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CHE > Media and Publications > Che Events Presentations > Approaches to academic programme consolidation
Rob Woodward
September, 2005

One of the key activities in a newly merged institution is the review of all academic programmes. The general goal is the rationalisation and consolidation of programmes but, in addition to this, there are a number of strategic and practical reasons for the review. This paper aims to describe the forms this programme consolidation might take, but it is important to understand that there are underpinning principles for the mergers that would apply to the programme consolidation exercise, as well as a range of strategic choices that govern whatever decisions are made.

We should be aware that there are consistent, clear guiding principles in a series of public and national documents, emanating largely from the Ministry of Education and the Council on Higher Education. These are well summarised by Strydom and van der Westhuizen (2002) in their book on cooperative programmes within regions. These principles underlie any strategic decisions that the university has to make in reviewing programmes. It is not necessary to repeat the details of each stage of policy development but it is important that the general principles are understood. The first significant set of guiding principles was established by the National Commission on Higher Education and it is interesting to note that, at this distance, these principles continue to direct current thinking about both the reconfiguration of higher education and the rationalisation of programmes. Fourie and van der Westhuizen summarise the goals as follows:

The final report of the NCHE… lists 13 broad national goals for higher education in the new South Africa, which in short include the conceptualisation of a single, coordinated and effective higher education system; providing for diversification; facilitating horizontal and vertical mobility; promoting increased and widened participation and equal opportunities for students; advancing the research function; developing capacity-building measures to facilitate a more representative staff component; democratising governance structures; developing and implementing equitable funding mechanisms; and encouraging interaction among higher education institutions and between those institutions and all sectors of the wider society. (Fourie & van der Westhuizen, 2002: 47)

The Education White Paper of 1997 (DoE, 1997) took these basic principles further, emphasising the need to meet skills requirements within a framework of effectiveness and efficiency. Of particular relevance to this discussion, the document stressed that programmes in higher education should be responsive to the needs of the country. These basic themes of efficiency, effectiveness and responsiveness were carried through into the Higher Education Act of 1997 and the National Plan for Higher Education in 2001 (DoE, 1997, 2001). However, the National Plan introduced an additional focus on reconfiguring the national higher education landscape through the creation of new institutional and organisational forms.

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