Stasis in some areas of higher education, movement in others

21 July 2008

Since 1994 the South African higher education landscape has experienced relative stasis in certain areas, such as the decolonisation and deracialisation of inherited intellectual spaces, but great fluidity in others, such as private education.

This was the gist of Dr Saleem Badat's keynote address, The Trajectory, Dynamics, Determinants and Nature of Institutional Change in Post-1994 South African Higher Education, at the opening of the recent Higher Education Close Up 4 conference. It was hosted by the Centre for Higher Education Deve-lopment.

Nonetheless there had been upturns; for example, the nurturing of a new generation of academics that is increasingly black and female.

Values, goals and policies in higher education have also been recast as have legal structures and policy frameworks.

But economic and social inequalities still limit access to high-quality schools, and institutional cultures at some universities continue to ensure greater access - and success - for students from the "capitalist" and middle classes.

"The inadequacy of funding for financial aid, academic development initiatives and institutional redress, and prevailing institutional cultures, mean that a significant advance in social equity and redress for African and coloured students - and those of working class and rural poor social origins - remains to be achieved."

He said the social composition of academic staff had remained largely white.

"In 2005, black academics constituted only 37% of the total academic staff of 15 315, comprising between 12% and 90% of staff at universities. Women academics comprised 28% to 52% of staff at universities, overall made up 42% of academics and continued to be concentrated at the lower levels of the academic hierarchy."

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