HE: Pathways to personal & public good: understanding access to, student experiences of, & outcomes from South African undergraduate higher education

Lead Research Organisation: Lancaster University
Department Name: Educational Research

Abstract

This International Centre Partnership is located within the Higher Education Thematic area. It is a collaboration between the ESRC/HEFCE funded Centre for Global Higher Education and a cluster of NRF projects in South Africa located at the Universities of Cape Town, Rhodes, and the Free State.

The International Centre Partnership will examine the pathways from an undergraduate education to personal and public goods in South Africa through three interlinked themes: access to higher education; students' experiences whilst studying; and the economic and social contributions made by university graduates. It brings together internationally leading higher education researchers from the UK, South Africa and further afield in order to explore the relations between these themes. In bringing together these three issues, it will further understanding of the ways in which an undergraduate education contributes to both personal and social transformation The partnership will also make a significant contribution to capacity building through the development of an internationally networked cadre of South African post-doctoral researchers, who will have the opportunity to work with internationally leading researchers in the field of higher education over a sustained period of time. These opportunities will be further enhanced by their inclusion within the wider capacity building and career development activities of the Centre for Global Higher Education.

The collaboration is ODA compliant because:
1. Higher Education has been shown to play a key role in the economic and social development of individuals and societies;
2. The collaboration will increase understanding of the way in which an undergraduate education makes this form of contribution;
3. It will use this understanding to develop resources for policy makers, managers and practitioners to further develop South African Higher Education;
4. It draws on the UK strengths in higher education research and brings together an internationally excellent group of higher education researchers;
5. It builds the capacity of South African post-doctoral researchers and includes them in a larger group of internationally networked early-career higher education researchers.

Planned Impact

The following groups will benefit from the research in the following ways:
Higher Education researchers in South Africa and internationally: The research team will benefit from the synthesis of work examining admissions to, student experiences of and outcomes from undergraduate higher education in South Africa. Whilst South African researchers will benefit from the outcomes relating to a particular HE system, international researchers will benefit from the opportunity to relate the outcome from this system to other national HE systems.

South African policy makers: Professionals in the policy domain will benefit by having the opportunity to input into the work of the individual themes and from their participation in the final conference. They will also benefit from the policy makers' guide that will be written based on the outcomes of the International Research Centre Partnership.

South African Higher Education managers and practitioners: Through the examination of the ways in which admissions and students' experiences support particular kinds of outcomes from undergraduate higher education, HE managers and practitioners in South Africa will be provided with research-based evidence about effective ways of organising undergraduate admissions and curricula.

International policy makers: The International Centre Partnership team has strong links to policy makers, for example the UK Department for International Development, the US Agency International Development and pan-African Organisations such as the African Association of Universities. Given the renewed interest in the development potential of higher education, dialogue with these bodies about the outcomes of the Collaboration is likely to be productive and lead to greater understanding of the potential role of higher education in development.

UK policy makers and practitioners: The International Centre Partnership will also benefit from its links with the Associated Organisations (AOs) of the Centre for Global Higher Education (CGHE). This will facilitate the impact of the Partnership within the UK. These AOs, which are fully outlined in the Pathways to Impact document, include student, lecturer, university, business and consumer groups.

The International Centre Partnership will use conventional and internet media to engage large numbers of people in its work and place it on the policy agenda. The outcomes of the partnership will be disseminates in the form of media articles, including The Conversation (which has just been launched in South Africa and is already widely picked up by the policy-focused media in UK and internationally, including the US). The International Centre partnership will also benefit from the fact that the Times Higher Education (THE) is an AO of CGHE. The International Centre Partnership will also benefit from space on CGHE's website. This is being developed into a responsive web and social media platform to support the Centre's communications, dissemination and research discussion strategies. It will feature an interactive website, with blogs, social media and a strong visual identity.
 
Description The project highlighted two key tensions in our current understanding of South African undergraduate education in its public university system. The first is that there is a tendency to focus on individual universities rather than understanding how the system works as a whole. We also know far more about students' access to, experiences of, and outcomes from historically advantaged universities, where higher education researchers tend to be based, than we do about historically disadvantaged institutions. This gap is significant given the crucial role historically disadvantaged institutions can play in transforming who gains access to and benefits from an undergraduate education.

The second tension is between the reproductive and transformative potential of undergraduate education. In South Africa's transition to a democracy, higher education was expected to play a key role in alleviating the inequalities inherited from the apartheid era. Equally the experience of studying at university and the subsequent access it can provide to a graduate career can clearly be hugely personally transformative for individuals and their families. However, the 'graduate premiums' that are generated by this personal transformation are also a clear indicator of inequality because they signal the differences in income between graduates and non-graduates. Thus, much of the popular support for higher education, in South Africa and globally, is related to its role in reproducing existing inequalities in society even if some individuals hope to experience social mobility. Indeed, if higher education was successful in supporting the transformation of society in the way envisaged in policy, it is likely that graduate premiums would fall. For this not to lead to disillusionment with higher education, it would appear to be crucial that the societal transformation is underpinned by personal transformation in students that ensures a commitment to a transformed society.
Exploitation Route The two tensions we identified in current understanding of South African undergraduate education highlight the need to develop a better understanding of how higher education acts as a system of education. We need to better understand how the system functions as a whole and the roles that different institutions play in supporting students to develop transformative relationships to knowledge. We need to better understand the impact that differential prestige and resources have on students studying in institutions across the higher education system. In doing so, rather than focusing solely on how to better support elite universities to compete globally, we need to develop a vision of an inclusive and transformational system of undergraduate education that supports all students to transform themselves and society through the knowledge that is offered by higher education.

The primary implication of this project for policies and practices related to South African undergraduate education is that we need to have a clearer sense of the educational functions of the higher education system in addition to our current focus on its research and social functions. This involves supporting the development of institutional arrangements and curricula that are designed around students as they actually are rather than unhelpful notions of the 'ideal student'. Those responsible for degree programmes need to have a clear sense of why the knowledge that they are inviting students to engage with is important, how it will be personally transformative, and how it will prepare students to engage in the transformation of society. There is also a pressing need to develop a better understanding of the kinds of structures in society that can support graduates in engaging in the transformation of society once they have progressed beyond university.

Finally, there is a need for ongoing public debates about how higher education should contribute to the transformation of society. Given that graduate premiums reflect inequalities between degree holders and those without access to higher education, public discussion is needed about the extent to which undergraduate education is about transforming the life chances of individual students and how much it is about developing graduates who are able to play an active role in the transformation of South African society.
Sectors Education

URL http://www.africanminds.co.za/dd-product/higher-education-pathways-south-african-undergraduate-education-and-the-public-good/
 
Description The findings from the project were made available in an open access edited book that has been shared with every vice-chancellor in South Africa. We have some evidence that the project's findings have informed current debates around the role of undergraduate education in South African society. The project has also supported the development of a group of emerging South African researchers by including them in all aspects of this international project. Eleven of the twenty-one chapters in the edited book were either authored or co-authored by the emerging researchers, providing an opportunity to publish their work and have it read by an international audience.
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Education
Impact Types Societal,Policy & public services

 
Description Chair of the International Expert Panel Interim Evaluation of the Norwegian Agency for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (NOKUT) Centres for Excellence in Education (SFU)
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Membership of a guideline committee
Impact The review has led to changes to the approach of three Norwegian Centres for teaching excellence in higher education. These changes will have a national reach.
 
Description Invited member of Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) Expert Group on Learning Gain
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
 
Description Higher Education, Inequality and the Public Good in four African countries: South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria and Ghana
Amount £426,536 (GBP)
Funding ID ES/P002498/1 
Organisation Economic and Social Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 12/2016 
End 05/2019
 
Description SA-UK University Staff Doctoral Programme (USDP)- Phase 2 Collaboration and Scoping Grant
Amount R 180,000 (ZAR)
Organisation British Council 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2019 
End 06/2019
 
Description Article in University World News 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact An article on the project in University World News
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.universityworldnews.com/post.php?story=20181213095955141
 
Description Conference in Cape Town 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact In what ways does South African undergraduate education have a transformative impact on people and society? What conditions are required for this impact to occur? What are the pathways from an undergraduate education to the public good? What are the implications of these pathways for policy makers, institutional managers, and higher education researchers and practitioners?

This two day conference explored the answers to these questions that were developed through an ESRC-NRF funded project undertaken as part of the Centre for Global Higher Education (http://www.researchcghe.org/). The project drew together a team of international and South African researchers. The distinctive contribution of this project was to bring together empirical evidence and conceptual debates across three domains of the higher education trajectory that are often considered in isolation: access to higher education, student experience, and graduate outcomes.

The first day of the conference focused on the implications of the outcomes of the project for policy makers and practitioners and the second day focused on the implications for researchers. Each day will involve presentations of the outcomes from the project team followed by opportunities to explore their implications in small groups.

The conference also marked the launch of an open-access edited book based on the outcomes from the project, which was available to participants at the conference
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.researchcghe.org/events/cghe-conference/exploring-pathways-to-the-public-good-of-south-a...
 
Description Does engaging undergraduate students in research transform their understandings of knowledge? SMAAKMAKER XXL: Research in the Curriculum, Amsterdam University of the Applied Sciences, the Netherlands, 9th November 2017 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact I gave a keynote presentation to teachers at the Amsterdam University of the Applied Sciences on how engaging undergraduate students in research might transform their understandings of knowledge. Afterwards practitioners told me they had changed their view on these issues.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.hva.nl/content/evenementen/symposia/2017/11/seminar-research-in-the-curriculum.html
 
Description Guidance suggests TEF is now about government priorities, not teaching 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact This was an opinion piece that discussed the latest developments in the Teaching Excellence Framework.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.timeshighereducation.com/blog/guidance-suggests-tef-now-about-government-priorities-not-...
 
Description Learning gain: Myths and possibilities 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact A blog for HEFCE on how learning gain might best be used to inform measurements of teaching excellence.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://blog.hefce.ac.uk/2018/02/21/learning-gain-myths-and-possibilities/
 
Description Making Sense of Employability in Research-led Teaching Environments. The changing role of academics in the professional development of students: Leiden Teachers' Academy Conference, University of Leiden, the Netherlands, 20th November 2017. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact I gave a keynote at the Leiden Teachers' Academy Conference, which is for academics at the University of Leiden. This keynote examined how to approach employability in research-led teaching environments.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.universiteitleiden.nl/en/events/2017/11/the-changing-role-of-teachers
 
Description Meeting with Research Users University of Cape Town 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact This engagement with South African policy makers discussed the graduates strand of the project and ensured that it was focusing on issues that resonated with policy makers
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Meeting with Research Users University of Free State 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This engagement with South African policy makers discussed the access strand of the project and ensured that it was focusing on issues that resonated with policy makers
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Meeting with Research Users University of Rhodes 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact This engagement with South African policy makers discussed the student experience strand of the project and ensured that it was focusing on issues that resonated with policy makers
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Policy Brief on the outcomes of the project 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact As part of the impact plan for the project we produced a policy brief outlining the project'a outcomes and implications for policies and practices,
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.researchcghe.org/publications/policy-briefing/pathways-to-personal-and-public-good-impli...
 
Description Symposium at 2016 SRHE Conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact We held a symposium on the interim findings of our project
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Teaching Excellence: Unhelpful Myths and Productive Possibilities. Recognising and Sharing Teaching Excellence: 15th University of Liverpool Learning and Teaching Conference, 29th June 2017. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact I gave a keynote on Teaching Excellence to academics and teaching from the University of Liverpool at their annual Learning and Teaching Conference. Afterwards I was told by many participants that I had changed their view of teaching excellence.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Workshop for PhD students - University of Cape Town 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact This workshop was led by Dr Janja Komljenovic and was entitled 'Making higher education markets'. This was attended by 15 people, who were a mixture of academic staff and PhD students.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Workshop for PhD students - University of Pretoria 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact The theme of the seminar was 'Access and equity challenges of Higher Education in the 21st century'
Prof Rajani Naidoo from the International Centre for Higher Education at Bath University in the United Kingdom, spoke on 'Equity in a fractured world'. Prof Melanie Walker from the University of the Free State focused 'Perspectives on access in South Africa'.
Dr Vincent Carpentier from the Centre for Global Higher Education at the Institute of Education at the University College London in the United Kingdom; Dr Yann Lebeau from the School of Education and Lifelong Learning at the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom and Prof Jussi Välimaa from the Finnish Institute for Educational Research at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland gave their view in a collaborative presentation. They addressed the issue of 'International perspectives on equality of higher education opportunities: models and strategies for accessibility, availability and attainability'.
Prof Everard Weber, Head of the Department of Education Management and Policy Studies acted as respondent.
The seminar was attended by Deans and Deputy Deans of the University of Pretoria and Unisa; Directors at UP; representatives from the Council on Higher Education and the South Africa Qualifications Authority; school principals; staff of the Faculty of Education as well as postgraduate and undergraduate students in the Faculty of Education and several other guests who all showed interest in 'Access and equity challenges of Higher Education in the 21st Century'.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Workshop for PhD students - Wits University 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact A PhD seminar was held at Wits University. Professor Rosemary Deem presented the seminar on 'Academic writing for publication'. The interest expressed in the seminar invitation was so great that the seminar had to be moved to a larger venue. Over 50 graduate students attended, and the seminar was engaging and lively, and very well received.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Workshop for PhD students at Rhodes University 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Five of the project team gave presentations to PhD scholars as part of their project visit. This brief report outlines their very useful and engaging contributions.
On Tuesday 8 March, Sherran Clarence ran a 90--minute workshop on making the transition from the proposal to the PhD. The participants were approximately 20 PhD scholars from the CHERTL Higher Education Studies programme. Sherran focused on the difference between the goal of a linear thesis with a strong narrative coherence and the messiness of data collection and chapter writing.
That afternoon, Thandeka Mkhize presented an interactive discussion on managing large data sets. Thandeka drew from her own PhD journey to urge those present to set up rigorous systems from the start. She also discussed the need for persistence and flexibility in negotiating data collection.
On Wednesday 9 March, Thierry Luescher presented a seminar entitled 'The 2015/2016 SA student movement and 12 propositions for investigating its character and significance.' This was attended by the Higher Education Studies scholars and PhD scholars from the rest of the Faculty of Education, as well as a few people from the broader university community. Approximately 75 people took part in this exciting and challenging session, which led to a great deal of deliberation for the rest of the week. It may be of interest to note as an aside that the idea of setting out propositions to test became a useful framing mechanism for this theme group as we planned our (secondary) data collection and analysis process over the days that followed.
Rebecca Schendel then presented a seminar entitled: 'Critically consuming (and using) quantitative data in higher education research'. She took the group through a series of pitfalls one can fall into when drawing on quantitative data uncritically. While most of the PhD scholars are undertaking primarily qualitative studies, they will of course draw on descriptive statistics and will need to critically engage with quantitative claims in the literature.
Paul Ashwin then presented a seminar entitled: 'Why would going to university change anyone? On the role of knowledge in transforming students.' This led to interesting discussions about the purpose of higher education and in particular the tensions or alignment between students' personal projects and the kinds of knowledge they can access through their university education. The presentation drew on data from a large study.
The next seminar was also offered by Paul and was entitled 'The role of theories in educational research'. This was a reassuring session for many of the scholars grappling with complex theory and trying to see how it speaks to their own concerns and the specific focus of their own studies. The session also looked at the production of new theory. There was a useful synergy between this session and the issues of complexity and messiness that Sherran had raised in her presentation.
The day was rounded off by a panel discussion in which theme member, Thierry Luescher, participated:
Panel Discussion: Research, Education and Transformative Social Movement
Panelists: Emmanuel Mgqwashu, Enocent Msindo, Thierry Luescher, Heila Lotz--Sisitka and Sarah Sephton There has been a recent rise in transformative social movement in response to concerns about the effects of colonization, hypercapitalism and degradation and commodification of earth and life systems. This has led to the rise of a number of mass actions and social movements calling for change in matters related to education. This panel explores the relationship between transformative social movement/s and education from various perspectives.
The panel was very well attended by PhD scholars and members of the broader university community. With more than 80 people present, we reached our seating capacity. By this time, all our theme members had arrived at Rhodes University and were able to join us for this event. It was followed by a social event of supper and conversation between the PhD scholars and the project team. We believe that coupling the project meetings with events such as this PhD week ensures that we make the most of our collective experiences and are able to contribute to the sector beyond the specifics of the project meeting.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Workshop for PhD students at the University of Cape Town 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact This workshop looked at "Researching graduate outcomes and trajectories in emerging economy contexts". There were 12 participants from varied locations in Western Cape HEIs and related institutions including UCT, CPUT, CHEC. The papers given were "The CHEC Graduate Destination Survey of the 2010 Cohort of Graduates from the Western Cape Universities" Nasima Badsha, Cape Higher Education Consortium (CHEC), & Judy Favish, University of Cape Town; "Towards a national graduate destinations survey in Kenya: findings from a pilot study of three universities" Tristan McCowan, UCL Institute of Education; "Tracking undergraduate scholarship holders into post-graduation employment and education: A Brazilian study" Renato Pedrosa, University of Campinas, Brazil.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Workshop for PhD students at the University of the Free State 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact There were two workshops for PhD students and post docs. Professor Rajani Naidoo, University of Bath, gave one on using Bourdieu in higher education research and Dr Yann Lebeau, University of East Anglia, gave the other looking at the role of the World Bank in higher education policy. Fifteen people attended of whom 4 were post docs and 11 were PhD students.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016