'n Wêreldklasuniversiteit in Suid Afrika: ideaal, wenslik, haalbaar, werklikheid, hersenskim?
Wolhuter, Charl C.
MetadataShow full item record
There are currently visibly in many countries across the world an ideal and serious attempts to establish a world-class university. As examples could be cited China’s Project 211 of 1993, succeeded by Project 985 in 1998 (Manzon 2008:213), Education City in Doha, Qatar (Wildavsky 2010:55) and a project in Germany (Fallon 2008:16). The objectives of the research reported in this article were the following: • What is a world-class university (definition, criteria, conceptual clarification)? • How do South African universities weigh up against the ideal of a world-class university? • Is the establishment of a world-class university in South Africa desirable? • Is the establishment of a world-class university in South Africa attainable? • Which opportunities and stumbling blocks exist in South Africa in the way of the realisation of a world-class university? • Would an Afrikaans-medium world-class university be a possibility or a contradiction in terms? The method of comparative education has been followed here. The method entails the distillation of suggestions for the improvement of the local education system from a contextualised comparison with educational experience abroad. The motivations for striving towards the status of a world-class university exist at both national and institutional levels. The motivations at national level revolve around the role of the university as a determinant of national power. At institutional level a confluence of factors resulted in universities setting the ideal of becoming world-class universities. These factors include the explosion of enrolments during the past two decades, the knowledge explosion, the need for ever more costly infrastructure and changing funding patterns. Dwindling governmental funding has resulted in universities being forced to compete more and more with one another for funding allocations (Reisberg 2011:128). Governments from Western Europe to China and Australia (Shen 2010:69–76) are tending increasingly to move from equal funding to all universities to investment in promising and performing universities. Private sector funding and attraction of students – who are expected to foot an increasing proportion of their studies bill themselves – depend upon the quality if an institution. Finally, the quality gets enhanced significance in Friedman’s (2009:66–8) flat world, in which geographical advantage has been wiped out and universities are forced to compete with one another for students and staff (Gürüz 2008:3–5). A definition of the term world-class university does not exist in the scholarly literature. For lack of a definition this article attempts to construct a model of a world-class university (with model being used in the sense as used by Rosenblueth and Wiener 1945 in their classic publication on the role of models in science). A model is constructed from the basis of an analysis of the lexical meaning of the three components of the term world-class university. The word class refers to a category within a rank order; together with world, world-class then means the best or the highest order in the world. A university is an advanced educational institution for the promotion (teaching and research) of various branches of science. World-class then refers to the quality of the university. Quality in education consists, according to Bergman (1996:581), of four components: input quality, process quality, outcome quality and output quality. The university fulfils its functions (teaching, learning, research, service, innovation, cultural preservation, transmittance and progress, and social critique) in symbiosis with a societal context. This proposed model posits, then, that in order to be a world-class university, the best quality (input, process, outcome and output quality) of each of the structural elements and functions of the university should be realised, all in symbiosis with the context in which the university operates. A measuring instrument that includes all the elements of the model does not exist, forcing the scholar to resort to existing systems of university ratings, despite their shortcomings. Three South African universities appear among the top 500 and 400 respectively of the Times Higher Education and Shanghai ratings. Thirteen, or just more than half, of all South African universities fall within the top quintile of the Ranking web of world universities (only three South African universities lie below the median). By all measures South Africa already has world-class universities. While the call for more world-class universities in South Africa is present as urgently as elsewhere in the world, a summary concentration of public resources for the cause of promoting the establishment of (more) world-class institutions would be inadvisable, in view of contextual realities. A world-class university is an expensive undertaking. For the six campuses earmarked for the development to world-class status in Germany, for example, the federal German government has allocated 19 billion euros (Labi 2010) – more than ten times South Africa’s total public education budget for primary, secondary and tertiary education. South African universities are obtaining ever decreasing state funding (Wolhuter 2011b), education is already the single biggest item on the public budget, and with many other pressing demands within primary and secondary education and outside of education (housing, health care and transportation infrastructure) a case could hardly be made for more investment in developing world-class universities. Furthermore, South Africa’s gross tertiary education enrolment ratio of 17 percent is low compared with that of other upper middle-income countries, where this figure is typically 35 to 40 percent. Youth unemployment in South Africa is high. In view of these contextual realities it could be stated that the need for expansion and diversification is stronger at the lower strata of the higher education pyramid in order to provide relief for the growing numbers of unemployed young people. In this regard community colleges appear to be the most promising model on the international higher education landscape. With both the call for world-class universities and less exclusive forms of higher education equally pressing, the obvious solution seems to be to allow the private sector to play a larger role in higher education provision. The international experience also indicates that the idea of an Afrikaans-medium and/or mission-driven world-class university
- Faculty of Education