The CHE is engaged in various research projects aimed at the facilitation of timely and relevant quality research and critical analysis of issues in higher education in order to contribute to the development of the higher education system. The CHE aims to spread these projects across the most important higher education themes in order to ensure periodic assessment of the system as a whole.

Digital open access

The impact of new and emerging technologies on higher education cannot be ignored or under estimated. Both distance education and traditional lecture rooms are being revolutionised by developments ranging from massively open online courses (MOOCs) to assessing learners understanding during a lecture. South Africa needs to keep abreast of technological developments and find ways to implement effectively the most relevant and useful technologies. The CHE plans a colloquium in 2013 to allow for further investigation into these various technologies and the ways in which students and academics are already benefitting and can benefit further from these developments.

Extended curriculum

A proposal for undergraduate curriculum reform in South Africa: The case for a flexible curriculum structure

This report has now been released for public comment. All higher education institutions and interested parties are invited to comment on the proposal by 29 November 2013. All comments should be for the attention of Dr Denyse Webbstock: Director of Monitoring and Evaluation and should either be posted to the CHE offices or emailed to

Low throughput in undergraduate higher education, and the resultant shortage of graduates in the country, is a pervasive challenge facing the higher education sector. In 2012 the Council on Higher Education (CHE) convened a task team to undertake a review of the undergraduate curriculum structure and to investigate the implications of potential curriculum restructuring. Finding that that the current curriculum structure poses a systemic obstacle to access and success which can only be overcome through deliberate intervention at a systemic level, the task team proposes the introduction of an extended and flexible curriculum structure for undergraduate education in South Africa.

The Task Team report (August 2013) makes the case for the proposed new structure and presents the results of its investigation into the envisaged impact of an extended and flexible curriculum on throughput rates and graduate output as well as its conclusions regarding the financial and other practical implications of the proposal.

Further copies of the report can be requested from Job Masekoa at or downloaded here:


CHE Task Team’s proposal for a flexible undergraduate curriculum structure
Report of the Task Team on undergraduate curriculum 
Appendix on BCom curriculum
Appendix on subsidy implications of extended curricula by Charles Sheppard 2013

National Benchmark Tests

The National Benchmark Tests (NBTs) are an assessment tool for first year applicants to higher education. The development of the tests was commissioned by Higher Education South Africa (HESA) in 2005 and the test was launched in 2009. The tests are used by certain institutions to assess the entry-level academic and quantitative literacy and mathematics proficiency of students and to assess the relationship between higher education entry level requirements and school-level exit outcomes. This information is mainly used to assist with placement and curriculum development. This research projects aims to assess the way that the NBTs are used in different South African institutions and the value it adds to the entrance and placement process.

Private higher education in Africa

Over the last couple of decades, Africa has witnessed a spurt in growth in private higher education institutions, although the size of the sector, the reasons for this development and the types of institutions vary from one country to another. One of the major reasons for the expansion is capacity constraints in the public sector coupled with growing access as more young people qualify for higher education study and wish to pursue it (often for economic reasons). Institutions can be independent or linked to other national or international institutions. This edited collection book project plans to investigate the growth in and nature of private higher education in Africa. 

Reflections on higher education leadership

This project on academic leadership seeks to provide eminent retried university leaders with the opportunity to reflect on and share their gained knowledge and experiences regarding their terms of office in higher education in post-apartheid South Africa. The focus is on, but not limited to, retried Vice-Chancellors. It is hoped that these reflections will provide insight into dealing with critical issues and will provide lessons to the current and future generation of leaders in higher education. The aim is to compile their reflections on academic leadership into an edited book collection.

Reflections on private higher education leadership and management

Since 1994, the private higher education sector in South Africa has undergone much change, both as result of government interventions and increased demand for higher education. These, and various other, developments in the private higher education sector call for some reflection from the sector. The aim of this project is to provide a platform for the leaders and managers from the private sector to reflect on their successes and challenges and to provide some advice on the way forward. It is hoped that through such reflections private providers will be able to learn from each other.

Student governance

Student Governance, through the Student Representative Council (SRC), is an integral part of institutional governance at all higher education institutions. The study will assess the various factors impacting on the effectiveness of SRCs in South African universities in the aftermath of legislative change. The study will consider issues such as institutional governance and governance models, SRC elections and student political organisations.

University governance

A number of South African higher education institutions have experienced on-going governance and management challenges over the past two decades. These challenges have led to the appointment of administrators at a number of institutions. This project aims to investigate and develop a better understanding of the underlying factors which have led to such governance challenges.