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CHE > Media and Publications > Che Events Presentations > The challenge of curriculum responsiveness in South African Higher Education
Nthabiseng Ogude, Heather Nel and Martin Oosthuizen
September, 2005

The increasing involvement of government in enticing higher education out of its ivory tower is indisputably part of a global trend. According to the 1997 White Paper on Higher Education (DoE, 1997), higher education is expected to increase its responsiveness to societal interests and needs. It must therefore be restructured to meet the needs of an increasingly technologically oriented economy, and its institutions must deliver the requisite research, the highly trained people and the knowledge to equip a developing society to address national needs and participate in a rapidly changing and competitive global context.

The need for globally equivalent skills raises the debate about curriculum relevance. Productivity and competitiveness depend on the ability to produce highly skilled and adaptive knowledge workers who can manage and manipulate knowledge and information and adjust to volatile and unpredictable global markets. Such knowledge workers need to have well-developed problem-solving skills and be able to continually adjust their repertoire of knowledge and skills to changing environments. In such a context, it is frequently argued that the role of higher education shifts from an induction into the specialised knowledge of specific disciplines to the development of broad, generic and transferable skills. In essence, higher education institutions worldwide are being called upon to become more responsive to the needs of the knowledge economy.

As South Africa attempts to meet pressing national needs in a global context, curriculum responsiveness has become central to policy, and the higher education system is grappling with this as it rethinks the curriculum. While efforts to restructure curricula show evidence of institutions attempting to become responsive, the outcomes are sometimes incompatible may respond to immediate market needs, they may not produce the ‘self-programmable labour’ that is required for the new knowledge economy.

This raises the question of how higher education curricula should respond to the new knowledge economy and how curriculum responsiveness should be conceptualised. This paper explores the various dimensions of curriculum responsiveness and analyses strategies for addressing several of the opportunities, challenges and tensions involved.

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