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Wolpe H (1995) ‘The debate on university transformation in South Africa: The case of the University of the Western Cape.’ Comparative Education, 31(2): 275 – 292

The debate on university transformation in South Africa: the case of the University of the Western Cape

Harold Wolpe

ABSTRACT This paper examines issues in the transformation of the university system in a democratic South Africa utilising the University of the Western Cape as a case study. In particular, it questions how the University’s 1982 Mission Statement, which defined its oppositional role in the apartheid period, might be revised to shape the universities radical traditions to the tasks of the contribution of a new social order.

Introduction

The election victory of the African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa in April 1994 and the formation of the Government of National Unity (GNU) in May of that year marked a dramatic, indeed, to a limited extent, a revolutionary transformation. Revolutionary in the sense that stable (to judge from the evidence thus far) institutions of democratic and representative government have been established; limited in the sense that, parliamentary structures apart, the institutional and social structures generated in the apartheid era remain largely intact.

The central developmental task facing the country turns precisely on the strategies to be followed in order to change these institutional and social structural conditions so as to bring about a democratic social order in which race and gender inequalities are radically reduced and the economy expanded to satisfy the basic needs of the people and of the country as a whole.

The strategy to effect these changes is encapsulated in the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) of the Government of National Unity. That Programme presents a complex, integrated programme of reconstruction which is built on a two pronged approach: first, to meet the basic needs of the people through activities directed towards health, housing, electricity, education and so on and through this to ‘kickstart’ economic growth and, second, to sustain economic growth through the development of high-tech production for the export economy.

These policies have obvious implications for the higher education sector and virtually every institution has engaged, over the past few years, in the attempt to reposition itself in relation to the emerging policies for a new South Africa. This is so whether the institution was linked organically to supporting the apartheid project (the Afrikaans language universities), or attempted in some, usually relatively timid, way to delink itself from this project (the case of the liberal English language universities) and, to some extent, the rural black universities which in the late 1980s entered into political conflict with the regime.

The disparate and, indeed, competitive efforts of the universities to protect existing privilege or to gain a place in the sun in post-apartheid South Africa, has to some extent given way to a more collective approach with the recent establishment by the government of the National Commission on Higher Education (NCHE). The Commission is charged with the task of arriving at recommendations for a radical reconstruction of higher education. The vision which informs the work of the Commission may be summarised in the terms of the ANCs A Policy Framework for- Education and Training (1994):

... a well planned and integrated, high quality national system of higher education whose students and staff are increasingly representative of South African society. The system ... linked to national and provincial reconstruction, in particular to human resource development and the production of scientific and other knowledge to service the economic, political, cultural and intellectual development of our communities and nation. (p. 113)

While the work ofthe Commission and its terms of reference provide a more or less unified framework within which the different institutions can begin to rethink and redefine their roles within the new social order now under construction, each institution has, of course, its own specific history and characteristics. 'File strategic issue for the institutions is how to transform themselves in the light both of the Commission's framework and their own histories. The discussion which follows examines this problem, using the issues involved in the formulation of a new mission statement for the University of the Western Cape (UWC) as a case study.

The discussion is conducted in the context of a brief analysis of the development of the university system, and of UWC in particular, in the apartheid period and of the shifts brought about by the democratic changes in the country and the adoption of the Reconstruction and Development Programme as the policy of tile Government of National Unity.

Departing from the premise that the role or identity of the university is conditioned by the historical context, the paper engages in a preliminary discussion of the factors, which, it argues, should affect the formulation of a new mission for the university.

Setting the Context

There are two main organising themes in the book The African Experience With Higher Education (Ajayi et al., 1994). The first concerns the crisis of the African universities, a crisis which derives from the shortage of financial and other resources.

The second, which is of interest in the present context, concerns the unresolved question of the role of the university. The book traces the impact of changing societal conditions on die debate about the search for the ‘identity of the African university’, and the actual nature of, the university in Africa. Ofcourse, this debate is perennial and its various components feature wherever universities exist. As the authors note:

.. the debate on the mission and proper role of the African universities continues unabated. The validity of the universal missions of teaching, research and public service remains unquestioned. But in the words of James A. Perkins: ‘[Teaching], research, and public service-in what proportions? The advancement or application of knowledge-in what measure?’ (p. 179)

These organising themes-crisis and identity-are also at the centre of the contemporary South African debate about the future of higher education, but their specific content is shaped by concrete historical conditions which are, in important respects, different from those which characterise other countries in Africa. In the present context, two are of particular relevance.

As Ajayi et al. (1994)show, higher education in Africa north of South Africa was strongly shaped by colonialism and subsequently by the ‘dependent’ position of these countries in the network of international political and economic relations. The effect of this was to impose, so the book suggests, a high degree of homogeneity on the African higher education systems.

By contrast, South Africa's location in the world system was mediated by the emergence of a relatively advanced political economy which was coupled to, and, indeed, in crucial respects depended for its existence and reproduction, on a relatively backward, colonial-type social and economic order. This dual, but integrated system, was complemented in the apartheid era, by a dual but linked university or, rather, higher education system. The characteristics of this dual system will be discussed below. Here, it may merely be noted that the duality of the system-the combination, as it has sometimes been described, of a ‘Third’ and ‘First World’ [2] social order-accounts for the fact that the issues facing South African higher education simultaneously converge with and deviate from those facing other African universities.

The Apartheid Project and the Origins of the Historically Black Universities (HBU)

The central feature of higher education, as this came to be shaped in the apartheid era, was the construction of a system in which the racial premises of the apartheid project structured not only differentiation between black and white institutions [3] but also inequalities based on these differences.

It has been argued by some that South Africa has inherited a ‘complex dual legacy’ as a result of the historically white universities (HWU) being the ‘organic outgrowth of an undemocratic political system’ and the historically black universities (HBU) being the ‘artificial outgrowth of racially motivated planning’. Thus, for example:

In broad terms, white tertiary education has emerged at the behest of the social, economic and political demands of an enfranchised section of the community and has therefore tended to follow the ‘natural’ contours of economy and society. Black tertiary education, by contrast, has been the historic by-product of racially motivated planning inflicted on a disenfranchised section of the community, and, as such, has not been primarily designed to accommodate the profile or patterns of civil society or-until recently-the economy. (van Onselen, quoted in Badat et al., 1994, p. 2)

But, as Ridge, for example, has argued, as far as the HWUs are concerned:

their conscious policies were also deeply influenced by central planning. The phenomenal growth in Afrikaans university graduate programmes in this period ... and the growth of the white universities to accommodate the burgeoning numbers of white matriculants ... testify to this. There has also been a profound unconscious influence of central planning priorities on the white universities ... While it is true that white tertiary education has been freer to respond gradually and less traumatically to complex pressures in the environment, we should not lose sight of the fact that the environment has itself been radically changed by interventionist and central planning. In one sense white universities have been better positioned to respond to the demands of the economy; in another they have ‘naturally’ served the interests of the apartheid planners, strengthening the white hold on privilege. [4]

That is to say, both sets of institutions have been profoundly shaped by apartheid planning and by the respective functions assigned to them in relation to the reproduction of the apartheid social order.

More precisely, focusing for the present on the universities, the different trajectories of development of the HWUs and the HBUs can only be properly understood in terms of the particular functions assigned to them in relation to the reproduction of the apartheid order. It is the fundamental differences in allocated roles that, whatever the differences among the HWUs and however diverse the origins and development of the HBUs, distinguishes these two sets of institutions and constitutes the key differentiation and the principal basis of inequality between them.

This is not to ignore the myriad struggles that were waged by some HBUs to resist the apartheid agenda--which included the production of conformist intellectuals and agents for bantustan and ‘own affairs’ bureaucracies or for subordinate positions in the occupational structure-nor, indeed, the partial opposition of some HWUs. Nor is it to ignore the contradictions and tensions that have existed between HBUs, the apartheid state and the bantustan authorities, or the changes that have, to a lesser or greater extent, occurred at individual HBUs and some HWUs especially during the past decade.

It is, however, to stress that the HWUs and, from their inception, the HBUs were shaped by diverse measures which ensured that they contributed to the reproduction of the apartheid social order, and to draw attention to the connections that can be traced between the HBUs and the changing social objectives, policies and planning of the apartheid state.

All the early HBUs (except Fort Hare), the Universities of the North, Zululand, the University of the Western Cape (UWC), and the University of Durban Westville (UDW), emerged under the historical conditions of the suppression of black political opposition, the introduction of repressive measures, the establishment of elaborate structures of administrative control of blacks, the initiation and development of the bantustan policy and so forth, all of which narrowed the scope for legal political opposition and were aimed at the entrenchment of the apartheid system. The University of Fort Hare, whose origins predated these institutions, was coerced by the apartheid state into the HBU mould. Similarly, the emergence of the later group of institutions, in the 1970s and 1980s, was profoundly conditioned by the changing imperatives of the apartheid state.

The linkages between the establishment of the African HBUs, the coercion of the University of Fort Hare, and the launching of this system of ‘tribal’ bantustans, were unambiguous. The involvement of these HBUs in the bantustan project had direct consequences for the range and levels of programmes provided, and for the orientation of the new institutions and their products. If the intention was to restrict the economic advancement, social mobility and political rights of Africans to the bantustans, it was here too that the products of the African universities were expected to exercise their talents.

Despite the claims of the government of the possibilities of unlimited economic advancement in the bantustans, the latter were to witness little economic growth. Instead of a strategy of large-scale economic development within the bantustans, the policy adopted was one of ‘the stabilisation of Reserve agriculture combined with the creation of industry on the borders of the Reserves’ (Hirsh, 1984, pp. 14-15 quoted in Badat et al., 1994, p. 11). But, especially during the 1960s and 1970s, the development of industries on the borders of the bantustans was negligible and, furthermore, the contribution of the Bantu Investment Corporation created to promote African enterprises was also minimal. What development did occur took place mainly in such areas as small-scale trading and services (e.g. passenger transport).

Table I. Head count student enrolment (undergraduate and postgraduate) by intended major, 1990

 

Science & technology %

Business & commerce %

Education
%

All other humanities

Total (No.)

HWU (Afrik.)

37

13

8

42

69,815

HWU (Engl.)

40

16

7

37

50,290

HBU

10

4

49

37

61,320

Distance

8

19

14

59

104,302

Total

21

14

19

46

285,727

Source: Bunting, 1993.

To the extent that the African HBUs were to be tied to the ‘development’ of the bantustans, the limited and restricted sense in which this ‘development’ was intended was to profoundly condition the academic character as well as the role and functions of these institutions.

If a major function of the early HBUs was to generate the administrative corps for the black separate development bureaucracies, the ideological task was to wean new generations of students away from black nationalist and socialist sentiments, and win them to the separate development project through the appropriate mix of repressive controls and the promises of economic opportunities in the bantustans and around the social services needs of blacks. As Gordon puts it:

The early HBUs were meant to produce the administrative corps for the bantustan and departments of Indian Affairs and Coloured Affairs bureaucracies and to assist in the class formation of a black petty bourgeoisie that would, it was hoped, collaborate in the project of separate development.

The training of blacks for professional occupations (teaching, social work, law, nursing, medicine etc.) was to be directed towards meeting the needs of the black population, particularly those in the bantustans-a fact exemplified by the statement of a government Minister that the University of Natal’s Medical School was to be solely ‘for the training of Non-Europeans ... to meet the health needs of their own people’. (quoted in Badat et al., 1994, p. 12)

For the ‘coloured’ and ‘Indian’ universities (UWC and UDW) in the ‘white’ areas the racial division of labour, institutionalised by job reservation legislation and supported by the white trade unions, had comparable programmatic and ideological consequences for institutional development.

In essence, the HBUs were restricted to levels (undergraduate degrees and diplomas) and fields of study (mainly liberal arts, humanities, education and law) that would not undermine the existing racial division of labour and which, in the case of those institutions linked to the bantustan project, would service the administrative and bureaucratic requirements of separate development structures. The contours of this restricted development are reflected in the Tables that follow.

Table I indicates that the range of enrolments by intended major at the HBUs is heavily concentrated in the social sciences and humanities, and in particular in the field of education.

By contrast, in the context of the racial character of the occupation structure, across the HWUs an extensive range of fields of study and postgraduate programmes were provided enabling the production of middle and high-level white personnel for the economy, civil service and other sectors.

Table II: Institutions offering specialised degree programmes


Institution

Engineering

Medicine

Veterinary

Law

Pharmacy

Agriculture

Dentistry

UCT

x

x

 

x

 

 

 

Natal

x

x

 

x

x

x

 

Witwatersrand

x

x

 

x

 

 

x

Potchefstroom

x

 

 

x

x

 

 

Pretoria

x

x

x

x

x

x

x

RAU

x

 

 

x

 

 

 

Stellenbosch

x

x

 

x

 

x

x

UDW

x

x

 

x

x

 

x

OFS

 

x

 

x

 

x

 

Medunsa

 

x

x

 

 

 

x

Transkei

 

x

 

x

 

 

 

Rhodes

 

 

 

x

x

 

 

UPE

 

 

 

x

 

 

 

Unisa

 

 

 

x

 

 

 

Ft Hare

 

 

 

 

 

x

 

Zululand

 

 

 

x

 

 

 

Unibo

 

 

 

x

 

 

 

North

 

 

 

x

 

x

 

Venda

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vista

 

 

 

x

 

 

 

UWC

 

 

 

x

x

 

x

Source: USAID, 1992, p.6.22.

Table II indicates the uneven distribution of a number specialised courses across the HBUs and HWUs and illustrates the overwhelming concentration of such programmes as medicine and engineering in the HWUs [5].

If the primary line of cleavage between the HWUs and HBUs relates to the linkages between the unequal development entailed by the apartheid project and the racially-based differentiation of the higher education system with regard to areas of disciplinary concentration, there are nonetheless other aspects of institutional differentiation which are also significant. Chief amongst these is a de facto division, along racial lines, between ‘teaching’ and ‘research’ institutions, reflected in the relative strengths of HWUs and HBUs in the areas of graduate programmes and research.

Research

Research production in South Africa has been powerfully conditioned by the broader social and structural inequalities of South African society, with the result that it has a particular race and gender character -- the virtual monopoly of white males. However, there is also an institutional dimension to research production: within the university sector it is overwhelmingly located in the HWUs.

One indicator of the extent of the dominance of the HWUs in research is reflected in Table III, which notes the number of publications accredited during 1987 and 1990 to universities in terms of the South African Post-Secondary Education (SAPSE) statistics formula.

TABLE III. Number of approved credits in respect of publications of reviewed articles and books, 1987 and 1990


Type of institution/
Institution

Year

1987

1990

HWUs:

4459

4586

Wits

1003

1004

UCT

912

797

Pretoria

658

767

Natal

401

479

Stellenbosch

492

458

OFS

372

300

RAU

213

283

Potchefstroom

173

242

Rhodes

129

174

UPE

106

82

HBUs:

224 (4.5%)

250 (4.8%)

UDW

62

80

UWC

45

47

North

25

42

Vista

26

34

Medunsa

45

27

Zululand

21

20

Unisa

260

333

Total

4943

5169

Source: Adapted from statistics provided by Dr Brink, CUP, quoted in Badat et al., 1994, p. 16.

For all of the universities covered by Table III, the cumulative total of credits awarded for research output for the period 1984-91 was 36,869. The HBU share of this total was 1785, or a mere 4.8%. The annual HBU share of credits awarded for research output ranged between 3.7% in 1984 and 6.5% in 1991.
Another indicator of differences in research is provided by the statistics showing the distribution of research institutes at the different universities.

TABLE IV. Research institutes, units, centres, bureaux and groups at select universities (1990 for HBUs; 1989 for HWUs)


Type of institution/institution

Research institutes/units etc.

Full-time research staff

HWUs:

 

 

Wits

36

95

UCT

39

n/a

Stellenbosch

40 [6]

n/a

HBUs:

 

 

Fort Hare

4

16

UWC

5

16

UDW

3

14

Zululand

2

7

North

1

7

Source: USAID, 1992, p. 54: University of Stellenbosch, 1989, p. 9; University of the Witswatersrand, 1991, p. 8; University of Cape Town, 1989, p. 288).

TABLE V. Share of graduates in each qualification category, 1990 (1985 in brackets)

 

HWU (Afrik.)

HWU (Engl.)

HBU

Distance

Total (No.)

UG Diplomas

7% (15%)

7% (14%)

74% (53%)

12% (18%)

5671 (3515)

Bachelors

36% (37%)

30% (31%)

16% (15%)

18% (18%)

16119 (12240)

Professional 1st bachelors

49% (47%)

31% (34%)

11% (11%)

9% (9%)

7314 (6351)

PG Bachelors & diplomas

30% (38%)

37% (35%)

19% (12%)

14% (15%)

5742 (4775)

Honours

48% (52%)

24% (22%)

7% (6%)

22% (20%)

5936 (4371)

Masters and doctors

52% (51%)

33% (33%)

5% (4%)

11% (12%)

3532 (2824)

Total

36% (40%)
16,135

29% (27%)
12,151

21% (15%)
9279

15% (16%)
6746

44314 (34,076)

Source: Bunting, 1993.

Graduate Programmes

The coincidence of the de facto division between ‘teaching’ and ‘research’ universities with the HBU/HWU divide is reflected not only in research but in the arena of graduate programmes. Needless to say, graduate programmes and research are mutually conditioning insofar as the skills and resources of graduate students are drawn upon as research assistants, while the magnet of research is a key means of attracting good graduate students.

It has already been noted that the range of programmes offered at the HBUs has been restricted by comparison with the HWUs, with the HBUs faring particularly poorly in the critical areas of science and technology and economic sciences. To this inequality must be added inequality in terms of the capacity of the HBUs to offer postgraduate programmes even within their current areas of specialisation. The HBUs share of undergraduate and postgraduate outputs is strongest at the level of undergraduate diplomas -- in 1990, the HBUs accounted for fully 74%of these outputs -- and weakest at the masters and doctoral levels where they accounted for only 5% of the 1990 total [7].

These comments not only expose the inadequacy of the notion of the ‘organic’ development of the HWUs, as opposed to the (racially) planned development of the HBUs, but go to the heart of the debate about the reconstruction of higher education as a whole to meet the differentiated demands of national development. A key point that emerges from this analysis is that the reconstruction of higher education cannot occur solely in terms, for instance, of the enhancement of graduate programmes and research capacity within the apartheid-assigned bounds of current institutional roles and functions, but must address these very functions and roles in terms of the new demands of national reconstruction and development. It is crucial to note in this respect that this applies as much to the HWUs as to the HBUs and that both sets of institutions have to be reconstructed, albeit in very different ways, to meet the needs of a new development path and to break from the agenda determined under the apartheid system.

To sum up, both the differentiation of the higher education system in terms of institutional areas of concentration and specialisation, and differentiation in terms of teaching, research and graduate education, occur along the racial lines which derive from the differential implication of South Africa's HBUs and HWUs in the apartheid project.

The Specific History of the University of the Western Cape (UWC)

UWC was established in 1959 as a university for coloured people. As such it was largely shaped to share the features applicable to all HBUs as presented in the previous section-to provide education and training in restricted fields and relative to occupations in the middle rather than the upper reaches of the stratification system. Thus, although the university was not created to produce the human resources required for the functioning of the Bantustans and was situated, as it still is, in an urban environment, nevertheless it was designed to perform a specific role in the reproduction of apartheid, namely, the provision of human resources to meet the needs of the coloured people as defined by the apartheid state, and in accordance with the racial stratification system of the prevailing social order.

Opposition to these conceptions of the role of the university intensified in the 1980s,at a time when, in the country at large, the intense and continuous challenge to the apartheid order of the mass democratic movement was being met by greatly increased state repression.

On 22 October 1982, the university published a Mission Statement (University of the Western Cape) which rejected key elements of the state’s definition of the university’s role and set new objectives for the university. In the ensuing years the Mission Statement was translated into specific policies which began to change the character of the university. In the paragraphs which follow the principal ingredients of these changes are briefly described, but it should be emphasised that it is not intended to provide a history of these developments or to deal with them in chronological sequence.

The point of departure of the Mission Statement is:

The coexistence of First and Third World life-styles as an insistent fact of South African society. ...

The implications of this proposition, although not spelled out in the Mission Statement, are considerable. The Statement alludes to two approaches to the role of the universities in relation to this ‘insistent fact’. The first approach is aimed at the reproduction of the two ‘life-styles’ and of the privileged position of the ‘First World’-in short, of the apartheid social order. In accordance with this the university system was constructed on a racial basis and oriented to simultaneously serve ‘First World’ South Africa as well as the bantustan system and more generally ‘Third World’ South Africa.

The second approach, adopted by UWC, was framed in opposition to this. To begin with it repudiated:

the political-ideological grounds on which it was established. ...

This entailed the rejection of the role ascribed to it by the state as an instrument for the reproduction of apartheid-the separate and unequal position of the coloured people-and of the ascription of the university as ‘coloured’. Further, it entailed the rejection of the instrumental role of the university in the maintenance and reproduction of the apartheid system As regards the latter, steps were taken to open the doors to, particularly African, but also other students and staff. Table VI shows the ‘racial’ distribution of the student body in 1994.

Table VI: Racial distribution of the student body at UWC, 1994


African

Coloured

Indian

White

Total

6617

6596

696

167

14,076

Source: UWC Perspectives, 3 (2), 1994, p. 19.

As regards the ‘instrumental’ role of the university in the maintenance of the apartheid social order, the Mission Statement registered:

The largely First World orientation of South African universities.

In the light of the discussion in the previous section it is important to qualify this statement. In fact, the HBUs were oriented to the First World only insofar as they served to reproduce an essential ingredient of the apartheid social order, namely, the ‘Third World’ of South African society. As far as the HBUs were concerned this entailed, as has already been pointed out, shaping them to serve a stunted development path for black communities and furthermore placing severe restrictions on the access of black students to higher education.

The Mission Statement of the university pointed in a different direction in both of these respects. It declared the university’s intention, despite the overpowering constraints of the system, to break from the apartheid project; to apply itself to functions which would foster the political, social and economic enhancement of Third World communities:

... UWC interprets its role as a university to include a firm commitment to the development of the Third World communities in Southern Africa. By this means it aims to serve its immediate community and to keep open the possibility of new options emerging for South African society

...The distinctive character of the university will be shaped by it being a community of students, lecturers and researchers with a predominant concern for the development of Third World communities, particularly in the Western Cape.

Encouragement both of research and the development of course material which has bearing on the Third World.

Although in these passages the Mission Statement places great emphasis on the development work of the university in both teaching and research, very little elaboration of what this might mean in terms of the courses and disciplines offered by the university occurred. In other words, how the university was to break front the narrow constraints, in terms of teaching and research, which the apartheid system imposed-that is, how it could concretely redefine its functional identity--was not well developed, no doubt because of the financial and other constraints which enclosed it.

Instead, the university moved most vigorously in relation to student access, by attempting to counter the conditions which limited the access of black students to the universities. These conditions included the ever rising entry qualifications demanded by HWUs in the face of the increasing number of African students attaining the matriculation exemption, perhaps to maintain standards but, whether intended or not, having the effect of restricting entry; the restrictions, enforced by all universities, on the numbers of first-year entrants and the fact that African Students educated, under the rubric of bantu education, in the Department of Education and Training schools were, for the most part, ill-equipped to cope with university education as conventionally conceived.

In response to this situation, the university introduced an ‘open-door’ admissions policy, accepting on a first-come-first serve [8] basis all applicants with the basic minimum, legally required qualifications. This policy was based on the conception that the universities owed a duty to the excluded black majority to redress racial inequality in access by dramatically expanding intakes--especially as the HWUs at this very time were raising admission standards.

This approach, however, demanded of the university that it rethink accepted notions of admissions criteria, standards of quality and of the teaching functions of the university in conditions where the majority of the population, more especially, but not only, black people, were the recipients of extremely inadequate schooling.

UWC approached this issue through a critique of the academic support programmes (ASP) which were being conducted at some of the HWUs. ASP programmes consisted of special, remedial courses for black students who were considered to be potentially capable, but who first required to be upgraded through non-degree ‘bridging’ courses. The UWC criticism of these programmes was that they were premised on assumptions more appropriate to a situation in which only a small minority of students, due to certain non-systemic causes, required special, remedial teaching.

In the South African situation, however, the poor schooling received by black students was structural and systemic and the answer had to be sought not in the assumption that the problem lay with individual students who could, in small groups, be brought to university standard, but rather in the recognition of a social phenomenon which required a radical reconceptualisation of the university. The university must restructure itself to meet this phenomenon. What was put in issue was the very concept of the identity of the university in the prevailing historical conditions of South Africa.

In the result, UWC translated this challenge into an academic development programme (ADP). The distinction between ASP and ADP was that the point of departure of the latter was the need to transform university teaching practices, within degree schemes, in order to provide teaching appropriate to the realities of the educational level of incoming students. As the Mission Statement put it, what was needed were:

Programmes aimed at bridging the gap between the requirements of university studies and the resources the students bring with them

What, perhaps, went unnoticed, was that despite the different assumptions and practices between ASP and ADP, nevertheless, the implicit conception which governed both approaches was that of a universalistic university standard derived from Western Europe and North America. That is to say, in the end neither approach advanced a radical reconceptualisation of the university or, more accurately perhaps, sought to articulate the varied roles and functions of a South African university which, on the one hand, needed to be immediately geared to local conditions and local needs, and on the other, to maintain the connection with global scholarship and research necessary for both technology transfer and for South Africa’s effective participation in a global economy. The university, thus, was unable to exploit the rich potential of the original challenge upon which ADP was based and which led to its implementation.

It is in no way intended to undervalue the historical importance of the twin concerns of the 1982 Mission Statement-service to Third World communities and academic development programmes as an instrument of access-to register that neither accomplished their stated objectives. Thus, in its concern with access and academic development programmes centred on the conventional conception of the university, a more fundamental examination of what was meant by the nature of the university in the South African context was by-passed. Similarly, a commitment to Third World communities’ political, social and economic advancement centred on the existing disciplinary base and curriculum meant that a more fundamental re-examination of what research and teaching should be undertaken by the university did not materialise.

In its original formulation and earlier interpretations, the emphasis given to the Mission Statement was on the more direct service function of the university in relation to the development of the Third World communities in South Africa. As the political repression of the 1980sintensified, the terms of the Mission were broadened by the then Rector of the University, Professor Gerwel, in his 1987 inaugural lecture, when he declared that the university should become ‘an intellectual home of the left’.

The phrase carried three immediate and more or less obvious meanings. Firstly, it was literally to be understood as a haven for left-wing intellectuals many of whom, in the 1980s, were unable easily to find employment and were subject to arrest and other forms of harassment by the state security forces.Secondly, it was to be understood as an act of defiance through which the university asserted its academic freedom to pursue teaching and research from the standpoint of radical, left-wing and Marxist theory, all of which were under severe attack from the side of the state and within many of the universities. Thirdly, and related to both of the above, it was intended to bring radical intellectuals to the university in order to foster left wing scholarship.

Despite frequent calls, not least by Professor Gerwel himself, for the notion of ‘intellectual home of the left’ to be interrogated and elaborated, little advance was made in this direction. indeed, sometimes the phrase was summoned up in support of political activism at the expense of rigorous intellectual work. Nonetheless, it was an attempt to define, more explicitly, the assumptions about the intellectual character of the university which were implicit in the conception of the functional role of the university vis-a-vis Third World communities and the rejection of the apartheid system.

Four elements, then, define the tradition of UWC:

  • The rejection of the racially based ideology of separate education for different ethnic/racial groups.
  • The recognition of the dual hint and Third World structure of South African society and the obligation of the university to serve the latter-although this did not include a specification of functions in terms of science and technology versus human sciences, basic and applied research, undergraduate versus graduate teaching, etc.
  • The recognition that the Third World education of the mass of students placed a particular obligation on the university to redefine its identity and conceptions of its teaching role.
  • The definition of the university as die home of the intellectual left.

The question which now faces the university is how to redefine these traditions in the new conditions in South Africa.

The University in the Era of the Reconstruction and Development Programme

The democratic election of April 1994 marked a beginning. It established a necessary condition, but not the sufficient conditions, for the transition from the apartheid system to a new social order. The attainment of political power by the ANC and the establishment of the Government of National Unity has, beyond the arena of representative government, and despite some erosion, left more or less intact the mode of operation of much of the existing institutional order, that is, the inequalities between institutions (e.g. HBUs and HWUs, universities and technikons, etc.) as well as the social structural conditions of the society.

Thus, the administrative system of government remains largely intact in terms of personnel, structure and mode of operation. The occupational structure, that is the stratification system, despite affirmative action programmes remains, to a considerable extent, structured along racial and gender lines with huge numbers of black unemployed; the class structure, that is the ownership rind control of the private sector is overwhelmingly dominated by whites.

The education and training system continues, to a major degree, to operate in favour of the white population in terms of provision, resources, standards and functions as well as in terms of access. This characterisation applies equally to other spheres-health, housing, social welfare and so forth.

The Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) is aimed, through a simultaneous process of economic growth, by means of the development of the sectors of the economy concerned with basic needs and the expansion of exports via high-tech production, to redress the historical results of apartheid.

It is within this conjuncture, and the education and training needs that it gives rise to, that the entire higher education system is obliged to rethink its role in the reconstruction process.

Since the appearance, in January 1994, of the ANC’s A Policy Framework for Education and Training, a vigorous and widespread debate has taken place over the future of higher education. There appears to be broad agreement that the entire system requires to be transformed. Presently, the system is predominantly shaped by its past history and functions, characterised by a high degree of fragmentation and incoherence, high levels of institutional inequality, an inequitable financing system, inequalities of access and undemocratic systems of governance.

But the process of radical transformation has been slowed down by a number of conditions; the imperatives of the crisis of university finances and student loans and bursaries which demand immediate solutions and which may pre-empt and limit longer-term arrangements; the necessary referral of all the major issues to the proposed National Commission on Higher Education; the intense and competitive attempts by the institutions to position themselves in the new situation with little regard to the overall situation and needs.

It is obviously entirely appropriate that the universities, without pre-empting the recommendations of the NCHE, should begin the process of rethinking their missions in the new context. The need to rethink university missions applies equally, but in very different ways, to both HBUs and HWUs. Among the changes facing the HWUs are (1) to aim to make staff and student composition reflect the South African population; (2) to democratise their institutions and, above all; (3) to refocus their already developed capacities to contribute to the reconstruction of the country.

Among the changes facing the HBUs are (1) to aim to upgrade their capacities; (2) to democratise their institutions and, above all; (3) to develop new capacities to equip them to contribute to the new development path for the country.

A number of new mission and other statements have already appeared, all of which commit the institutions to the implementation of the RDP and more or less follow the prescriptions of the ANC policy document regarding redress and equality. It is, of course, open to UWC to follow in the path of this new conventionalism and, indeed, within the university this view has been expressed in the debate over specific degrees and programmes.

By contrast, it has also been argued that, in the light of its history, for UWC, it is not simply a question of making the commonly accepted changes as listed above, of attaching itself to the RDP which, in any event is open to various interpretations, some much more radical than others, but of how to define its role in the light of its history.

The different positions can be illustrated by two examples. Over the past two years there has been a vigorous debate over the approach to be adopted in the newly constituted School of Government at UWC. On the one hand, it has been argued that the overriding objective is to produce technically qualified personnel for public administration. This is perfectly consistent with one reading of the sections of the RDP which call for the development of the human resources needed for the administration of the country at both national and provincial level. And, indeed, all the provisions of the RDP dealing with human resource development could be understood, in the same way, as nothing more than a call for the supply of technically equipped personnel.

On the other hand, a different reading of the IZDP as a programme aimed not only at economic growth and at meeting basic, material, needs but also at transforming social relations in the society (non-racist, non-sexist, democratic, transparency in administration etc.) implies a different conception of education and training. From this standpoint, public administrators should be steeped not only in technical skills (although these are indispensable) but also in the values of democracy, the ethos of accountability and service, etc.

Another example of a similar contestation occurred over a proposed degree in information technology. Here too, a ‘technicist’ view of a degree in information technology stresses technical skill, while the contrary view inserts technical knowledge into the broader framework of social purposes. This is not meant merely as an ‘add on’ but, rather, as integral component of the course.

The difference between the two approaches is that the one rests on a technical rationality which leaves unquestioned the extant social relations and, hence, the social purposes of technique; the other puts in question the social relations which are being or are intended to be served by technical knowledge.

It is essential to be absolutely clear in this regard. The importance of technical excellence cannot be sufficiently stressed. This is necessary if UWCs graduates are to compete in the labour market and offer high-level skills to the reconstruction process and do so in such a way as to contribute to social transformation. This places major new demands on the university both to develop new strengths---that is both new disciplines and high levels of technical competence and, at the same time, to link this to social concerns. This is obviously a difficult task full of tensions for both teaching and research, yet in the best traditions of the university-in particular, its commitment to being an intellectual home of the left-and deeply ingrained in the RDP.

In the previous paragraph it was suggested that the university needed to develop new strengths, but it needs to be strongly emphasised that such developments must of necessity take place in a process of negotiation and coordination with other higher education institutions (universities, technikons and colleges) in the region. Regional cooperation, the sine qua non of institutional development, must become part of the mission of the university. Indeed, UWC may be uniquely placed within its regional context, by virtue of its historical record, to take the lead in encouraging regional cooperation. It need hardly be said that such regional ‘rationalisation’ must be accomplished in a manner which neither simply reproduces existing functional inequalities between institutions nor results in unnecessary duplication of functions.

The discussion of the social purposes of teaching and research brings to the forefront the role of critique in education and training, and it does so in two ways which connect UWCs history to the new situation.

It is patent that when UWCs 1982 Mission Statement rejected the political ideological grounds upon which UWC was established by the National Party government and turned its sights on the development of the Third World communities in opposition to apartheid, this necessarily entailed, in its conception of the content of its teaching and research, notions about social content and implications of the technical subject matter.

In the present historical phase, the questioning of existing social relations in the production of human resources for the implementation of the RPD is not in an oppositional mode or, at least not predominantly so, but rather in a transformatory mode under the aegis of a democratic regime. It, nonetheless, demands a continuous interrogation of the social in pursuing the technical. More broadly, it may be said that it is the simultaneous practice (research and teaching, pure and applied) of the natural and social sciences and humanities which are a necessary, if not sufficient, condition of the actualisation of the RDP (see Christie, 1994).

The second link is with the notion of ‘an intellectual home of the left’. The view that education and training may contribute to progressive social change if the inextricable interrelationship between technique and social purpose is explicitly recognised, serves to bring social critique to the forefront of the intellectual pursuits of the university. It was said earlier that the victory of representative government in April 1994 was a beginning. The conditions of the contemporary conjuncture and the competing social interests which have been ‘granted’ or gained space under the new democratic dispensation are such that various outcomes of the present process, each with differing possible consequences for different constituencies, remain possible. The task of continuous critique of the social order and of the theoretical issues about continuous social transformation is a compelling one and consistent with UWCs traditions. It would be fully consonant with this interpretation of UWCs redefined mission to establish, for example, an Institute for Social Theory.

It can be argued that the assumptions behind the University’s Academic Development Programme ground a second element of a new mission. It was suggested above that what lay behind the ADP was a conception of the need, in the specific educational conditions of South Africa, for a new, appropriate definition of the identity of the university. Such a definition would have to recognise the general level of pre-university education in South Africa and, once recognised, this immediately problematises the adoption, from the North, of views about the nature of the university and linked conceptions about quality and standards.

Arguments, advanced by most of the HBUs, regarding the broadening of access have been met, particularly from the HWUs, by assertions that this will inevitably result in a decline in the quality of students and hence lowered university standards will ensue. The existing capacity of South African universities (which universities and in which respects is rarely, if ever, stated) to maintain ‘world standards’, it has been argued, will be fatally impaired. And so would the capacity of the universities to contribute to the RDP. The logic of this position (which it should be noted has been quite radically departed from in the case of some English-language HWUs) would be to leave both the conception of the university and existing admission policies more or less intact.

Existing capacities, provided they are redirected towards reconstruction, and all that implies in terms of meeting basic needs and reducing race, gender and other inequalities, must surely be preserved, and at the appropriate level of quality. And this is all the more the case if the HWUs are transformed to reflect the South African population in respect to both staff and students. What is problematic, however, is that the notion of 'quality’ is used in an entirely undifferentiated and unspecified way. Thus, for example, is it appropriate to apply the notion of ‘world standards’ to a community health worker or to a para-legal assistant in rural areas?

The notions of quality and standards need to be differentiated in ways appropriate to South African conditions. One way of approaching this is to define three levels of quality-entailing, perhaps, the notion of excellence as meaning 'fitness for purpose’-which will involve, at the same time, specifying a new functional role for the university which builds upon the strengths already developed, but also goes beyond them:

(i) The recognition that most students are not adequately qualified through schooling for higher education suggests that the first degree, as currently offered in South Africa, which is largely modelled on the British system, is not appropriate. This points towards the need to restructure the first degree, in two ways.

First, the undergraduate degree needs to be more appropriately geared towards the needs and level of preparedness of an increasingly diverse student intake. Thus, in the initial phase of the degree, alongside a revised undergraduate curriculum, emphasis should be placed on diagnostic testing and on student placement, including where appropriate placement in compulsory academic reading and writing courses. Clearly, these issues need to be placed in the context of the university’s admissions policy, in order to ensure a proper 'fit’ between admissions criteria, the degree structure and expectations with regard to student outputs. [9]

Second, in order to provide a sound general education foundation, to encourage students to explore new study and career possibilities, and to promote a balance between social and human science perspectives and those of the sciences and technology, what is [10] required is a first degree combining both arts and sciences courses in a suitable mixture according to the student’s interests and potential. Specialisation should occur only after completion of such a degree, although if post-degree studies are to be pursued, the student should be required to take appropriate preliminary courses in, say, the third year.

What needs to be stressed is that a first degree of this type should be aimed at developing the student’s intellectual capacity, including the capacity to read productively, to write coherently, to think conceptually etc. In this regard it might be mentioned that a review may also be needed of the mix of content and conceptual development within the three-year degree structure, insofar as there is evidence that courses are sometimes overloaded with content and insufficiently geared towards providing students access to the conceptual and methodological foundations of different fields of study. [11]

It is possible that one way of enhancing this process is to provide a highly structured first year with a limited number of cure subjects selected for their pertinence to the process of producing the above capacities. An example of such a core subject is one which could be entitled ‘An Introduction to Africa’ which grounds undergraduate students in the geographical, historical, social and economic realities of the African Continent and South Africa.

(ii) Another level of quality will apply to studies concerned with meeting basic needs of people in the areas of primary and public health, housing, para-legal services, social and community welfare, etc. where less than professional qualifications are appropriate. World standards are inapplicable here, but training of this type in short and diploma courses is essential to this component of the RDP. It could, of course, be argued that such courses can be offered in further education and other colleges, but this does not mean that UWC, provided there is negotiated coordination and differentiation with other regional institutions, should not also provide these types of courses.

Indeed, the continuity of the mission, under new conditions, of service to Third World communities defined in the 1982 Mission Statement demands that the university expand its work in these spheres beyond those courses already in existence, for example, in the Schools of Government and Public Health.

(iii) Finally, in the area of professional education, research degrees and high level intellectual work of all types, the notion of ‘world standards’ remains appropriate and the university should apply these to such students. To do so in a manner which will enable the university to completely break from its apartheid origins will entail a programme of development.

Firstly, without unnecessarily duplicating existing capacity and in coordination with the other institutes of higher education in the region, the university should extend and strengthen its disciplinary base. In particular, this should be linked to the programmes indicated in (i) and (ii). That is to say, the university must strengthen its capacity to serve the new development path as expressed in the RDP.

Secondly, the particular critical and radical thrust of the university should be implemented through a strong intellectual development which does not only serve an instrumental role-the Institute of Social Theory mentioned above is one example.

Thirdly, the university must develop its research capacity both insofar as this will service its community-related work and its high level academic work.

Fourthly, the university will need to develop its capacity-teaching materials, laboratory equipment and instruments, library, staff development initiatives, and enhanced administrative back-up for teaching and research.

Conclusion

It is this combination of functions, qualities and levels, together with the approach set out earlier regarding technique and social purpose, which should constitute essential elements in the mission of UWC in the new historical conditions of South Africa.

NOTES

  1. Glen Fisher and Fred Barron ofthe Education PolicyUnit, University of the Western Cape read and commented on earlier drafts ofthis paper as did members of the University Executive. The views expressed are, ofcourse, my own. The paper was first presented at the AAU/ADE Joint Colloquium, The African University in the 1990sand Beyond, Lesotho 1995
  2. The terms, ‘First World’ and ‘Third World’ may not be the most useful or appropriate; they are used here, however, because they are the terms employed in the UWC MissionStatement. The point is to avoid unnecessary confusion or clumsiness in the discussion, rather than to endorse a particular terminology.
  3. Because of the fact that, in recent years, the ‘racial’ and/or ethnic composition, particularly of students, at some of the institutions has become more mixed, they tend now to be designated as ‘historically black or disadvantaged’ or ‘historically white or advantaged’ institutions.
  4. Quoted in Differentiation and Disadvantage: The Historically Black Universities in South Africa (Education Policy Unit, UWC, 1994)which also contains an extended analysis of the relevant issues. Iam indebted to this paper and to its co-authors for much of the analysis that follows of the evolution of the HBU’s under apartheid.
  5. The table is taken from the USAID Tertiary Education Sector Assessment of 1992; the information dates to this period. Unfortunately the table does not reflect the distribution of a number of key disciplines, commerce and science for instance.
  6. Approximate.
  7. The problem is not confined to the masters and doctoral levels only. However, in 1990 the HBUs accounted for just 16% of the general bachelors degrees awarded, and for 11% and 19% respectively of professional first bachelors degrees and postgraduate bachelors degrees and diplomas.
  8. This was partially modified in 1989.
  9. The point about admissions policies was made verbally by Nasima Badsha.
  10. This point has been made by Nasima Badsha
  11. A point made verbally by Prof. Stan Ridge
  12. In this regard, the Introduction to Africa course introduced at UCTby Renfrew Christie and Colin Bundy, which isa degree requirement in certain faculties, may offer an interesting model.

REFERENCES

African National Congress Education Department (1994) A Policy Framework for Education and Training.
African National Congress (1994) The Reconstruction and Development Programme: a policy framework (Cape Town)
Ajayi, J.F., Goma, A., Lamek, K.H., Johnson, D. & Ampah, G. (1994) The African experience with higher education, draft publication by the AAU for the Joint Colloquium on the University in Africa in the 1990s and Beyond, Lesotho 16-l0 January 1995
Badat, S., Barron, F., Fisher, G., Pillay, P. & Wolpe, H. (1994) Differentiation and Disadvantage: the historically Black universities in South Africa (Education Policy Unit, University of the Western Cape, Bellville).
Bunting, I.A. (1993) An unequal system: South Africa’s historically white and historically black universities, unpublished paper.
Christie, R. (1994) The need for balance in human and natural science research funding in South Africa: do we need an RDP research council?, paper commissioued by the Centre for Science Development of the Human Sciences Research Council at the request of the Executive Committee for Analysis of Research in the Human Sciences, September 1994.
Gerwel, J. (1987) Inaugural Address as Sixth Vice-Chancellor and Rector of the University of the Western Cape (Bellville).
University of Cape Town (1989) Reserch report.
University of Stellenbosch (1989) Rectors Report
University of the Western Cape (1982) Mission Statement
University of the Western Cape (1994) UWC Perspectives, Spring
University of the Witwatersrand (1991) Facts on Wits.

USAID (United States Agency for International Development) (1992) South Africa: tertiary sector assessment.

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