Research area: Differentiation
CHET has been an active protagonist in the South African (and African) higher education differentiation debate since 2006. It has hosted several seminars on the issue, with an emphasis on drawing together high-level stakeholders from the post-secondary education sector.
A key moment was the presentation CHET made in March 2010 at the Minister of Higher Educations’ Summit. Following this Summit, University World News announced: 'Almost 16 years after 1994, at the Higher Education Summit of the Minister, a broad spectrum of the South African higher education community accepted differentiation as strategy to bring greater diversity and mission for purpose into the system.'
Following this landmark moment, and a grant form Ford Foundation to do further work, CHET has become the uncontested experts on differentiation in South African post-school education, both for the Ministry and for the Vice-Chancellors (VCs) of South Africa's 23 universities.
CHET presented a first draft on differentiation at a June 2010 workshop and received constructive feedback. HESA then requested CHET to facilitate a historic workshop between the departments of Higher Education and Training, and Science and Technology and the VCs, which resulted in some agreement amongst the often discordant VCs. However, following the workshop it seems that the VCs started squabbling and, subsequently, their position of 'progressive self-differentiation' has been overtaken by national developments.
A next development was the National Plan drafted by the National Planning Commission in the Office of the Presidency. The Commission approached CHET and Nasima Badsha, advisor to the Minister of Science and Technology, to write a proposal on the future of South African higher education. The National Plan essentially argues for an increase in knowledge production (masters, doctorate and publications) and in the participation rate. This rather historic policy statement is very bold in stating that research excellence will be performance-based, privileging the high knowledge-producing institutions, but also acknowledges the need for capacity-building. It also suggests a distinction between high-quality education and skills on the one hand, and knowledge production on the other. It deals with the worldwide policy debate about the concentration of resources by proposing world-class centres and programmes across institutions.
The NPC proposal also advises the Ministerial Committee for the Review of the Funding of Universities that such revisions should be based on the needs of a differentiated system with adequate provision for both teaching and research. The document correctly proposes that for a differentiated system to work requires flexible pathways for student mobility between institutions; that the Higher Education Quality Committee should finally start developing a core set of quality indicators for the whole system; and that a differentiated system should be 'guided by evidence-based planning and performance monitoring which will require maintaining and strengthening the current Higher Education Management Information System and the additional capacity to analyse national trends and changes between and among institutions and institutional groups.' (p282)
In February 2012, CHET facilitated a workshop on differentiation that, in addition to the CHET network, included 7 participants from the national departments of higher education and science and technology, the National Planning Commission, HESA, the Council on Higher Education, and the Minister’s committee for reviewing the funding formula. This is the closest CHET has come to ‘coordinating’ higher education in South Africa. For more information see ‘CHET advances the debate on differentiation in SA higher education’.
Differentiation is now firmly on the policy agenda, even if there is not yet unanimity about how to do it.
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