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date: 18 November 2019

Summary and Keywords

Higher education in South Africa, as elsewhere in the world, is under pressure to reinvent and transform itself. Traditionally it has enjoyed the financial support of the government and has also enjoyed an autonomous existence. In South Africa, since the demise of apartheid, the education policy terrain has shifted remarkably fast and policies have required that universities respond to a national plan for higher education that commits universities to become cost- effective, massified institutions opening access to all who were historically excluded due to apartheid’s policies of educational exclusion.

Universities in the higher education sector as a whole are required to generate strategies that broaden access routes for disadvantaged groups and at the same time consider curriculum strategies that ensure success and inclusivity to such groups after access. In addition to these daunting challenges, the higher education sector has experienced a decrease in government funding and an increase in government control. Student-led protest around the cost of higher education has also introduced a new kind of pressure point on universities.

These shifts are in sharp contrast to the more elite traditional model of higher education in South Africa, which has been mostly residential institutions focusing on full-time study, with lectures, seminars, and laboratory demonstrations as the dominant forms of pedagogy. This model is also based on sets of internal rules designed to support staff to spearhead the knowledge-production processes. They function best under stable environments and tend to meander and falter when the foundations for stability are threatened.

Keywords: higher education, massification, transformation, decolonization, South Africa, chaos theory

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