Access To Higher Education in Health Sciences Examined in Thesis
PhD Nursing graduate Ms Penelope Orton’s thesis investigated access to higher education in health sciences with a focus on transformation and social justice.
The study was titled: “Access to Higher Education in the Health Sciences – a Policy Implementation Analysis”.
According to Orton, the SA government has various policies which address transformation in higher education. ‘I was interested in how this was implemented at eight SA universities which have medical schools. In South Africa, there is tension between transformation policy expectations, student success, and funding of higher education in the context of university discretionary authority and institutional autonomy.’
Her research highlighted that access to higher education was complex and involved more than just admission. In the context of transformation and social justice, achieving equity of access for success was multi-factorial and had diverse and complex challenges.
‘I think racial transformation has to some extent been made but universities now need to consider facilitating access for disadvantaged, qualified students,’ said Orton.
‘In health sciences, the issue of an appropriately trained workforce which provides a health service appropriate, accessible, affordable and acceptable to all communities it serves should assist in the transformation of higher education, however in the context of poor schooling this is difficult.’
Her study was supervised by Professor Petra Brysiewicz from Nursing and Public Health and Professor Sabiha Essack from Health Sciences.
She said her study was embedded in a larger project examining higher education in Africa of which Essack was the Principal Investigator. ‘Research in higher education is not easy as many of the issues are sensitive and so people in higher education don’t always want to talk about them,’ she said.
She believes access to higher education in South Africa in the context of transformation is not understood by the general public and people are emotional about some of the changes, which is understandable when it affects their children’s future. ‘However, we need to have conversations, there needs to be greater transparency in respect of access and finally we need more universities.’
To conduct her research she used a mixed methodology which although not widely used is gaining popularity. She said it was controversial in that the qualitative and quantitative purists didn’t embrace the mixed methods approach.
Orton, a Lecturer in Occupational Health Nursing at the Durban University of Technology, plans further research into the issue of access to higher education and what it means in the country and how it can be facilitated to benefit more young people.
‘I am a single parent of a 20-year-old boy who I am immensely proud of. I enjoy the outdoors, the mountains, the ocean and the bush,’ said Orton, who has climbed Mt Kilimanjaro and is planning to walk six days of the El Camino de Santiago Compestela in Europe this year.
An Occupational Health Nurse by profession she has been in the academic environment for a decade.
She was awarded an Academy of Nursing South Africa (ANSA) fellowship last year and is also actively involved in the South African Society of Occupational Health Nursing as the National Education Representative.
Zambian-born Orton was educated in Zimbabwe and has been in South Africa for nearly 33 years. She has been living in Kingsburgh on the KZN South Coast for the past 15 years.