Report on teaching and learning at UCT

13 October 2018 | Vice-Chancellor Prof Mamokgethi Phakeng

Report to Council (October 2018) and Senate (November 2018) on Teaching and Learning at UCT

Executive Summary by the Vice Chancellor

The social protests that continued on our campus during 2017 impacted significantly on teaching and learning at UCT, having the dual effect of offering new and different understandings, but also hindering student performance.

What is important going forward is that we harness those lessons to help us develop a clear sense of the direction in which we are moving in respect of this core function. So while this report will be somewhat transitional in nature, I hope that forthcoming reports will rather generate a university-wide conversation about the understandings and practices of our teaching and learning, and how these respond to our efforts to re-centre the academic project.

Meanwhile, a variety of processes to review our institutional practices and the undergraduate curriculum are still under way in the wake of the impact of that student mobilisation, with many of these reviews constituting important progress in a transformative trajectory.

The downside is that we also saw a drop in student performance, the normalisation of deferred examinations, and a loss in enrolment numbers – and consequently funding. Adding to the overall concern about the quality of teaching and learning at UCT was the 2016 government cap on student fees. This prompted us to start an austerity budget, which both increased the staff–student ratio, and impacted negatively on general staff morale.

This report paints a complex picture of teaching and learning that highlights the positive developments and the negative effects of the protests, but also the longer-term trends, which include our hope for a series of conversations that will help us prioritise areas for action.

The report comprises six sections. They are:

  • Assessing performance: A profile and distribution of students and academic staff, as well as teaching and learning outcomes in respect of graduations, success rates, and retention.
  • Teaching and Learning Development: A focus on assessment practices, taking in the issue of deferred exams, along with a breakdown of UCT’s use of online learning during the protests, and how this method can utilised in the future.
  • Staff Development: The report showcases and reflects on the needs of academics in respect of teaching and learning, examining the available options and services.
  • Curriculum Change: An update on the work of the Curriculum Change Working Group (CCWG), and a look at actual experiences of curriculum changes already implemented in faculties.
  • Governance: This section maps out the organisation of teaching and learning at faculty level, as well as the central-level committee system that underpins it.
  • Funding: This final section focuses on the government-earmarked funding for teaching and learning.

Taking into account Goal 4 of UCT’s Strategic Planning Framework 2016–2020, we have a difficult task ahead as we work to “renew and innovate” teaching and learning, with outcomes that include improved student success rates and well-being, broader academic perspectives, enhanced social consciousness, and the production of more critical citizens.

While we are pleased to report an improvement in the quality of passes across faculties, this must be tempered against a drop in success rates. This can be attributed partially to uncertainties about the continuity of the academic year during the protests. But we remain extremely concerned about the growing performance gap between black and white students, and it is now up to us to interrogate the impact of extended programmes on the retention and graduation of students.

Curriculum change and staff development also cannot be separated, and a positive spin-off of the protests was the productive impact on structured staff development programmes like the New Academic Practitioners’ Programme (NAPP), which has incorporated fresh approaches to consider academics’ positionality.

You will see from the report that faculties have rethought curricula, and that interesting examples of curriculum renewal bear witness to the willingness of many academics to engage with their students and field of knowledge.

There is plenty of exciting work in teaching and learning being done at UCT, and that is good news as we go forward, conscious of the need to increase our efforts to improve the quality of our teaching and learning in response to the ways of learning of the new generation.

Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng

Read the full report.

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