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Transforming public universities going back to basics

Date Released: Wed, 22 March 2017 14:15 +0200

"As we close a chapter of exclusion and a chapter of heroic struggle, we reaffirm our determination to build a society of which each of us could be proud, as South Africans, as Africans, and as citizens of the world,"  Nelson Mandela declared as he signed the constitution into law at Sharpville 20 years ago. It was a moment meant to mark the end of exclusion and life of struggle, or was it? Twenty years on, the fight against exclusion is the new struggle.

For many young South Africans who are, or aspire to be, at the country's public universities, the legarcy of exclusion continues to determine their lives and roles in society.  They feel excluded by or on the margins of our public universities.  Either these institutions and the opportunities they bring remain inaccessible financially and otherwise, or the cultures of the universities are experienced as alienating.

The SA Human Rights Commission report on Transformation at Public Universities in SA (2016) and student protests at public universities in 201516 focused the attention on financial affordability of tertiary education and institutional culture. The report and protests indicate that transformation as a priority for higher education has not received adequate attention in the past 20 years.

Universities, as part of the formal education structure, exist to generate and share knowledge and skills in a structured and planned manner so as to benefit humanity The institutions' contributions through investigation and knowledge creation span the width of human existence and beyond. Students as participants in the knowledge creation process are inducted into the ways of academic interrogation while at university They learn that the academic endeavour requires reconsideration of the old, embracing the new and different, and that it requires continuous questioning of assumptions, perspectives and existing knowledge.

University structures departments, faculty boards, senate subcommittees, senate executive.committee, senate and council and its various task teams and groups operate democratically and deliberatively and thus slowly For a student, it may seem as if no transformation discussions have had an effect over the course of their studies. But for someone looking back over 20 years, or even only 10 years, the institution and its offerings may seem very different from what it was before.

But does the difference that one sees looking back over 20 years mean that our institutions are transformed or transforming? And what do we mean by transformation of and at our universities? The 1997 White Paper 3 A Programme for Transformation of Higher Education identifies three transformation focal points for higher education. These are (1) increased and broadened participation to accommodate a diverse student population; (2) responsiveness to societal needs at national and global levels; and (3) partnership in governance between the state, institutions and civil society in order to create enabling educational environments that are culturally sensitive.

While we have seen broadening participation by students from different backgrounds in higher education in the past two decades, we haven't seen increased student success and sufficient responsiveness to societal needs in enabling, culturally sensitive environments. Our constitution does not only establish our state and its institutions, but explicitly seeks to transform our society It envisions deliberate processes to achieve equality in our society and to address the divisions of the past so as to "free the potential of each person". The society we must aspire to establish the ideal society is to be based on "democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights". Our efforts to achieve this ideal society build on previous efforts, correcting mistakes and forging new paths to make ours a more equal society.

Transformation of our institutions requires an acknowledgement of historical inequalities in our society and its lingering impact. Particularly, constitutionally envisioned transformation places human rights at the centre of any transformation discussion or strategy Accordingly, when structures, rules, policies and practices of an institution are revised as part of a transformation discussion, the impact of these on the fundamental rights of students, staff and other stakeholders is crucial in determining how an institution is to regulate its structures and processes in order to contribute to the process of achieving a more equal society Procedurally transformation processes are democratic and participatory, and in the spirit of the academic endeavour, rational, reasoned and evidencebased.

Transformation is not an event; it's an ongoing process of renewal and change to bring about a more equal society in which the fundamental rights of all are respected, protected, promoted and fulfilled. WE close a chapter of exclusion and a chapter of heroic struggle, we reaffirm our determination to build a society of which each of us can be proud, as South Africans, as Africans, and as citizens of the world," Nelson Mandela declared as he signed the new constitution into law at Sharpeville 20 years ago. It was a moment meant to mark the end of exclusion and life of struggle, or was it? Twenty years on, the fight against exclusion is the new struggle. For many young South Africans who are, or aspire to be, at the country's public universities, the legacy of exclusion continues to determine their lives and roles in society They feel excluded by or on the margins of our public universities.

Either these HIGHER EDUCATION HAS NOT RECEIVED ADEQUATE ATTENTION IN THE PAST 20 YEARS Kruger is a constitutional law scholar and dean of the Faculty of Law at Rhodes University. She is a proponent of the constitutional ideal of creating "a better life for all", and utilising the law to direct social change in accordance with the human rights and procedural standards set in the constitution.

Source: https://www.pressreader.com/south-africa/the-sunday-independent/textview

Source:Sunday Independent