Institutional Change at a South African University: Can an Old Dog be Taught New Tricks?

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The paper investigates how two universities addressed the national priority for training more scientists for South Africa. Due to the redesign of the higher education landscape by the South African government, Vista University was incorporated into the University of the Free State (UFS). The presentation outline the challenges faced by academics from Vista University in enabling a paradigm shift at the UFS based on the results of a survey which indicated that only 20% of all students at South African Universities manage to obtain their degrees in the prescribed minimum period (lower for degrees in natural sciences). The former Vista University developed a model to accommodate this challenge, as well as to address the national priority for an increase in trained scientists. A brief outline of this model which comprises an extended, but integrated curriculum incorporating foundational provision, provides an understanding for the concept “access with success”. Introducing the curriculum to the UFS during the negotiation phase for the incorporation of Vista University reveals conflict and power play when traditional notions of education are challenged. Contestation of curriculum reform initiatives based on biases, values and attitudes are demonstrated. The dynamics and factors leading to the eventual acceptance and implementation of a curriculum that promotes greater access, especially for students from formerly disadvantaged backgrounds (owing to Apartheid), are outlined. The presentation concludes with the eventual institutional change effected at the UFS.


Keywords: Institutional Change, South African University Extended, Integrated Curriculum, "Access with Success", Curriculum Reform, Conflict and Contestation
Stream: Organisational Learning, Organisational Change
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.


Sheila Vrahimis

Lecturer, Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences, University of the Free State
Bloemfontein, Free State, South Africa

I am employed in the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences at the University of the Free State, South Africa. I teach a subject which I developed for the extended B.Sc, the educational model enabling academically under-developed students to access science. I kept the name of the module (Concepts of General Science) as was used by my former university (Vista). My formal training is Geography. I did my Honours in Climatology and Geomorphology and obtained a Masters in Geomorphology. I taught about two decades at Vista University, an institution developed by the Apartheid regime to provide higher education to urban blacks in their townships. Apartheid excellently designed inter alia spatial separation amongst the various communities and being employed at a black university in the mid 1980’s brought me face to face with the prevailing social injustices for the first time. I lost interest in furthering my research in geomorphology and became involved in social justice issues. My teaching at Vista University developed my skills to facilitate meaningful learning in students with a different frame of reference to my own. After the ANC was unbanned I concentrated on environmental activism and assisted in drafting the wording of the environmental rights of the citizens of South Africa (Constitution: Section 24 of the Bill of Rights). My interests are environmental issues and education.

Ref: L09P1164