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While the Centre’s primary focus is higher education leadership, management and governance, its research agenda is best captured by the notion of a ‘socially embedded university’, with emphasis on local and global responsiveness to the issues of access, equity and social justice. As such, engagement with the economic and social challenges posed by the apartheid legacy, as well as with the increasing global neo-liberal and ‘digital recolonisation’ pressures, is a key area of enquiry. This entails looking at the following dimensions: broad accessibility (formal access and epistemic access); organisational flexibility; social usefulness or social responsibility, compliance with social justice discourses; economic and cultural responsiveness. Related issues of study include, among other things, institutional and system differentiation, internationalisation and regionalisation, e-learning, ranking systems and institutional culture.

Current projects

Too late yet still quite early? Investigating the experiences of “older” early career academics in South African higher education (funded by the National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences Catalytic Grant – Grant number CPR22/1105)

Is it possible to be an early career academic while you are relatively “older” and in your 40s or possibly 50s? If yes, what does this look and feel like? In this project, I explore and theorise the often forgotten and overlooked experiences of “older” early career academics in South African higher education. Higher education in South Africa, like its counterparts in the global South (and North), continues to experience massification and ever-increasing participation rates. This has meant that the national department of higher education and individual universities have socially constructed various programmes and interventions targeted at 1) transforming the staff composition, and 2) essentially “growing your own timber” in developing the next generation of academics who will provide leadership in research, teaching and learning and community engagement. “Older” early career academics, often in their late 30s/early 40s (some even 50s), who have left their previous jobs to come to academia, are largely overlooked, silent and not accounted for in such national and institutional interventions. In this project, I shine a spotlight on the rich and complex narratives/voices/experiences of “older” earlier career academics, and the various ways in which they negotiate their being, belonging and becoming in the South African higher education system.

Envisioned outputs

Various research outputs will result from this national project. The following will constitute the key research outputs:

  • Peer reviewed research articles/book chapters X 4 per year
  • International/national conference presentations X 3 per year
  • A possible book manuscript
  • A possible journal special issue
  • A master’s student under the project
  • A doctoral candidate under the project

Possible outcomes/impact of the project:

This project will offer important interventions in the South African higher education sector. The project will be important for the following actors/sectors:

  • The national Department of Higher Education and Training as they continue to think of better/productive ways of supporting “older” ECAs in South Africa.
  • New Generation of Academics programme (nGAP) coordinators and programme leaders to assist them reviewing programme effectiveness
  • “Older” ECAs as they plan their career development pathways
  • Deans/directors of research in the different institutions
  • Deans/directors of teaching and learning in the different institutions
  • Researchers in the field
  • Working professionals looking at transitioning to higher education

Generations of African Scholars (Flagship Project 2020-2025)

The primary objective of the project is to document the intellectual legacy and contribution of African scholars, intellectuals, leaders and institutions to knowledge production and the higher education discourse, policy and practice in Africa. In this way, the project aims to re-centre and re-position the often-marginalised African voices with the global politics of knowledge for the purposes of transforming the higher education sector in Africa.

The envisaged benefits of this project include:

  • Unmasking of the hidden and marginalised African knowledge, perspectives and voices that will be useful in solving African problems.
  • Generation of an African-centred knowledge base in the form of published materials that will be useful for decolonising the current problematic African academy, curricula and education policy/practice.
  • Creation of a platform for dialogues and intellectual exchange on African knowledge and higher education discourse/practice.
  • Production of Pan-African postgraduate doctoral and postdoctoral students, thereby ushering in a new crop of leaders and scholars on African issues.

The subjects of study have been carefully selected from across the continent, and include, inter alia, thought leaders such as Archie Mafeje, Bernard Magubane, Thandika Mkandawire and Eduardo Mondlane (Southern Africa); Valentine Y Mudimbe, Jacques Depelchin and Alex Kagame (Central Africa); Mahomed Mamdani, Ali Mazrui and Catherine Odora Hoppers (East Africa); Chinua Achebe, Joseph Ki-Zerbo and Kwame Nkrumah (West Africa); Samir Amin, Nawal el Saadawi and Ibn Khaldun (North Africa); and Walter Rodney, Frantz Fanon and Ali Mazrui (Global Africa).

Steering Epistemic Access and Success of Historically Disadvantaged Students in South African Universities Phase Two, 2022-2024

Following the completion of Phase one of the Student Epistemic Access and Success project funded by the Council on Higher Education (CHE) in June 2022, AMCHES was successful in securing funding from the National Research Foundation to extend the project to another four universities, under the title Steering Epistemic Access and Success of Historically Disadvantaged Students in South African Universities. The participating universities are the University of KwaZulu-Natal, University of Cape Town, Nelson Mandela University and the University of Fort Hare. The project is led by Dr Logan Govender, who took over from Professor Michael Cross, and is supported by Dr Alois S. Baleni, postdoctoral research fellow at AMCHES. It will have a much stronger focus on the impact of COVID-19, the turn to blended learning and teaching, and related issues on student epistemic access and success, given the period it will cover. As such, together with the completed CHE-funded project, the higher education sector will have a wider database of evidence on which to consider policy and strategic decision making to enhance student epistemic access and success, both in the short term and over longer periods.

Access and Success in Higher Education in South Africa (three projects funded by the Council for Higher Education)

1. Steering Student Access and Success in Higher Education

The project sets out to address the following main questions: How do students negotiate their access and success within a diverse university environment? What individual, institutional or collective resources (cultural and/or material) do they resort to in the process? And, how do institutions mediate this process? This entails exploring carefully the following four aspects of the interface of student agency and the university cultural web:

  • Student background (e.g. past dispositions that influence adaptation to the university environment).
    Institutional memory (histories, legacies, traditions, values and ethos), discourses and assumptions that underpin academic and student practices.
  • Effects of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the decolonisation movement on student development and academic performance.
  • Students’ diverse university experiences of racism, xenophobia, cultural isolation, crime, sexual harassment and gender-based violence.
2. Funding of Higher Education

The project seeks to assess the impact of free higher education on inequality given existing trends relating to young people in education, employment and training; as well as its impact on throughput and dropout rates. Thus, the project focuses on three key issues:

  • The impact of student funding support on inequality
  • The impact of free higher education on dropout and progression rates
  • Student progression dynamics in response to the government funding formula
3. Higher Education and Labour Market

The project explores the relationship between higher education and employment in South Africa, given the dearth of research on the subject in the country. Among the questions to be addressed is whether acquiring a university degree is a guarantor for employment. The project has two key dimensions:

  • To undertake a desk-top study to provide an overview of research at institutions – universities, technical and vocational education and training colleges, research institutes and the state;
  • To develop a framework and guidelines for institutional graduate tracer studies, including institutional capacity requirements.
Size and Shape of Higher Education in South Africa

The project will provide an overview and analysis of the size and shape of the public higher education system between 2000 and 2019. The expected outcomes include:

  • Size and shape, enrolment trends by field of study, discipline and qualification level and by race, gender, nationality, graduation and completion rates.
  • Institutional type.
    Size and shape of academic staff by race, gender, age, qualifications, rank and nationality.
  • Research outputs (journal articles, monographs, books and other Department of Higher Education and Training’s (DHET’s) approved research outputs for funding purposes).
  • Implications of the trends in relation to growth and participation rates, equity and efficiency goals, and institutional differentiation and diversity.
  • Official and institutional views on the changing context of higher education.
The South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (SADTU) and the Struggle for Professional Unionism (Sponsored by SADTU)

This project traces the emergence and development of SADTU’s professional unionism and explores its implications for the role of SADTU in the education landscape in South Africa. It concentrates on the following analytical dimensions:

The contested nature of education policymaking in shaping teacher union-state relations.
Diversity of understandings and application of the notions of teacher professionalism and unionism, and professional unionism.
Teacher unions’ agency in resisting external control, including the notions of partisan alliances and collective action.
The construct of social movement unionism, with its emphasis on socio-economic transformation.
The constantly changing nature of teacher identity formation: professional, worker, ‘professional worker’, entrepreneurial professional and activist professional.
Teacher accountability dynamics.

Recently Completed Projects

Knowledge and Change in African Universities: Challenges and Opportunities (Sponsored by Ford Foundation)

This project is about knowledge processes from research to its different forms of dissemination in the context of the university in Africa. It aims at understanding how knowledge is produced and controlled through the interplay of the politics of knowledge, power dynamics and intellectual discourses. The project addresses the following questions:

  • How can African universities reinvent knowledge production and dissemination to be relevant for the contexts in which they operate?
  • How can such change be undertaken without falling into an intellectual and discursive ghettoisation in the global context?
  • What is the role of academics, policymakers and curriculum and programme designers in this process?
Higher Education Transformation in South Africa

This project focuses on the complexities and dynamics of higher education transformation in South Africa. Its key focus areas include:

  • How institutions respond to the pressures for knowledge production and skills development while improving equity and access and expanding participation.
  • The changing modes of coordination of higher education institutions by government.
  • Systems of institutional governance, leadership and management.
  • Institutional responses to globalisation, internationalisation, regionalisation, the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the decolonisation discourse.

The project seeks to re-think transformation and re-imagine the future of South Africa’s higher education in the context of Africa and the global world.