S&T & Higher EducationA number of partners at S&T are involved in a wide range of projects in the higher education sector, which Matthew Smith reviews here.
Student attitudes to higher education reform
Over the years Matthew has been involved in studies focusing primarily
on the issue of access and admission to institutions of higher education,
but this is changing as S&T rapidly expands into other topics
of importance in the higher education field. Matthew and Jowie recently
completed two studies in the Eastern Cape. These were part of a
study commissioned by the Eastern Cape Higher Education Association
(made up of all the heads of higher education institutions in that
province) to explore the key components of the Minister of Education's
proposed plans for higher education in that region.
Readers will be familiar with the Minister's desire to merge various
institutions in the Eastern Cape and close others. S&T was asked
to gauge student opinion towards the mergers, and also to develop
an understanding as to why students had chosen to study at the institution
they are currently enrolled at. The findings from these studies
raise several important points.
- Firstly, the cost of higher education influences not only the decision
to continue with post matric studies but also where one would pursue
further studies. For example, students at Fort Hare (where tuition fees
are lower than at Rhodes University) listed cost as an important factor
for choosing to study there whilst for Rhodes students the thing they
least liked about their institution was cost. Again, most students were
more likely to have applied to institutions within the province based
on proximity to their homes and attendant lower accommodation and travel
costs, especially for African students.
- Secondly, the academic reputation of an institution featured mostly
in the decisions of university students as opposed to technical skills
and therefore "better" employability, which featured highly
in the choice of an institution by technikon students. Both cost and
academic standing were given as reasons why students who terminated
their studies at tertiary institutions did so.
- Lastly, with regards to student opinions on mergers, it was clear
that more needed to be done to make students aware of the rationale
behind them and engage them in the processes around possible mergers.
In the main students were not averse to mergers provided these did not
result in steep increases in tuition fees and/or a drop in academic
standards. University students were more likely to be wary of a merger
with a technikon, equally true of students from historically advantaged
institutions regarding a merger with a less-resourced institution (university
Effective governance of higher education
S&T recently completed an evaluation of the CHET/ Department of Education's
Effective Governance Project and an evaluation of the University of Cape
Town's Equity Development Project (EDP) in the Micro and Cell Biology Department.
The latter study is part of a much wider study that S&T has been commissioned
to perform by The Atlantic Philanthropies (TAP).
For the next 3 years S&T will be tracking EDP students/staff at the
University of the Witwatersrand, the University of Cape Town, the University
of Natal and Free State University in order to establish how successful
these programmes are in producing academics from historically disadvantaged
5-continent comparative study for SA Vice Chancellors
The South African Vice Chancellors Association (SAUVCA) has asked Matthew
to do a comparative study of admissions systems on five different continents.
The countries Matthew will be exploring include New Zealand, China, Ghana,
Tanzania, Egypt, Slovenia, Norway, the UK, Brazil, Chile and Canada.
Matthew has also been asked to organise a series of focus groups across
South Africa for the American Council of Education, who wish to gauge
the public's perception of higher education in South Africa. Finally,
in conjunction with UCT, Matthew recently visited Norway to explore developing
a series of comparative studies on higher education in the two countries.