should be accompanied by strict guidelines, it should not be prescriptive with regard to the running of the association or the focus of its members' work.
A careful balance should be struck between strengthening professional associations while allowing them to retain their independence and autonomy.
Second, the implementation of the consortium and the provision of grants should be conducted on a minimalist basis so that resources are not channelled into the setting up of a bureaucracy that detracts from the support that could be provided to professional associations.
These recommendations should be debated. This will happen at a workshop to be held shortly that will also include the Academy of Science of South Africa, the department of science and technology, and university deans of humanities and social sciences.
Caption: In 2010, Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande appointed a task team to explore ways to strengthen the humanities and social sciences at universities.
Photo by: Madelene Cronjé
By: Tina Uys, Anton Senekal, Mariam Seedat Khan & Anthony Kaziboni
Tina Uys, Anton Senekal, Mariam Seedat Khan and Anthony and Kaziboni are members of the
University of Johannesburg’s sociology department.
Article Source: Mail & Guardian