By Zindzi Nkunzi
A recent book award lecture was held in honour of former Deputy-Vice Chancellor Professor Chrissie Boughey and the Director of Postgraduate Studies, Professor Sioux McKenna, for their collaborative book, “Understanding Higher Education: Alternative Perspectives”.
The Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sizwe Mabizela, attended the event, as well as the Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Academic and Student Affairs, Professor ‘Mabokang Monnapula-Mapesela; Registrar, Professor Adele Moodly; the Deans, Heads of Departments, lecturers, students, members of senate, family, and friends of Professors Boughey and McKenna.
Before introducing the two Professors, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Research, Innovation, and Strategic Partnerships, Dr Nomakwezi Mzilikazi extended a warm welcome to all attendees with a special welcome to the two professors' family and friends, collaborators and colleagues.
“This evening, we have the presentation of the book award lecture that follows the university recognising the recent published work of current members or Rhodes University-affiliated authors, which advances knowledge and understanding and brings undoubted credit to the university by virtue of the contribution that the book makes to scholarly literature or the discipline within which it is authored.”
Published in 2021, the book draws on the South African context, looking at the shifts in higher education worldwide in the last two decades. The book responds to the calls for institutional transformation by arguing for a social account of teaching and learning that contests dominant understandings of students as ‘decontextualised learners’ premised on the idea that university is a meritocracy. Additionally, it argues for alternative ways of seeing higher education that can inform practising policy in South Africa and beyond.
In the journey to find alternative ways to understand higher education, Professor Boughey stated, “We should be in the forefront of ideas about a new higher education system.”
Professor Boughey spoke on the four purposes stipulated by White, 1997. “Over time, the purpose to contribute to the development of a skilled workforce has become dominant to the extent that the other purposes are now mostly overlooked,” she said.
“We find the idea that universities exist to produce these workers for the global economy problematic, and we were concerned about the dominance of one purpose over others.”
Internationally recognised for her research on the aims and purposes of higher education, Professor McKenna shared that “over the years, the efficiency agenda meant that the importance of the academic development shifted from making students fit in to making students complete in regulation time”.
“We are all part of the system and continue to be, but with the engagement of critical pedagogy literature, we started to come to this understanding that universities are deeply political, the university system serves to reproduce social inequalities in many devasting ways,” Professor McKenna said.
The book has been critically acclaimed and commended by several role players for this monumental research, describing the book as very insightful, informative, and an excellent analysis and critique of higher education.