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Epistemic Disruptions in Reconstituting Higher Education Pedagogy in South Africa: The Student and Management Perspective

Themes 2, 3 and 4

The project includes six universities that include, the University of Johannesburg (UJ), Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT), University of Kwazulu Natal (UKZN), University of Forthare (UFH), University of South Africa (UNISA), Sol Plaatje University (SPU). The aim of the project is to create a rigorous research base to expand knowledge in two fields: the Covid-19 pandemic; and student-led decolonisation in South African higher education. The project recognises the impetus of epistemic disruptions driven largely by these two issues in higher education. The pandemic redefined university pedagogies, displacing face-to-face teaching which was previously dominant in favour of online pedagogical strategies and activities based initially on emergency remote teaching and learning facilitated by information and communication technology (ICT) and social media platforms. The protests, on the other hand, sought to disrupt the curriculum, arguing that it is still influenced by the ideologies of Eurocentrism and that the examination systems exclude the majority from academic success. This is a joint project between the UJ SARChI in T&L and the CPUT SARChI in Teacher Education. The research utilises quantitative and qualitative approaches.

The quantitative analysis draws on institutional data and the qualitative analyses draws on interview data from leaders of both universities and students from the six selected institutions.

Team members: Otilia Chiramba, Shireen Motala, Yusuf Sayed, Taryn Williams and research assistants Arina Sibanda and Thabo Motshweni.

Achievements of set goals

The project has obtained ethics clearance from UJ, has received permission to conduct research from five of the institutions and has started collecting data. It is still liaising about permission to collect data with the sixth institution. Individual and focus group interviews have been carried out in four institutions. Data collection in the institutions has not been completed but it is hoped that this will have been done in all the institutions by mid-2023. The data collected has been transcribed and cleaned and stored in AtlasTi and initial analysis of the data has started.

The project has made three panel presentations: two for the South African Education Research Association (SAERA) and one for the Comparative and International Education Society (CIES). An individual paper was presented at the Volkswagen (Narrowing the gap beyond tokenism) conference hosted by AMCHES. The second abstract for CIES will be presented in February 2023. The project has also published one special issue article. One book chapter and one article are under review.


The project has encountered some delays by participants in responding to emails with some potential participants not responding at all. Network issues during the process of interviewing affected the progress of the project and some sections of the audios were difficult to transcribe.

Knowledge contribution/contribution to the Chair’s strategic goals

The project has used empirical data and data in the literature reviewed, with the findings showing that leadership plays a significant role in improving students’ experience. It has also discovered that reconceptualising theories of social justice and resilience may help to improve higher education systems. Equally important are the central themes such as crisis, disruptions and pandemics which help to frame the problem in a more productive way. Definitional clarity is needed on key concepts such as transformation and decolonisation.

Strategies going forward

Although data collection has been delayed, it is it is expected to be completed by mid-2023. The process of producing a book publication by Prof Yusuf Sayed, Prof Shireen Motala and Dr Otilia Chiramba will be ongoing in 2023.