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CHE > Media and Publications > Research > Overview of Recent and Current Debates in South African Higher Education: Academic Freedom, Institutional Autonomy and Public Accountability
October, 2005


1. Purpose of the Paper

This paper has been prepared for the Council on Higher Education (CHE) Task Team investigating South African government involvement in, and regulation of, higher education, institutional autonomy and academic freedom (the 'HEIAAF Task Team').

The paper is intended to provide, for the information, interest and consideration of the Task Team, an overview of some of the principal recent and current debates in South African higher education around academic freedom, institutional autonomy and public accountability. The paper has chosen to define 'recent and current' as the period since 1994, with a particular focus on the period since 1999.

Given that this paper is an overview and an input to the work of the Task Team (as opposed to an analysis which is an output of the work of the Task Team), it seeks primarily to convey the arguments put forward by others, rather than to develop arguments or to elaborate interpretations of its own. The paper is selective (i.e. it does not attempt to cover every recent and current debate, but chooses to focus on those that are widely cited and/or interrelated) and also tends to be indicative, rather than exhaustive, in the manner in which it conveys principal ideas and arguments.

While the purpose of this paper is to highlight recent and current debates in South African higher education around academic freedom, institutional autonomy and public accountability, it seems necessary and appropriate to preface this discussion with a brief consideration of the status of these concepts in South Africa prior to 1994, as well as to locate their current status within a brief description of the prevailing legal and policy context. Chapters 2 and 3 fulfil these purposes with overviews of the respective terrains. In Chapter 5, the paper ventures to suggest conclusions and possible future lines of enquiry flowing from the main discussion in Chapter 4.

1.1 Purpose of Appendices

While the primary purpose of this paper is to provide an overview of recent and current debates in South African higher education, as relevant to the HEIAAF Task Team's field of enquiry, there are a number of contexts or frameworks which can usefully inform these debates. Although time has allowed only a very limited exploration of these, the core element of the paper is supported by a scaffolding of brief appendices that suggest these related contexts and frameworks, by way of a of 'shorthand reading' of selected texts:

  • Appendix A: The State of Academic Freedom and Institutional Autonomy in Africa
  • Appendix B: Further Comparative Perspectives on Academic Freedom, Institutional Autonomy and Public Accountability
  • Appendix C: Some Additional Conceptual Frameworks

The intention of these appendices is to suggest ideas and insights (both complementary and conflicting) that may enrich the thinking of the Task Team as it develops the HEIAAF study's programme of work. The approach is to outline key ideas through the use of limited indicative references and point-form summaries.


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