The rationale for reviewing mergers

The reconfiguration of the country’s higher education landscape, which commenced with mergers and incorporations five years ago, has resulted in topical discourse on challenges to which the merger processes have given rise.

Commentary on mergers has largely focused on student protests and a perceived ‘drop” in standards owing to the mergers, among other elements.

However, it is prudent that analysis of the mergers should take into consideration their objectives. In 2001, as part of the transformational agenda for higher education, then-minister of education Kader Asmal announced the national plan for higher education in terms of which a need was identified to restructure the institutional landscape of the higher education system in South Africa.

One of the key mechanisms employed for this purpose was to merge some of the higher education institutions. The national plan identified the following priorities as key to the achievement of the restructuring process:

  • To reduce duplication and overlap in programme and service provision;
  • To promote the joint development and delivery of programmes;
  • To enhance responsiveness to regional and national needs for academic programmes, research and community service;
  • To refocus build academic and administrative capacity; and
  • Refocus and reshape the institutional culture and missions of the institutions as South African institutions.

The Tshwane University of Technology (TUT), born in 2004 out of a merger of the formerly black Technikon Northern Gauteng and Technikon North West with the formerly white Technikon Pretoria, has identified a need to host a conference to provide an opportunity for a mid-term evaluation of the progress made with the mergers. The aim is also to assess its potential to achieve the transformation objectives at systemic and institutional levels.

The higher education strategic issues have to be understood within the context of the White Paper III, which provides a framework within which the South African higher education system needs to operate.

As such, the key challenges facing the South African higher education system remain as outlined in the White Paper: ‘To redress past inequalities and to transform the higher education system to serve a new social order, to meet pressing national needs, and to respond to new realities and opportunities” (White Paper: 1.1).

Quality promotion
At an institutional level, and in support of transformation TUT acknowledged challenges posed by the merger and implemented a strategy to face those challenges. Taking cognisance of all role-players affected by the merger, transparency was a priority.

The university decided to open itself up for public scrutiny. A voluntary self-assessment and a quality audit by the Council on Higher Education were the points of departure towards addressing merger-related issues.

The end results were commendations and recommendations, which we continue to address through a quality-improvement plan. This was also done to ensure that we produce graduates needed for social and economic development in the country.

Graduates for social and economic development
The increasing importance of sophisticated skills and human resources for social and economic development in a knowledge-driven world requires that planning for the higher education system allows for significant expansion.

Therefore our system must ensure increased participation rates, increased graduate outputs, broadened social base of students, diversified enrolments and, within that, the enhancement of the cognitive skills of our graduates.

Retention and graduation rates
There is concern about the significant decrease in retention and graduation rates, given the need for our system to produce more skilled individuals. This poses another problem for the sector: to ensure that growth in numbers of enrolments is in line with growth in numbers of graduates.

Our failure to manage this will result in a huge waste of resources, both financial and human. A student drop-out rate of 20% implies that about R1,3-billion in government subsidies is spent each year on students who do not complete their study programmes.

Fields of study
For years, especially during the apartheid regime, the sector was skewed towards the humanities, mainly because opportunities in business, management, science, engineering and technology were limited to whites.

In the late 1990s there was a significant change in enrolments from the humanities to business and commerce.

Unfortunately, enrolments in science, engineering and technology have remained constant. The higher education sector, in line with the proposal in the national plan for higher education, needs to alter the enrolment patterns dramatically.

It is also expected that the share which vocational qualifications have of the total enrolment figures should not be permitted to drop as a result of an ‘academic drift” towards general undergraduate degree studies.

While I spoke about increasing student participation rates, it is important to note that we should also focus on the composition of the student body in order to transform the system.

There is an imperative to address the inequalities of the past and to eradicate all forms of unfair discrimination in relation to access and equality of opportunity within higher education for historically and socially disadvantaged groups.

Higher education needs to have in place mechanisms to ensure increased access and success of black and women students.

From technikon to university
Historically, technikons were considered ‘glorified high schools” lacking qualified staff and proper infrastructure. Now that they are universities of technology, significant resources are required to build capacity at staff level to attain higher degrees and refocus on applied research.

The merger conference offers an opportunity to reflect on the past five years’ developments in relation to the rationale for the transformation of higher education.

Errol Tyobeka is vice-chancellor of the Tshwane University of Technology, which will host the Conference on Mergers

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

Institutions of higher learning should commemorate their casualties

The bust of Matikweni Nkuna at Tshwane University of Technology is an example of how we should honour those who fought for equal access to education

Seals abort pups in mass die-off

There are a number of factors — a pollutant, virus or bacteria or malnutrition — that may have caused the 12 000 deaths on Namibia’s coast.

Deconstructing South Africa’s construction industry performance

The construction industry has contracted sharply, partly due to Covid, and needs to rebalance its focus if it wants to survive

Editorial: SA will be bankrupted by looters

The chickens have finally come home to roost: if we do not end the looting, it will end us

Zuma vs Ramaphosa? Neither is the leader South Africans deserve

Neither statesman could command sufficient authority in an ANC that remains mired in corruption and infighting and at the behest of big capital

E-payments for the unbanked are booming

The pandemic is providing mobile phone network operators with a unique chance to partner with fintech firms and banks to deliver clever e-commerce solutions to the informal sector in Africa

Subscribers only

Toxic power struggle hits public works

With infighting and allegations of corruption and poor planning, the department’s top management looks like a scene from ‘Survivor’

Free State branches gun for Ace

Parts of the provincial ANC will target their former premier, Magashule, and the Free State PEC in a rolling mass action campaign

More top stories

Air pollution link in 15% of global Covid-19 deaths

Researchers have found that, because ambient fine particulate air pollution aggravates comorbidities, it could play a factor in coronavirus fatalities

Mboweni plans to freeze public sector wage increases for the...

The mid-term budget policy statement delivered by the finance minister proposes cutting all non-interest spending by R300-billion.

SAA to receive R10.5-billion government bailout after all

Several struggling state-owned entities received extra funds after the medium term budget policy speech

BMW X3 thrives in the M stable

The compact SUV is so at home with its new badge that’s it’s surprising it didn’t happen sooner

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday