THE NATIONAL Research Foundation has given a grant to the Centre for Higher Education Research, Teaching and Learning (CHERTL) at Rhodes University for research on the differentiated nature of 23 local public universities and their effects on teaching and learning.
"It can be argued that if higher education is to meet the needs of our country for social transformation and economic growth then a differentiated system is essential," said project director Professor Sioux McKenna.
"Institutional differentiation relates to institutional type (traditional, comprehensive and university of technology) but also includes a focus on institutional history and purpose."
McKenna said teaching and learning were often understood to be neutral activities, where "good practice" was transferable across contexts.
"But there is ample research that indicates that teaching practice emerges from the interplay of academics and students with a complex of structural and cultural mechanisms.
"This project looks at the way in which these practices emerge from the nature of the institution," she said.
The project will comprise seven PhD studies undertaken by individuals working in higher education and supervised by a team of eight academics from across the sector.
The National Research Foundation awarded about R700 000 to CHERTL to undertake this research, which aims to benefit the sector as a whole.
"Because the current unevenness of our sector is largely as a result of apartheid, there is an understandable concern that differentiation always results in inequality" said McKenna.
"This concern can sadly lead to institutional homogenisation. The country needs a differentiated sector that can provide a wide range of programmes across knowledge fields and can attend to the varied interests of the student body.
"To truly achieve this we need to have a far more nuanced picture of what teaching and learning can and should look like across such differentiation, rather than rely on our current generic notions that flatten all distinctions."
Unusually for doctorates in the broad field of humanities and social sciences, the PhD team will undertake a year of course work before commencing with their own research.
McKenna said they would also use a shared theoretical framework, though each would be collecting their own data in response to their particular interest within the broader issue.
"The 2010 report on PhD production, published by the Academy of Science in South Africa, questioned the reliance on the individual apprenticeship model of supervision and called for more innovative approaches," said McKenna.
The collaborative team approach to be used in the institutional differentiation project will build on a previous project funded by the NRF in which eight PhD scholars investigated social inclusion in higher education.
"The lessons we learnt from that project have been central to the ways in which this new project has been conceptualised," said Prof Chrissie Boughey, dean of teaching and learning at Rhodes University and project director of the social inclusion project.
By Staff Reporter
Source: Pretoria NewsSource: Pretoria News
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