The Unbundled University: our analytic focus

This project is about the ‘unbundling’ of higher education in South Africa and England. Unbundling refers to a range of organisational models, technologies, alternative forms of provision and new relationships between producers, users and gatekeepers of knowledge. These factors are gradually emerging (or, rather, they are claimed to emerge) because of social, economic, technological influences exercising a centrifugal force on higher education systems. Centrifugal means that the components of the traditional, costly university experience – provision, accreditation, student services, assessment, knowledge production and research, etc. – become disaggregated, possibly externally procured, reorganised, redefined through partnerships and alliances, reassembled as modular, affordable digital units, available ‘a la carte’, and so forth. However, the physics analogy of centrifugal forces should not give the mistaken impression of a natural trajectory of unstoppable change, whereby adaptation and compliance are the only options. In our project, we think that these dynamics are playing out differently in individual geopolitical contexts, that what looks like a benefit to English institutions may not be so positive for South African ones, and that there is a distinct and timely need to shape, perhaps even challenge, these trends along social justice and equity lines.

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