by Kasturi Behari-Leak & Sioux McKenna

Read the full article in the Teaching in Higher Education Journal and the abstract below. Let us know what you think in the comments section!


Teaching Excellence Awards have raised the profile of teaching as a scholarly project. There are however a number of questions about what constitutes teaching excellence and how ‘excellence’ is understood in current higher education. In a post-colonial South Africa, where significant injustices permeate our society, we question whether excellence can be understood in a generic manner. Furthermore, we argue that as universities are a public good, teaching excellence needs to explicitly attend to the ways in which universities contribute to broad goals of transformation and inclusivity. We analysed data from the national Teaching Excellence Awards and 13 South African universities’ awards to interrogate the discourses that underpin ‘excellence’ in this context of social inequality. We found that while the awards have gone some way to enhancing the position of teaching in institutions, ‘excellence’ was largely articulated in fairly generic ways which failed to take into account the enablements and constraints of the discipline and the institution. Furthermore, the guidelines and criteria privilege a decontextualised notion of excellence that seeks a ‘gold standard’ and validates performativity, rather than a contextualised response to the needs of the students.

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