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Postgraduate Teaching and Learning Research

Purpose, scope, conceptual starting points

Themes 3 and 4

Research on PG T&L is being conducted in specific strands, aligned with the mission of the Chair which is to contribute to the transformation of PSET education. These strands focus on policy matters, challenges of gender, conceptions of knowledge and knowledge systems, and responsive pedagogies. Fours strands are described here.

The policy studies are contextual and help with understanding the size and shape of the system within which T&L happen.

The gender research problematises the need for equity and redress and pursues imperatives of T&L transformation.

Research on PG T&L requires extended and critical understanding of knowledge and the implications for policies and practices. During 2022, the project has made good progress in comparative studies on Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS) with Australian colleagues. This strand of research also initiated the Voices of Elders study, with its bearing on issues in T&L.

Research on PG pedagogies have covered studies of practice and of conceptual clarification. These strands make up a significant part of the SARCHI research focus on PG T&L which addresses:

  • gender, identity, epistemic access and social justice
  • doctoral education landscape and pedagogies
  • pedagogies of T&L: narrative and dialogue methods, storytelling; effectiveness of T&L; post-Covid pedagogies; resilience
  • emerging discourses: the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) and information and communications technology (ICT)
  • defining knowledge and imperatives of decolonisation; refugee studies
  • conceptual studies of social and cognitive justice, post-colonialism

These strands are also being pursued by the SARCHI PG students through studies on teaching and learning as policy object, curriculum transformation in teacher education, student support, ICT integration and social justice frameworks (see list of students and topics lower down).

Postgraduate Teaching and Learning: Postgraduate Size and Shape Study

The study on the size and shape of postgraduate studies in South Africa was commissioned by the CHE. The aim is to investigate trends and patterns of progression in postgraduate studies in the country. The trends are analysed own by study level, race and gender and are further disaggregated by enrolment, completion and dropout rates. The significance of postgraduate data for South Africa’s future in academia and knowledge is considerable. Increased postgraduate enrolment

in both numbers and quality is necessary for the country to transition to a knowledge economy. Postgraduate statistics also assist with the development of relevant and necessary assistance required to increase postgraduate numbers.


The report will consist of tables that highlight the enrolment, graduation and dropout rates as main headings and disaggregated by study level, race and gender. These will be shown as counts and percentages. The data is national and will be displayed by aggregated higher institution data. The University of South Africa (UNISA) is an exception and data related to it will be displayed separately as it has its own unique set of circumstances as an HEI. The data will be in Excel format which will allow for further analysis by the team if needed.


The timeline for the deliverable is the end of January 2023 for the quantitative data and the end of April 2023 for the qualitative data. If there are significant changes in the higher education landscape, further analysis of the data will be sought from Dr Sheppard.

Team members: Charles Sheppard, Ahmed Essop, Shireen Motala, Sindi Msimango and Halima Namakula

Postgraduate T&L research: Gender

The title of the project, still at the inception stage, is ‘Doctoral journeys of female students: Gendered Perspectives, challenges, resilience and success factors’. Proposing to investigate female doctoral students’ experiences, the study argues that, although female doctoral students experience many challenges, they eventually succeed. The study is therefore interested not only in challenges that female students encounter during their doctoral studies but also factors that enable them to succeed.

Research aim

To explore the experiences, journeys and factors that impede and support women seeking to progress within their doctoral studies.

Research objectives

  • To explore doctoral women’s journeys with an intersectional lens and to find out whether there are differences because of class, race or ethnicity.
  • To identify the barriers that slow down or impede the progression of women during their doctoral studies.
  • To identify the factors that support the progression of women and on-time completion during their doctoral studies.
  • To examine existing higher education policies and procedures in relation to doctoral students’ learning to assess if and how they support women and ensure that they are retained and succeed within higher education.
  • To assess if there is a need for policies and practices which relate to entry by and support for doctoral students to change

Proposed research sites: University of Johannesburg (South Africa), University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa), Kenya (Moi University and Eldoret Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology (MMUST) and (University of Sunshine Coast-Australia)

Progress to date: A research team has been constituted; a broader research team meeting has taken place; a draft proposal and literature review are complete; further reviews are ongoing; and ethics clearance has been submitted. A two-day workshop took place on 24 and 25 October 2022.

Research team: Shireen Motala, Gina Wisker, Juliet Perumal, Beatrice, Akala, Sindi Msimango, Catherine Manathunga, Halima Namakula, Puleng Motshoane and Precious Sipuka.

Postgraduate T&L research: IKS

Policy study: Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS) and doctoral education

This comparative research project links to a wider international project led by Prof Catherine Manathunga at the University of the Sunshine Coast, Australia. It includes other Australian,

New Zealand and Chinese partners and is funded through the Australian Research Council. This partnership is conducting a policy analysis of protocols that respect indigenous and transcultural knowledges, histories, geographies, languages and cultural practices in doctoral education, using the policy framework of Carol Bacchi. 3 Exploration of IKS in relation to higher education will involve initial document analysis for IKS and determining gaps in relevant IKS policies.

The South African partnership will explore best practice in doctoral education in relation to IKS and will analyse IKS policy in relation to higher education in South Africa.

Research questions

  • How does IKS policy in South Africa position indigenous and transcultural candidates, especially in relation to higher education and research?

Progress to date: Meetings have been convened with the teams in Australia, China and South Africa The South African team has completed a literature review of indigenous knowledge policy within Australian and South African higher education policy. Monthly meetings are held with the Australian research team.

A publication, with the title ‘Indigenous Knowledge Systems in South Africa and Australia: transforming doctoral education,” has been submitted for review to Curriculum Perspectives and has been accepted.

Research team: Team Leader: Prof Catherine Manathunga, University of the Sunshine Coast, Australia; other Australian, New Zealand and Chinese partners; (South African partners) Prof Shireen Motala, Prof Gert van der Westhuizen, Prof Moyra Keane and Dr Sindi Msimango.

Voices of Elders project

Purpose: to deepen and broaden understanding of higher learning and knowledge building outside universities.

The knowledge problem in society is evident in the dysfunctionality of social structures; destruction of the environment; widespread violence and inequality; and continued marginalisation of IKSs.

Western and modernist conceptions of science have come to create false realities of academic disciplines as domains of research and knowledge building characterised by cognitive injustice, knowledge subjugation and the immense pressure on communities to pretend that they can live in a world of knowledge colonisation.

The focus of this research is on voices of elders in communities and how they are articulations of knowledge in areas of livelihoods and exemplary of higher learning in communities. The purpose is to create a range of dialogue opportunities where elders and thought leaders/knowledge holders, young and old, talk about topics of higher learning in order to understand how such knowledge can be brought into university teaching and learning and promote cognitive justice.

The age of the Anthropocene calls for deeper awareness of the impact of our actions and research work on the planet and on human well-being. The continued focus of writers on the knowledge aspect of oppressive systems, and the need to reimagine and disrupt current structures, continues through a long line of scholars. At the curriculum and pedagogical level, we are yet to extend the boundaries of our worldview and practice – the ways in which disciplinary knowledge is organised and developed – and ontologies and epistemologies are taken for granted. The project aims to examine how these may be rethought to become truly representative of Africa and to learn

from African elders and knowledge-holders from southern Africa and seek their advice on what knowledge is needed for the future of humankind and the survival of our world. It is anticipated that curricula may be designed with greater awareness of diverse knowledges and that deeper and more frank discussion about who we want to be, what knowledge matters and who decides will emerge. The project assumes that many community elders in all social structures are holders of knowledge;

that knowledge-building in communities is iterative, relational, collective and aimed at improving livelihoods, healing, finding direction and creating harmony; that knowledge-holding by elders is characterised by worldviews and cosmologies which are authentic, purposeful, and practiced as forms of relational ways of knowledge-building; and that knowledge-building in universities and communities is in need of alignment to work for the common good of humanity and nature.

Inquiry design

The design is made up of participatory and inquiry-based conversations on topical questions; content problematic relevant to teaching and learning and sustaining livelihoods involving young people post-schooling; and topical questions on teaching and learning relevant to sustaining livelihoods.

The intention is to understand the views of knowledge holders in communities on topics and questions which are current and critical for changes and improvement of livelihoods in society and, in so doing, contribute to cognitive justice in education.

University and community-based researchers have been invited to participate. Data gathering will take the form of inquiry conversations and recorded Socratic dialogues as well as in-depth interviews on beliefs about knowledge and knowledge-building methods.

The studies are informed by perspectives on knowledge-building, conversations for learning and knowledge systems.

Research questions

  • What knowledge should the youth be exposed to?
  • Which knowledge matters?


Analysis of conversation and debates between elders and the student population.

Progress to date

  • Conversation with Baba Mandaza took place in 2022.
  • A seminar titled Voices of Elders was held on 9 November 2022.
  • We interviewed Mrs Siwani, Baba Mandaza and Chief Nyashanu. This is currently being transcribed.
  • A paper on the above topic was presented at the SAERA 2022 conference.

Knowledge contribution

  • Conceptualising and understanding the views of knowledge-holders in communities on topics and questions which are current and critical for changes and improvement of livelihoods in society and, in so doing, contribute to cognitive justice in education.
  • Contribution to understanding differing conceptions of knowledge; theorising cognitive justice; consideration of world views and cosmologies in teaching and learning.

Research team: Team Leader: Prof Moyra Keane; Prof Gert van der Westhuizen, Dr Sindi Msimango, Dr Constance Khupe (Wits).

One student Rose Adegoke has submitted her doctoral thesis on related areas in October 2022.

7.5  Studies in PSET pedagogies

As the SARChI research team, various activities are ongoing to refine our conceptual and theoretical basis for all our research. Seminars, reading groups and research papers are an ongoing feature of our activities . In addition, various studies of PSET pedagogies have been conducted.

Research question

What is involved in the design, delivery and outcomes of best practice interventions in postgraduate education and how do these contribute to transformative changes in the sector?

There is a need to improve practices of teaching and learning in theoretically informed ways; and to conceptualise theories of change with the starting premise that current and new interventions need to be documented and critically analysed and that theories of change be articulated and developed.

Prevalent assumptions about postgraduate teaching and learning, and doctoral education in particular, include the idea that interventions should be realistic, contextually relevant and responsive to the imperatives of cognitive justice and to changing social structures and communities; should have agency; be capability oriented; and should draw on change theory methodologies.

The theoretical bases of these and other assumptions need to be further developed, leading to theoretical and conceptual research which will guide design, implementation and improvement of relevant pedagogies.

Conceptual studies of knowledge, cognitive and social justice in T&L in PSET

a) Empirical studies

The range of topics includes story-telling (Masuthu et al., 2022), access in Covid times (Maringe and Chiramba), international student experiences (McAlpine et al., 2022), disruptions in T&L (Menon and Motala, 2022; Motala and Menon 2022) and epistemic access (Solomon et al., 2022).

Content analysis and a scoping review of SARChI publications are planned for 2023 to describe and review research contributions and to propose a research agenda for the future.

b) Theoretical and conceptual studies

In all SARChI research, studies and publications dedicated reviews of literature are included as well as reviews of theoretical perspectives and concepts relevant to PSET T&L.

The need to review and develop extended and alternative theoretical frameworks and philosophical assumptions has been highlighted in contributions by SAERA researchers, associates and PDRFs including Samoff, Jansen, Weber, Chiramba and others.

The studies will draw on a recent paper by Van der Westhuizen and Motala (SAERA 2022) highlighting the complexities of aligning cognitive and social justice imperatives, noting the limitations of Fraser’s models and the possibilities of perspectives of knowledge systems and moral realism. This conceptual inquiry expands on current studies of cognitive justice imperatives in education such as those on knowledge ecologies, decolonisation and critical studies.

c) Scope and continuation of theoretical and conceptual inquiries

Questions to be addressed include:

  • The absence of IKS in HE curriculum inquiries.
  • What is involved in HE serving the public good.
  • Concretising notions of multiple knowledge systems.
  • What is involved in moral responsibilities in T&L interactions