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National Policy and a Regional Response in South Africa Higher Education



A radical reform of South African higher education (HE) started concomitantly with other social changes after the first democratic elections of 1994. Higher education was confronted with social, political and economic demands, arising from both local and global environments, of a kind not encountered during the apartheid era. The initial focus was on government policy as the main driver of change, informed by a participatory policy formulation process and implemented by a new, progressive bureaucracy. But change in higher education institutions followed a variety of routes that resulted in certain apartheid differences being accentuated and new differences emerging in the institutional landscape.

A review by the new Minister of Education after the 1999 election led to a focus on institutions in crisis and policies to change the apartheid landscape. Amongst other things, this led to looking at mergers and regional co-operation and rationalization of strategies to deal with the lingering effects of inequality and the challenge of developing sustainable institutions.

Chapter 1 of this book describes the context of the transformation of higher education in South Africa and examines the principles, goals, policy initiatives and outcomes of the comprehensive policy process that underpinned the reform. It divides the process into three phases. Phase one (1990-94) concentrated mainly on principles, values and missions and the potential role of the state in higher education transformation. Phase two (1995-98), after the new government came to power and took over the policy process from the antiapartheid movement, saw the adoption of a new policy framework informed by the work of the National Commission on Higher Education (1996) and enacted in the Higher Education Act of 1997. The focus shifted to a sharper definition of goals, strategies and some possible instruments for implementing the goals.

During the third phase (1998-2003) there was less popular consultation and participation, but more focus on the financial and human resources available to effect change, the establishment of an embryonic governmental infrastructure and tensions emerging between certain goals. This chapter concludes with a list of critical issues and challenges that face the system in the post-2002 period.

Chapter 2 highlights one of the critical issues, namely, the tension between equity and development. It shows that the participation of blacks and women in higher education has increased dramatically in terms of changing the composition of the elite, but the overall participation rate in higher education has not changed significantly.

While considerable progress has been made with regard to individual redress, institutional redress for the historically disadvantaged universities has been a disaster. The 2002 restructuring reforms introduced by the government are, amongst other things, an attempt to deal with the failure of institutional redress.

In the area of development, certain institutions, particularly some of those with considerable academic and management capacity, have brought about significant improvements in efficiency. But the major challenge still facing the system is to increase the number and types of graduates in order to increase the pool of high-level skills.

Chapter 3 describes a study undertaken within the context of the government's restructuring of the institutional landscape of the Eastern Cape province, a province characterized by high levels of poverty, with declining employment in the formal sector and high levels of unemployment, especially in the rural areas. The main aims of the study were to provide the higher education institutions in the Eastern Cape (universities, technikons and technical colleges) with strategic cooperation scenarios for post-school education. The study provides a detailed analysis of the socio-economic environment in the Eastern Cape and draws out the linkages between this environment and the higher education system in the province. It describes the provincial student inflows and outflows within the context of the national system, reports on the research capacity of and collaboration amongst higher education institutions in the province, provides the findings of surveys relating to student choice behaviour, describes the views of the institutional leadership on collaboration, outlines possibilities for programme co-operation in the region, argues for the development of special funding formulae for rural institutions and reports on the role of information and communication technologies (ICT) and regional collaboration amongst higher education institutions in the province. It also proposes three models for regional co-operation.

The final chapter assesses, one year after the Eastern Cape study was concluded, the contributions the project made to the continuing policy debates and processes. It discusses the direct and indirect use of research, the different expectations of different participants and some of the intended and unintended outcomes of the study. Perhaps the main contribution of the study is that it started to generate a shared framework of understanding amongst both institutional leaders and policy researchers within a non-threatening learning environment.

© 2018 Partnership for Higher Education in Africa. Last updated: 12 October 2010