Professor Renuka Vithal and Professor Adam
Habib at the UTLO Conference at the Elangeni

Reimagining Higher Education policy implementation was high on the agenda at the 9th annual Teaching and Learning Conference held at the Elangeni Hotel in Durban.

Keynote speaker, Professor Adam Habib, Vice-Chancellor at Wits University, explored issues important to the transformation debate and delivered a presentation titled “Developing a differentiated system in South African Higher Education.”

Habib said a differentiated Higher Education system enables responsiveness to the diverse and multiple needs of an economy and a society. ‘A differentiated Higher Education system is a prerequisite for both economic competition and inclusive development,’ he said.

He emphasised that while all universities need to be engaged in research, we need to disabuse ourselves of our obsession with status: that research-led universities are inherently superior to those focused primarily on teaching and learning.  Habib also cautioned against the assumption that research-led universities are more deserving of additional funding, which is linked to their status and hierarchy. He said universities need to partner and work with one another.

‘The transformation struggle and the transformation upsurge on our campuses have been long overdue and must be welcomed,’ said Habib. But, he said we should not conflate radical with violent. Achieving progressive, radical outcomes need not be violent.

He said universities need to establish a culture of caring within our institutions through the curriculum, echoing the welcome address delivered by Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Teaching and Learning, Professor Renuka Vithal. ‘But’, he said ‘the challenge was how to establish caring in an uncaring society?’

Habib stressed the importance of creativity within the production of knowledge and interrogated the issue of quality. He said courage was needed amongst leadership and academics to address the challenges of quality in Higher Education.

In her welcome address, Professor Renuka Vithal, said UKZN has ‘tinkered on the edges of curriculum’ change.

Vithal examined how universities can better facilitate students adjusting to being at university. ‘We know that first semester and year curricula are sometimes packed with the potential gatekeeping “killer” courses, resulting in a year or more being added by failing even a single prerequisite module in the first semester,’ said Vithal.

She stressed the importance of community engagement being undertaken by all students and said students need to be properly prepared for a ‘rapidly changing’ globalised world.

Vithal said ‘We continue to live in an important historical moment, and students have opened a critical window of opportunity through the current ferment, which offers universities the possibilities to significantly re-imagine our undergraduate curricula for substantially better learning outcomes to serve society.’

The three-day Conference, hosted by UKZN’s Teaching and Learning Office, will provide a platform for academics and researchers from around the world to reflect on teaching and learning strategies and approaches, with particular emphasis on reimagining Higher Education.

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– Raylene Captain-Hasthibeer