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CHE > Media and Publications > Che Events Presentations > Conceptions of a transformed university: 'South African', 'African', 'engaged...'
MW Makgoba
November, 2004
University of KwaZulu Natal

Presentation by Prof. MW Makgoba (Vice-Chancellor - University of KwaZulu Natal) at the Colloquium on 10 Years of Democracy and Higher Education Change held 10 to 12 November 2004.

There have been a variety of critics of the HE restructuring process. There are those that say that the restructuring is a front for an exclusivist Africanization agenda (and the inevitable drop in academic standards). Others charge that the merger planning process has overlooked the need for ‘epistemological redress’ and, among other things, has not included consideration of curriculum-related issues. Still others argue that the architects of the restructuring plan have adopted a technicist approach, which thinly masks their servility to market forces, and which will exacerbate rather than ameliorate existing inequalities. In other words, there are people who question the capacity of the restructuring process alone to bring about real transformation in our HE institutions.

Our own Minister of Education has warned about the effects of ignoring issues such as curriculum change and organizational culture. Noting the absence of ‘Africa’ from the academic programmes and from the overall institutional culture of our universities and technikons, Ms Naledi Pandor, said earlier this year that “our universities have been racially desegregated in student composition if not yet in staff composition, but changing their ‘way of doing things’ is a far more complex process. Much worse difficulties than student profiles will face us.” As Pandor has noted, institutional culture is embedded at many different levels and requires both changes in structure as well as in attitudes and consciousness on the part of academic staff and administrators. Furthermore, she said, if we “fail to frame a unifying institutional culture the promise and potential inherent in the institutional restructuring process is likely to be compromised”.

Essentially, the notion of a ‘transformed’ university must involve discussion about the institutional identities or cultures of our universities. That a roundtable discussion on this topic is taking place is evidence of the fact that there is recognition that not all problems of politics can be turned into problems of management and that the problems of education in South Africa, and higher education in particular, cannot be addressed only through the creation of new governance structures at universities – merged or otherwise.

For the record, and to obviate the need for discussion around this, I would like to make the following point: Institutional identities, like individual identities, or racial identities are social and historical constructs; as the postmodernists would say, identities are constituted -- a set of signs that are given meaning in the social world. This is accepted. This does not mean, however, that they are any less real -- particularly to those constituted by a particular identity and who feel the daily effects of such an identity. Nor does it mean that identity cannot form the basis for a very powerful strategy to transform society and the higher education sector – to create cultural norms and codes which counteract prevailing systems of domination or colonization. An African vision and identity is no longer negotiable as part of the national programme of transformation. It is a demand of justice, a human right and a necessity.

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