Programme empowers academics for change

15 November 2004

New links: John Page, the World Bank's chief economist.

Now in its fourth year, CHED's Higher Education Studies (HES) programme has seen almost 50 students address professional educational practices at a university level.

Besides drawing academic members of staff from across UCT's faculties, this year the programme attracted a growing number of academic staff from other higher education providers in the region.

Programme coordinator Dr Suellen Shay pointed out that while the courses are geared to improve participants' teaching practice, one of the programme's primary motivations is to enable participants to become key resources of expertise in their departments and faculties.

"The graduates are able to engage in fundamental educational issues in an informed and critical way and this allows them to become key agents of change in their environments," she said.

And if the following panegyrical comments are anything to go by, this is exactly what has been achieved.

Dr George Draper from the department of obstetrics and gynaecology says the HES programme has played a crucial role in both his academic and personal life.

"I believe being involved contributed to me being asked to convene the third and final phase of the new MBChB curriculum. The programme gave me not only the necessary insight and knowledge, but also the confidence to tackle what has been a rather daunting task."

Draper said the material presented in the course often put into words what one felt intuitively but couldn't articulate.

"Out of this course has come the ability to verbalise and discuss, together with the confidence to do so. And that is liberating and empowering."

For human biology senior lecturer Dr Charles Slater his newly-acquired skills have been put to good use at both a departmental and faculty level.

"Having shown an interest in educational matters by doing the CHED course and engaging with problems within one's sphere of teaching, I have made contact with others in new ways. Opinions are asked and one is requested to contribute to decision making."

Slater added that he now better understands the reasons behind change in education, both from a student and staff perspective.

"It is easy to be critical of change, but when it is seen within a global context it is encouraging to see people rise to the challenge with as much enthusiasm and skill, just as other universities with greater resources than UCT have."

After only 20 months on the job, Francis Carter, a senior lecturer from the School of Architecture, Planning and Geomatics, said he embarked on the HES programme to get a grip on what was going on in the higher education terrain.

"Doing the CHED course turned out to be a very good orientation programme, and is one of the things I've enjoyed the most about being at UCT," he noted. "With a better understanding of how our curriculum works and an increased sensitivity to learning difficulties, I am now more confident about making arguments to change the undergraduate programme, ranging from course development to staffing, to assessment and access issues."

Shay argues that ideally every department should have at least one academic staff member who has attended the programme's courses.

"This would be tremendously empowering to departments and programmes faced with so much change," she concluded.

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