Black colleges aim for quality

August 15, 1997

BLACK institutions in South Africa are being urged to become "development universities", geared to meeting the needs of disadvantaged communities, rather than emulating their globalising white counterparts.

A four-year study of historically black universities (HBUs) by the education policy unit of the University of the Western Cape, says they should move away from the "second-cousin syndrome", build on their strengths and link improved quality with relevance, to raise their status. Crucial to the future success of black universities and to the rational use of scarce resources, says principal author George Subotzky, will be for them to build niche areas of excellence and use them as the basis for wider institutional development.

The report, The Enhancement of Graduate Programmes and Research Capacity at the Historically Black Universities, reveals a lack of academic and researchculture at most of the 11 HBUs - a problem rooted in their previously apartheid-related missions, isolated location, original staff,political repression and resistance, increasing student numbers,discriminatory funding, ineffective structures and practices, and inadequate resources.

The outcome has been an emphasis on undergraduate teaching in a narrow range of subjects, low research output, high teaching load, underqualified staff, poor quality teaching, low success rates, and ineffective staff and academic development programmes. Despite this, the study identified pockets of excellence, particularly in community development such as health.

The report suggests two kinds of universities. Professor Sutotzky says: "The idea that higher education be committed to reconstruction and development, and that it responds to the global economy, is central in the white paper on higher education."

There could be high-powered "market" universities, in which advanced research was conducted in specialised units and institutes, in partnership with industry.

HBUs could develop significant competitive advantages in development, the report says, because of their commitment to social reconstruction and equity as well as their links to disadvantaged communities. But they need a change in attitude as well as operation. "Change and redress is not just about pumping money in," Professor Subotzky said.

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