The Kresge Foundation Special Initiative in South Africa

Moving forward and doing better

The Kresge Foundation's 4th Annual Leadership Retreat in 2010, a platform for leaders in higher education throughout South Africa to examine issues affecting and facing higher education institutions in the country, generated considerable debate in its fourth and final year. Amongst the many concerns raised at this retreat, the issue of under-prepared students, alarming learner drop-out rates, inadequate teacher training, and poor curriculum development were top of the list.

According to Brutus Malada, Senior Research Fellow for the Centre for Politics and Research, "there are still many who are unable to access higher education because of the lack of funding, but it is epistemological access that we need to address more vigorously. Our education system is failing our students. This means we should address the challenges of our primary and secondary education especially", he said.

A key point of discussion was the transforming of higher education beyond "racial bean-counting". Transformed institutions are critical - and to reduce the high number of drop-outs in Higher Education Institutions, the curriculum in both primary and high school needs to ensure that it addresses some of the foundational basics.

Dr Saleem Badat, Vice-Chancellor of Rhodes University stated unequivocally that, "Higher Educational Institutions are not without fault. Many lecturers are unable to get their point across in a way that is understood, hence the need to seriously address teaching and learning in Higher Education Institutions".

It was agreed that as universities grapple with the way forward, university leadership have to manage to bridge the knowledge divide and produce well-rounded and well-grounded graduates as part of an active citizenry and not just to service the needs of a globally competitive market. The big question left hanging in the air was, "How?".

Speakers at the retreat included Professor Linda Richter, Distinguished Research Fellow at the Human Sciences Research Council; Professor Rolf Stumpf, Higher Education Consultant; Professor Loyiso Nongxa, Vice-Chancellor of University of Witwatersrand; Dr Rob Adam, Chief Executive Officer for the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation; Professor Ahmed Bawa, Vice-Chancellor of Durban University of Technology; Professor Brian O'Connell, Vice-Chancellor of the University of the Western Cape; Dr Cheryl de la Rey, Vice-Chancellor of University of Pretoria; Dr Judy Backhouse of the Council for Higher Education; and Professor Raphael de Kadt of St. Augustine's College. 

The sessions were chaired by Professor Phillip Clay, Chancellor of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the USA; Dr Saleem Badat, Vice-Chancellor of Rhodes University; Gaby Ritchie, Programme Director for Inyathelo; and Dr Anita Craig, an independent scholar.