Curriculum Reform in the South African Higher Education Sector Ten Years Down the Line: A Case Study of the Faculty of Arts, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University
In 1999 the University of Port Elizabeth, which in 2005 merged with two other higher education institutions to form the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, embarked on an extensive and far reaching curriculum reform, moving from a conventional curriculum made up of “majors” and “minors” in specific disciplines, to a modular programme approach.
The Faculty of Arts, at the same time, embarked on a radical restructuring of its 14 discipline-specific departments, into three schools. The old departments were disbanded, and staff members found “homes” in the three schools where they formed loose alliances with other staff members presenting modules which made up the cores and electives of nine new undergraduate programmes. These programmes radically departed from the existing BA degree structure that had been presented by the Faculty of Arts up to that point.
This paper traces the development of the new curriculum structure, examines the reasons for curriculum change in South Africa at the time, the impact these changes have had on academia in terms of teaching philosophy and methodology, and the relative success/lack of success of these innovations. It also examines the unexpected administrative ramifications of the new curriculum structures and the impact this has had on lecturing staff.
In 2002 and 2003 the author published two papers on curriculum transformation at the University of Port Elizabeth in scientific journals, in which he analysed the BA Media, Communication and Culture programme within the context of the broader debate on post Apartheid (1994) Higher Education transformation in South Africa. This paper re-engages with the views on the transformation of the South African Higher Education landscape at the time, and curriculum transformation in the Faculty of Arts, NMMU, in particular.
In 2009 the BA MCC saw its tenth year of existence as one of the 15 top undergraduate programmes presented by the seven faculties that constitute the NMMU. Ten years down the line, stock is taken of the entire curriculum transformation process, and successes are balanced with unforeseen negative consequences. The conclusion is made that the curriculum reform in the Faculty of Arts was not an unqualified success, mainly in terms of workload impact on teaching staff, combined with a perceived erosion of the status of traditional disciplines.
Keywords: Curriculum Reform, Radical Programme Approach, Transformation of South African Higher Education, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University
Prof. Daniel Jordaan
Director and Professor, School of Language, Media and Culture