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CHE > Media and Publications > Accreditation and National Reviews > Community Engagement in Higher Education - Proceedings of the Conference
September, 2006

Proceedings of the Conference hosted by the Higher Education Quality Committee of the Council on Higher Education and the Community – Higher Education – Service Partnerships Initiative of JET Education Services


The White Paper on the transformation of higher education (Department of Education, 1997) sets out broad national goals, and refers to community engagement as an integral and core part of higher education in South Africa. The White Paper makes specific reference to the role community engagement can play in transforming the higher education system, and HEIs are called on to "demonstrate social responsibility […] and their commitment to the common good by making available expertise and infrastructure for community service programmes" (1997: 10). The White Paper further states that one of the goals of higher education is to “promote and develop social responsibility and awareness amongst students of the role of higher education in social and economic development through community service programmes“ (1997: 10).

One of the priorities in the National Plan for Higher Education (Ministry of Education, 2001) is the enhancing of “responsiveness to regional and national needs, for academic programmes, research, and community service” (White Paper, Department of Education, 1997: 19).

The Founding Document (2001) of the HEQC of the CHE identified “knowledge based community service” as one of the three areas – along with teaching and learning, and research – for the programme accreditation and quality assurance of higher education. Subsequently, the HEQC incorporated community engagement and its service-learning component into its national quality assurance systems. In June 2004 the HEQC released its Criteria for Institutional Audits, including criteria on service-learning (Criterion 7) and community engagement (Criterion 18). In November 2004 the HEQC released its Criteria for Programme Accreditation, including minimum requirements for service-learning (Criterion 1).

Since the release of the White Paper, JET Education Services (formerly Joint Education Trust) has been actively involved in research and development initiatives to advance community engagement in South African higher education. During 1997 and 1998 JET conducted a survey of community service in South African higher education resulting in the release of two publications. In 1999 JET launched the Community – Higher Education – Service Partnerships (CHESP) initiative. The aims of this initiative are: (i) to support the development of pilot programmes that explore the potential of community engagement as an integral part of the core academic functions of HEIs; (ii) to monitor and evaluate these programmes; and (iii) to use the data generated through this process to inform higher education policy and practice at a national, institutional and programmatic level. To date numerous South African HEIs have conducted their own internal audits of community engagement activities. Some HEIs have developed institution-wide policies and strategies for community engagement, allocated resources for the implementation of these strategies and developed academic programmes that include community engagement, particularly in the form of service-learning.

Given the inclusion of community engagement as a core function in South African higher education and the proliferation of academic programmes that include community engagement/ service-learning, it was considered both timely and appropriate to host a major conference on the subject. The conference was attended by more than 200 delegates including nominated representatives from all public and numerous private HEIs, local Councillors, local government officials, nongovernmental organisations and business leaders. Speakers included the Minister of Education, the Premier of the Western Cape, the Mayor of Cape Town, and vice chancellors and community engagement scholars from Ghana, India, Mexico, the United Kingdom, the United States of America and South Africa.


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