Review of Higher Education in South Africa

Introduction by the editors

Since the demise of the apartheid order, South African higher education has seen massive changes which have left an indelible imprint on the system, its constituent institutions and practices. The first democratic government established a National Commission on Higher Education (NCHE) which charted a programme of transformation for the sector. By 1997, key higher education policy and legislation informed by the work of the Commission was in place to enable the systematic programme for the transformation of higher education to unfold. In the decade since the adoption of the White Paper on Higher Education and the Higher Education Act, change has manifested on many fronts.

The celebration of a decade of democracy in South Africa in 2004 provided an opportunity for the large-scale review of the transformation process in higher education. To this end, the Council on Higher Education (CHE) published the study South African Higher Education in the First Decade of Democracy in 2004, which accounted for the changes that had occurred in the preceding ten years, indicating the apartheid legacy, continuities and discontinuities in the system, the current situation and remaining challenges, and how these related to national policy. Overall the analysis indicated that by 2004 the foundations had been laid for the single, coordinated and differentiated system envisaged by the NCHE in 1996; a number of new organisations had been established by government and the sector to co-ordinate the higher education system including the Higher Education Branch in the national Department of Education, the Council on Higher Education and its Higher Education Quality Committee, the National Student Financial Aid Scheme, and the South African Qualifications Authority and the National Qualifications Framework. New funding, planning and quality assurance instruments had been developed. A new institutional landscape was emerging with the process of mergers and incorporations among public institutions and the regulation of the private higher education sector which became subject to the same governance, qualification and quality assurance regime as public providers. Student enrolments had grown to a participation rate nearing 18 percent and the student body had become representative in terms of its ‘racial’ and gender composition and included also significant numbers of international students (CHE, 2004: 234-236). However, change did not proceed in a linear manner from policy formulation to implementation. Rather, the ten-year review concluded that the ongoing transformation of higher education was “highly complex, consisting of a set of still unfolding discourses of policy formulation, adoption, and implementation that are replete with paradoxes and tensions, contestations, and political and social dilemmas.” (CHE, 2004: 234)

This new publication of the Council on Higher Education takes its point of departure from the system level analysis done in 2004 but proceeds differently. This Review of Higher Education in South Africa is an edited collection of research papers which analyse key trends in South African higher education in the context of international developments. It consists of papers which provide succinct research-based analyses of six major issues in the process of transformation and restructuring of the higher education system: public funding, governance, information and communication technologies, institutional culture, access, and change.

In the introduction we summarise the key claims, major findings and conclusions of the papers and point out areas for further research.