One of the processes set off by the restructuring of higher education initiated in 1995 with the work of the National Commission of Higher Education was the repositioning of higher education institutions within the higher education system. This process included the requirements for a redefinition of institutional missions which were either driven from outside, as in the case of the creation of comprehensive institutions, or which were driven internally by institutions’ own analyses of the environment within which they operated. More often than not, in the last decade mission redefinition took place as the result of a combination of both internal and external pressures and imperatives.
The overall process of the repositioning and redefinition of institutional missions has had different manifestation depending on the nature and history of each institution and whether it was affected by the mergers and incorporations which followed the publication of the National Plan on Higher Education in 2001.
A particularly good example of mission redefinition in the context of restructuring is the response of the former technikons to the change of their designation to that of universities of technology in 2004. This change has a long history of discussions, lobbying and interventions by the Committee of Technikon Principals and individual institutions. The fact that on the surface the change of designation of the South African technikons marked the point of arrival of a ten year long discussion among and between the institutions and the Department of Education obscures a number of issues worth reflecting on.
Firstly is the extent to which this change has implications for the definition of institutions’ missions, and their conceptualisation of the three core functions of teaching and learning, research and community engagement. Secondly, is whether there is just only one conceptualisation of universities of technology on which the newly designated institutions can draw and how different conceptualisations of universities of technology might relate to differentiated human resources and infrastructure capabilities as well as to institutional history. Thirdly is the extent to which the change in designation, accepted by the Department of Education, is indicative of a consensus among institutions and government about the nature of the academic and research profiles of these institutions. Finally, is the broader and more complex issue of the success that the restructuring of higher education is having in creating a more diversified higher education landscape in which mission differentiation plays an important role in directing institutions’ ability to respond to a variety of socio-economic and cultural demands put to them by a number of stakeholders.
This issue of Kagisano brings together four different inputs that attempt to illuminate some aspects of the debate about universities of technology. Contrary to the usual modality of the CHE Discussion Series, this issue of Kagisano does not include a central piece to which the others constitute a response. Each piece included in this issue is a stand alone contribution.
Some of the pieces included in this publication were originally presented at a workshop on universities of technology organised by the Quality Promotion and Capacity Development Directorate (QPCD) of the Higher Education Quality Committee in 2004. The main person responsible for initiating this project and delivering a number of follow up activities was Dr Prem Naidoo, who was then Director of QPCD.
The Council on Higher Education hopes that this issue of Kagisano, will add to a debate about universities of technology that needs to be broadened and deepened in a way that is an ongoing testament to Dr Naidoo’s deep concern for engagement with a reflection of key elements of the restructuring and transformation agenda in South Africa.