On the 21st-24th of November, Durban University of Technology hosted the annual meeting of the Higher Education Learning and Teaching Association of South Africa (HELTASA). As part of our impact and engagement strategy, three members of our team – Dr Rebecca Swartz (UCT) and Prof Neil Morris and Dr Mariya Ivancheva (University of Leeds) participated in the conference by offering a pre-session workshop “Unbundling Higher Education: Exploring Models in an Unequal Landscape”. The workshop aimed to generate discussion around some key questions of our project that would allow a two-way engagement with participants. This allowed us to offer some insights from our research findings and where our project sees some advancements and challenges happening at the intersection of unbundling, marketisation and digitalization in South African Higher Education. We were also eager to hear from participants and gather data on their perceptions of these processes from the position of their institutions.
This second blog post offers a brief overview of the answers which our participants – mostly academics, academic development and education technology workers from South African universities – offered to the questions of the shifting public private divide in public higher education in the country. In our first blog post we covered topics around the changing nature of the changing nature of public universities through public-private partnerships in teaching and learning provision.
In the second part of the workshop we inquired if and how the introduction and increased role of digital technologies, curricular disaggregation, and marketisation has changed the teaching and learning provision at the participants’ institutions. We asked them to give examples on what are the advantages and challenges to this development especially when it comes to introducing students to online or blended learning and digital technologies and through marketisation. We were also interested to explore participants’ visions of where this change will lead public higher education in South Africa in the next 5-10 years.
Workshop participants saw digital technologies as holding huge potential but not being in widespread use. They insisted that digital technologies would come as a must in any further training, be it within universities or as unbundled provision. They also commented, however, on university staff as resistant to change and not always on board with technological developments. Faculty were believed to be making limited use of digital technologies, and sometimes had outdated or faulty ideas regarding their use. At times it was a generational matter in which younger faculty were more tech savvy and open to innovation and use of online platforms and forums to provide content. Alternatively the confidence, competence, and pedagogical skills of teachers was seen as more important than their age. Whatever the case, however, the resistance to adopting technologies was seen by participants quite unanimously as putting students at a disadvantage. This was even more the case for students who lacked digital literacy upon entering university. Those from underprivileged backgrounds could use the entry into universities to get ahead with technology and often e-books and devices were made available to accelerate this process, but this opportunity was lost if staff did not give them a good technological introduction, thus perpetuating their disadvantage. The disconnect between the availability of technological devices and the ability of students and faculty to use them for academic research, teaching and learning, was also named as a central challenge.