One of the statutory functions of the CHE is to publish information regarding developments in higher education, including reports on the state of higher education. This report on the State of Higher Education covers the period from 2004 to 2007, the past five years, giving a broad overview of trends in the core areas of teaching and learning and research as well as selected coverage of key issues that have confronted the sector during this period. It is in the nature of ‘state of the art’ reports, to take stock, provide an assessment of progress and to offer some prognosis. Therefore, this report not only describes the developments in higher education; it also offers an overall assessment. To what extent have the goals identified in the 2001 National Plan for Higher Education (NPHE) been fulfilled? This is the overarching question framing the report.
The short answer to this question is yes and no, a quintessentially South African response. There have been gains in some areas, yet significant challenges remain. Although there has been progress in racial and gender equity, the overall participation rate has not increased in the last five years. Research outputs have shown a pleasing increase, but of concern is that doctoral enrolments have remained rather constant and the proportion of staff in higher education institutions with doctoral degrees is low. These trends are described in some detail in the chapters of the report. The concluding chapter then assesses the overall state of South African higher education in relation to the goals set in the NPHE.
While much effort has gone into producing a comprehensive report, the picture is incomplete. There are many areas of higher education for which we do not have adequate information. This is particularly so for private higher education. This report makes a small start by including some information about private providers, but this part of the higher education sector is not sufficiently understood. The process of compiling this report has brought to the CHE’s attention the need to improve data collection capacities. Having identified gaps in the available data, the CHE has begun working with other agencies and institutions to close these gaps through co-ordination and alignment of our efforts. An example is the development, in conjunction with SAQA, of the Higher Education Quality Committee Information System (HEQCIS), a database to store qualification and learner award information from private higher education institutions. This database will begin to provide information about the private higher education sector.
The timing of this publication is perhaps particularly opportune, in the light of the establishment of the new Department of Higher Education and Training. The Minister of Higher Education and Training, Dr Nzimande, has signalled a shift in policy focus to create a diverse and differentiated post school system. The report shows that the time is ripe for revising policies and plans so that the gains may be deepened and the shortfalls addressed with a renewed sense of focus and a quickening of pace.
Thank you to Ms Judy Backhouse, Director of the CHE’s Advice and Monitoring Directorate, and her team, for the compilation of this report. We hope that this report will provide useful information as we debate and plan the future of higher education in South Africa.