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CHE > Media and Publications > Che Events Presentations > Operational planning for the new programme structure in merged Higher Education institutions
N Themba Mosia
September, 2005

The pace at which higher education institutions in South Africa are expected to respond to the rapidly changing environment has a profound impact particularly on merged institutions in the domain of curriculum reconfiguration. To be responsive to these changes, universities must engage in intensive operational planning, which needs to be firmly located within the broader picture of higher education restructuring, and mergers in particular. It is common knowledge that the history of higher education was not only fragmented but also characterised by poor planning, inefficiencies and preferential treatment of institutions. Attention must therefore be paid to the different types of institutions that have merged, for example universities with other universities, and former technikons with universities, and to those that have emerged, for example the universities of technology as we now know them in the current dispensation. This category includes the Durban Institute of Technology, which was named just before other mergers were gazetted to take effect in January 2004 and 2005 (DoE, 2003).

The guiding parameters for operational planning in academic programmes are planning, quality and funding. These broad parameters are set by the Department of Education (DoE) to ensure that state resources are used efficiently for the purpose that they are intended for, and that institutions of higher learning undergo intensive planning in academic programmes and pay due regard to the quality assurance mechanisms as stipulated in various policy documents. Operational planning has both human resources and cost implications for all the role players. The National Plan for Higher Education (NPHE) outlined the challenges facing higher education as premised in human resources development (DoE, 2001: 1.1), and this emphasis indicated a shift towards efficiency after the formulation of the macro-economic strategy on Growth, Employment and Redistribution (GEAR) in 1996. Simply put, according to Cloete (2002: 429), efficiency means cost-effectiveness – doing the same with fewer resources or doing more with the same resources.

Operational planning could have far-reaching legal implications for staff and students alike if it is not handled sensitively and in accordance with the law governing employer–employee relationships and contractual obligations for programme offerings between the university and its students. If this planning is not carefully designed and implemented, it could have unintended consequences for mergers and incorporations, such as retrenchments because of operational requirements and loss of academic expertise because of poor programme design and poor staff structuring. Similarly, students could be negatively affected by poor planning, which could make their courses too lengthy or expensive and lead to litigation that could have been avoided by careful planning.

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