20 August 2017 Register to receive our free newsletter by email each week
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Differentiation in South African higher education

In late 2007, the Centre for Higher Education Transformation, as part of its 10th anniversary celebrations, hosted a seminar in Cape Town on differentiation in African tertiary education – or more accurately, the lack of it. This is a huge problem, hampering human development and preventing access to and the production of the range of skills across a variety of fields, types and levels that the continent needs to support its rapidly growing economies.

A single, coordinated and differentiated post-secondary education system? was the title of the seminar. It was the latest in a series of dialogues facilitated by CHET with the main aim of “continuing the debate about what the basic criteria and indicators should be for developing system differentiation that is acceptable and sound from academic, economic, political and social perspectives”. Differentiation is the process by which new entities emerge in a system, in this case higher education, which leads to greater diversity.

CHET director Dr Nico Cloete pointed out that post-apartheid South Africa has a far more coordinated post-school system than before, particularly in terms of enrolment planning. “But it also has a more homogeneous system in terms of mission and vision, with the main form of differentiation being institutional inequalities rather than different functions and choices.”

The first session investigated diversity and differentiation of higher education systems and “the vexing issues of vertical versus horizontal and institutional versus programme differentiation,” as Cloete put it. The second session looked at a post-school higher education sector – a crucial topic that has been silenced in the heat of the differentiation debate within the university sector. Knowledge divides were probed in a session on the curriculum in South Africa’s new ‘comprehensive’ universities, which combine formative and career-focused education. The last session discussed the use of performance indicators for different purposes, including promoting differentiation in South African higher education.

The synopses below lead to articles, written by University World News editors Karen MacGregor and Geoff Maslen, that summarise the proceedings of the CHET seminar.
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