26 October 2015

The events of the past few weeks have ushered in irrevocable changes in the South African higher education context. Critical issues that have been on the transformation agenda since the early 1990s and that have not received due attention have now been placed centre stage and require us, the academic development community, to apply our minds to help find ways to address them. Students have focused the attention of government and university leadership on the need to make quality higher education accessible, especially for those from poor families.

However, as we know all too well, physical access to higher education does not guarantee epistemological access. In fact, academic success has remained elusive for the majority of black students.

Since the mid-1980s it has been the task of academic developers to contribute to the achievement of epistemological access for students.  It is clear that we will have to think hard about how to begin to work more boldly, both with academics and with students and to advocate more strongly for the changes envisaged for higher education in the White Paper 3 of 1997.

Over the course of this year there have been ever more urgent calls for the decolonisation of universities. Both black academics and students have communicated feeling alienated and thus excluded from the institutions in which they work and learn. As academic developers our job is to imagine what is needed to construct university environments that include all who work and study in them and then to create the conditions that enable the realisation of inclusive university environments.

We need to understand what it might mean to decolonise curricula and engage in pedagogies that are more likely to contribute to epistemological access for more students. This is not going to be easy since the majority of academics (and academic developers) are steeped in western / northern knowledge traditions and thus know very little of epistemologies that have emerged from the global south.

Academic staff developers have a critical role to play in re-imagining and re-shaping how we work with academics and students in ways that will strengthen the academic project and enable the university to fulfil its purpose as a public good.

This statement is endorsed by the HELTASA executive

EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE: Chairperson: Dr Amanda Hlengwa Deputy Chairperson: Dr Kasturi Behari-Leak Treasurer: Dr Delysia Timm Secretary: Dr Jo-Anne Vorster, Mr Siyabula Sabata, Dr Masebale Tjabane, Ms Karin Wolff, Dr Mel Skead, Ms Mariaan Klopper.