Democracy, higher education transformation and citizenship in South Africa

  • Y. Waghid


Higher education restructuring in South Africa has been heavily influenced by policy processes which culminated in the formulation of several documents which include: the National Commission on Higher Education (NCHE) Report (1996), the Education White Paper 3 (EWP 1997) entitled A Programme for the Transformation of Higher Education, the Council on Higher Education (CHE) Report entitled Towards a New Higher Education Landscape: meeting the Equity, Quality and Social Development Imperatives of South Africa in the 21st Century (2000) and the National Plan for Higher Education (2001). The primary aim of these policy documents is not only to ensure that the higher education system is planned, governed and funded as a single national co-ordinated system but also, to enhance the transformation of the higher education system which needs to reflect the changes that are taking place in South African society, to strengthen the values and practices of our democracy and most importantly, ";to overcome the fragmentation, inequality and inefficiency which are the legacy of the (apartheid) past Y"; (EWP 1997). On the one hand, three central transformation pillars on which the detailed policies of the 1997 Education White Paper 3 are based include the following: increased and broadened participation, responsiveness to societal needs, and partnership and co-operation in governance. On the other hand, the CHE's arguments concerned with restructuring higher education in relation to, by now well known, globalised conditions accentuate the concern to develop human capital, that is, to develop the thinking and intellectual capacities of our society which is considered to be the key to economic, social, cultural and political stability. It is taken as axiomatic that the development of human capital articulated by a demand for a more skilled and educated populace, is central to South Africa's ";capacity to purposefully, energetically and creatively establish a democracy after decades of political strife"; (CHE 2000:2). The National Plan for Higher Education in South Africa (2001) outlines the framework and mechanisms for implementing and realising the policy goals of the Education White Paper 3. With reference to the need of the higher education system to develop the intellectual capacities of people by inculcating in them high quality skills and competences which in turn, can lead to a heightened form of political accountability on the part of democratic South African citizens, my contention is that this can best be achieved if ";outcomes"; announced in the National Plan are implemented along communitarian liberalist lines. It is this position I wish to analyse and explore in this article with reference to one specific ";outcome";: Enhanced cognitive skills of graduates.

(South African Journal of Higher Education: 2003 17 (1): 91-97)

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eISSN: 1011-3487