Challenges Facing Higher Education Explored at Conference
UKZN recently hosted a successful 11th Annual Higher Education Conference. The conference, held at Durban’s Southern Sun Elangeni and Maharani Hotel, attracted local and international delegates and keynote speakers.
Decolonisation and transformation of the curriculum was one of the thematic strands under the main theme of Higher Education today: Crisis, Contestations, Contemplations and Futures.
In his welcome address, Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Teaching and Learning, Professor Bala Pillay said Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) must admit that the students’ discontent is legitimate. ‘It is not legitimate to deny talented students from poor communities access to Higher Education Institutions.’
He said the calls for changes, decolonisation or transformation of the curriculum are growing and this is something we need to engage with. ‘This is but one of the challenges facing HEIs.’
In terms of research, Pillay said universities need to ask themselves if they are relevant. He urged delegates - after the deliberations - to take the findings from the conference back to the classroom. ‘My plea to all of you is, arising from this conference, look at how we can implement this back so that we put into practise what we are researching.’
Keynote speaker, Statistician-General of South Africa, Dr Pali Lehohla released a report named: Whither a Demographic Dividend South Africa: The Overton Window of Political Possibilities. The report highlights the socio-economic conditions that are a fundamental requirement for a demographic dividend to take place.
Lehohla said according to the 2016 Community Survey, a ranking of perceptions which looked at the challenges faced by people in the country, education was ranked at number 15.
‘This poses interesting question for leaders at all levels of government. The “fees must fall” campaign at South African universities, in the context of many other funding requests across the fiscal spectrum, asks the country to confront difficult choices about the allocation of financial resources.’
Other keynote speakers included: Professor Kris Chesky from the University of North Texas who presented on Occupational Health in the Music Discipline: Interdisciplinary research drives change; Professor Chandra K Raju from the Indian Statistical Institute in Kolkata spoke on the Calculus: The real story; and Dr Kaviraj Sukon from the Open University of Mauritius whose presentation was titled I taught ... I teach ... I will teach: What is the difference?
The Conference is an annual gathering of academics, researchers and policymakers. It showcases innovation, generates debate, theorises opportunities and challenges in teaching and learning including the recent challenges that have been raised through students’ uprisings. It also provides a platform for disseminating Higher Education and institutional research findings.
Breakaway sessions that analysed the different theme strands were presented by academics and postgraduate students from various institutions.
Stepping down as the Conference Chairperson, Director of Teaching and Learning Dr Rubby Dhunpath, said it had been a privilege to have served as the Chair. ‘As I prepare to hand over to my successor, I want to pay tribute to the distinguished scholars and researchers who have elevated and deepened the debates around Higher Education and enriched my life in the process.’
Professor Michael Samuel closed off the discussions by looking at the reflections of the past 10 years of the Conference and how it has evolved.
Words: Sithembile Shabangu