Still rummaging for Higher Education’s transformation map

The tension is rising and the confusion growing as the transformation agenda dithers, thus creating more tempestuous waves in South African higher education. One became even more nonplussed when the Higher Education National Convention failed at Eskom Learning Academy in Midrand as the event culminated in fisticuffs with chairs jettisoned and weapons in the air between rival student groups.

Yet some of us are still flummoxed as to how we arrived at where we are. We continue to be managed by change and as society we need to continue thinking more about changing leadership in our institutions. However, the truth in the current me-lee of ideas is that we lose a sense of the urgency of change.

Even the most ardent self-proclaimed change leaders tend to stall the process, one would like to think, unconsciously. Our universities continue to struggle achieving transformation because many might have started to see change management as congruent to crisis management. This can be pardoned when one realises that there are many who started to think seriously about transformation after the #MustFallMovements that began two years ago.

These movements have created so much tension in society that we started believing that change was a response to the conflicts that continue to resurface.

There are so many positives about the #MustFallMovements because there have been several initiatives of turning the crises into what works.

Out of the pandemonium in higher education institutions we should be impressed by the committed interest where many have begun to realise the importance of higher education; they have realised it is too important to leave it in the hands of academics only. In search of decolonisation, the communities and several other role players have all come together to try and fix some of education’s challenges.

Yet it seems we keep on hitting against a brick wall because of the multiplicity of change as well as ignorance about the many paths that are in front of us and most of the time we choose certain directions without certainty about the bigger picture we want at our destination. Yet all of us have seen the sense of required speed in the search to transform our campuses thus building more relevant, responsive campuses.

President Mbeki articulated well on the need to create relevant campuses that respond to the African conditions when he was inaugurated as Chancellor of the University of South Africa. He continued to emphasise the African agenda and how universities should work with various interested parties such as the communities.

But it was the question posed by a colleague that really made me to go back and think deeply about what the former president shared on the day. Professor Ndlovu-Gatsheni’s question of whether we are ready as institutions to respond positively to his Excellency’s clarion call for decolonised campuses as we search for relevant African education is legitimate. My colleague’s question also made me think of the implications for the long overdue need to transform South African higher education.

Many a time transformation will be stalled because of a number of the wrong tools we use to tinker our system. Some experts like Jeffrey Buller have for example argued that strategy drawing model does not really work in higher education; higher education Buller argues is not like corporate sector organisations whose goals are clearer - profits.

Higher education is more complex than this especially given the current South African milieu. The focus can be blurred by competing goals; decolonisation, free education, insourcing, staff equity, student equity or changed institutional cultures.

In the debates we argue for the recognition of African philosophies in the curricula and as we continue to debate people such as Kwasi Wiredu will be petrified because of the conspicuous absence of African languages in discussing the African philosophies. Wiredu has argued that it will be arduous discussing African philosophies in exoglossic languages.

Wiredu also claimed that the paradox of deliberating these philosophies in non-African languages means that we will continue to concoct dogma-ta limited by the confines or interpretations of foreign languages only. There is less realisation that the more we delay the urgency of African languages the further the goal of attaining Africanised systems of education.

The foreign languages probably unintentionally make the role-players to comply with the current systems unconsciously.

Language frequently directs people to certain paths; the constraints and openness of language give credence as to what can be legitimised by systems.

Compliance is usually inimical to transformation and the call for transformation will be difficult to attain without the daring attitude to disrupt certain systems as the new is introduced. One is bound to agree that it is frequently necessary to employ appreciative inquiry as change leaders begin with the working within the old. Change leaders cannot be apologetic when change appears to move away from the normative practices.

There are still several aspects of pedagogy that academia still needs to reconsider.

The University of South Africa’s Chancellor referred to this as he advocated for change in delivery of learning. The revamp of the curriculum means that teaching staff needs to be well prepared for the changes.

The big question is how ready the institutions to introduce these changes are. Without the implementers of change, all change efforts will come to naught. Resistance is the last thing our institutions need as we try to transforma pedagogy, among others. It is however, usually a huge mistake to forget the non-teaching staff and support staff because they have a huge role in any transformation agenda at higher education institutions.

Last year, in various institutions of higher learning in South Africa, it became evident that the university is such a huge organisation that needs to listen to the various voices that become part of the transforming university.

Yet it should be a concern that at a time when transformation is so urgent there are people who still trivialise the transformation deliberations to inconsequential debates; for example when the arguments are stalled by definition of terms.

The latter will stall transformation thus prolong the struggle for relevant institutions.

A hungry man given fresh bread will eat it and be content whether you define the bread as brick or donga. Many meetings stall as people do not want to genuflect to certain delineations. What is decolonisation? What is Africanisation?

These are all very critical questions, but transformation cannot be prevaricated by unending trivialities.

The role-players should move forward with urgency otherwise we will continue stalling and resisting transformation with the most erudite nomenclature.

We should be wary of delaying the transformation agenda. We cannot afford to lose three more generations; the agenda items have become more pressing.

Source:  The Sunday Independent

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