23 September 2015 Volume :3 Issue :44

Research-led Universities not Superior to those focused on Teaching and Learning - Habib

Research-led Universities not Superior to those focused on Teaching and Learning - Habib
Professor Renuka Vithal (left) and Professor Adam Habib at the Teaching and Learning Conference.

Research-led universities are not inherently superior to those focused primarily on teaching and learning, says the Vice-Chancellor of Wits University, Professor Adam Habib. And, further, they are not necessarily more deserving of additional funding based on their status and hierarchy.

Habib was speaking at the 9th Annual Teaching and Learning Conference in Durban on the topic: “Developing a Differentiated System in South African Higher Education”.

He said a differentiated Higher Education system enabled 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.’ While emphasising that all universities needed to be engaged in research, he said ‘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 were more deserving of additional funding, linked to their status and hierarchy. Universities needed 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.  However, he warned against equating radical with violent. ‘Achieving progressive, radical outcomes need not be violent.’

Universities needed to establish a culture of caring, he said, through the curriculum, echoing the welcome address delivered by Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Teaching and Learning, Professor Renuka Vithal. ‘The challenge was how to establish caring in an uncaring society?’

Stressing the importance of creativity within the production of knowledge, he interrogated the issue of quality saying courage was needed amongst leadership and academics to address the challenges of quality in Higher Education.

In her welcome address, Vithal, said UKZN had ‘tinkered on the edges of curriculum’ change. She examined how universities could better facilitate students adjusting to being at university. ‘We know that the first semester and first 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.

‘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 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, provided 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.

Raylene Captain-Hasthibeer

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