The recent publication of a book by Prof Jonathan Jansen shines a discomforting and revealing light on the rapid decline of the South African university as a center of excellence. In his book, "As by Fire", this widely respected and well-liked educator examines the future of South Africa's universities in the light of ongoing student revolts and an interfering but seemingly leaderless State, unwilling to shoulder the unwieldy weight of its transformative policies. Prof Jansen's conclusion, is as succinct as it is damning: "There is no future," he writes.
Inwardly, one wishes the author could have been someone less centrally placed, or a less credible witness perhaps - more tainted by an outdated ideology or in service of corporate interests maybe? Truth is, it is hard to find the disqualifying factors by which the thrust and conclusion of Prof Jansen's research may be dismissed or even diluted. Instead, the reader comes to see that these once respected institutions of higher learning have indeed been forced past the crossroads, heading up a road of no return...
This might not be the finest introduction for a newsletter on the subject of higher education, and it is only with great reluctance that I borrow Prof Jansen's perspective. At the same time, I sense that this reluctant perspective is increasingly, irreversibly the stage upon which private higher education must now forge its future, and a vision of the South African university of tomorrow. If we wish to have centers of academic excellence and hope to see true universities in our future, we shall (Prof Jansen contends) have to establish these - privately funded and unshackled from political imperatives or expediency.
Our former, top-tier universities had in some cases already been a century in the making. In many respects, one is not re-starting from scratch - nor is all yet in ruins! Certainly, the ideals of higher education have already been forged and demonstrated, and a well-established culture of research and learning is already present, along with a dedicated, national cohort of academics and educators. But a new vision, courage and endeavour will be needed to carry higher education to new heights and better adapted varieties of form and location. Privatized, certainly, but also necessarily less formulaic than the nationally chartered universities of another age. These were conceived for a now fast-disappearing world.
While in this vein, it gives the Institute pleasure to provide this SAQA link, identifying its first, accredited programme, as listed by the South African Qualifications Authority: http://regqs.saqa.org.za/viewQualification.php?id=99760
It may also interest the reader to know that groundwork for a second faculty, the Faculty of Commerce, is currently being laid by the Institute. It is likely that the new faculty's first offering will be a postgraduate diploma in Rural Entrepreneurship. Not only will this proposed faculty furnish a stimulating counterpoint to the Natural Sciences Faculty (home of the postgraduate conservation programme), but this initiative also unmistakably sets the direction for the emergence, in due course, of a multi-disciplinary, higher learning institution in Twee Riviere - a university in the fuller sense.
It is notable how insistently the pull and joint claims of geography and precedent will exercise itself on the mind: One finds that a seductively reassuring logic underpins the basic assumption that because a thing does not exist, it also cannot (will not) come into being. It is the self-referencing dogma of the assumed, perpetually unchanging present. Reassuring in the short term, such logic must ultimately surrender to the unforeseen, as the unexpected slowly morphs into the inevitable... Right now, it may seem hard to believe that cars will lose their steering wheels, or that a generation is already alive whom may never need or acquire driving licenses! In most respects, we are very reluctant to concede the unavoidable, even as it palpably encroaches upon the horizon of our times. The elderly, whom have already seen at least one "former world" pass, are often unsurprised by transformative changes. The younger generation on the other hand - being least encumbered - are largely receptive to whatever may be the currently unfolding version of the world. Probably least at ease are those of us in their middle years, whom have lived just long enough for a fleeting illusion of permanence to take hold, and just short enough for such a sterile thing to seem desirable!
Even to my 50-ish self, it is clear that the future and forms of higher learning, the meaning of education (along with concepts of "employment", "career" and "economic activity") are all shifting powerfully and inexorably under the weight of new technologies, patterns of mobility and bold new definitions of community. The Department of Higher Education and Training's "Policy on Integrated Career Development" (Government Gazette, April 2017) derives from this same, comprehensive impetus. However - and this is important - in the midst of such tectonic shifts there emerge crucial and virtuous opportunities to be taken: Constructive forms of established values to be battened down and re-sculpted in fresh, contemporary material. Let us not miss our cues, or decline to steer - for steer we must. The younger generation are our valued and irreplaceable partners in this.
Leaving aside the long view for the moment, January 17 sees the launch of the Institute's long-awaited postgraduate diploma programme, "Technical Studies in Conservation". Find the trimester view here: This programme's entry prerequisites may be found here, costs may be perused, and an introduction to faculty staff can be found here. As may be expected, the website at www.sainst.org offers the candidate student a very comprehensive collection of relevant policy documents and resources, all of which will prove intuitively familiar to the former or current university student.
If you are considering making application (enrollment is competitive), please check to see whether completion of the 4-month, Bridging to Chemistry for Conservation distance study course will be a pre-requisite in your case. If so, time will now be of the essence...
As Spring suddenly knocks, we add our very best campus wishes on the remainder of your year!
Adriaan Botha | Chairman of the Board | The South African Institute for Heritage Science and Conservation