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The blueprint for a new era in higher education


At the recent launch of the White Paper for Post-School Education at Unisa, Dr Blade Nzimande, minister for Higher Education and Training (DHET), said that much still needs to be done to rid ourselves of the legacy of apartheid – especially with regard to education. The White Paper outlines policy directions and provides strategies to improve the capacity of South Africa’s post-school education and training system to address the country’s pressing needs in terms of skills shortage. So what are the implications for business schools and executive education in particular? First a summary overview of the contents of this piece of legislation:

A single, unified system for post-school education
The White Paper proposes a single unified system for post-school education that provides for the educational and training needs of learners who were both successful and unsuccessful in completing their Grade 12 or matric, as well as those who have never attended school. The system would comprise public universities, technical and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges, public adult learning centres and private post-school institutions.  

Improving the quality of qualifications offered
Within the higher education sector, the main thrust of the DHET is to improve the quality of qualifications offered. This includes ensuring diversity in both the staff and student populations, and improving articulation between higher education institutions, and between universities and other post-school institutions. According to statistics from 2013, the number of youth between the ages of 15 and 24 who are not in employment, at school or being trained stands at 3,4 million.  

Improving access for the previously disadvantaged 
Improving access and success rate for students who were previously disadvantaged based on their race, gender or disability status is a big focus. Some of the priority areas include progressively introducing free higher education, implementing a Central Applications Service (CAS), increasing research and innovation, improving the quality of research, developing a policy to recruit and retain academics and establishing a National Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences to stimulate research and postgraduate studies.  Universities are also encouraged to build strong partnerships with employers in order to promote the expansion of workplace training opportunities. The White Paper also highlights the need for greater awareness of the needs of students and staff with disabilities, as well as capacity development to meet such needs.  

Open education resources
With regard to diverse modes of learning provision, the DHET intends to stimulate lifelong learning through the provision of open education resources (OER) with universities being encouraged to expand distance higher education through online and blended learning. The intention of the DHET is also to build a stronger and more cooperative relationship between education and training institutions and the workplace. Part of its strategy includes consolidating initiatives towards developing a national skills planning system.  Finally, there is also a drive for articulation of qualifications between the three sub-frameworks to ensure that unfair and irrational barriers to acceptance and credit transfer are avoided. These are the General and Further Education and Training Qualifications Sub-Framework (GFETQSF), the Higher Educations Qualifications Sub-Framework (HEQSF) and the Occupational Qualifications Sub-Framework (OQSF).

Implications for business schools and executive education
In order to achieve the stated ideal, a number of strategies and action plans will need to be put in place at post-school educational entities such as business schools. Access must be increased, as well as the diversity of our faculty members and student population. We must allow for articulation between degree programmes and short learning programmes, both of which may originate from the different types of post-school entities). We must become more inclusive and cater for the needs of both students and staff with disabilities, and we must promote lifelong learning accompanied by the use of multiple and varied modes of learning (some of which may include the use of technology).   

This implies that business schools will have to revise their admissions policies and criteria. They will have to review human resource-related policies and practices; and encourage dialogue as well as information sharing and cooperation between the various post-school entities to promote articulation which will provide a learning pathway for individuals. They will have to put measures, such as policies and learning interventions for lecturers, in place to ensure that the rights of staff and students with disabilities are upheld. This is possible through the promotion of the principles of universal access design, providing relevant technologies and capacity-building strategies to promote the use of technology in the teaching and learning environment – to mention only a few.  It is easy to view these necessary actions as challenging, but we should preferably see them as an opportunity to support the development of our people, economy and country.

In essence, the White Paper calls upon all post-school education institutions to align their policies and practices, and collectively contribute to the envisioned goal of the eradication of apartheid. Its core policy objectives are: “a post-school system that can assist in building a fair, equitable, non-racial, non-sexist and democratic South Africa; a single, coordinated post-school education and training system; expanded access, improved quality and increased diversity of provision; a stronger and more cooperative relationship between education and training institutions and the workplace; a post-school education and training system that is responsive to the needs of the individual citizens, employers in both public and private sectors, as well as broader societal and developmental objectives”. It is a comprehensive ‘blueprint’ which promises a new era in higher education. If successful, this new integrated system could make significant inroads to improving the quality, quantity and diversity of post-school education and training in South Africa.

Dr Diane Bell

Dr Diane Bell is the Director: Academic Affairs at USB Executive Development (USB-ED). She is also Senior Lecturer Extraordinaire at the USB.

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