Fresh approach to boost university access

2015-10-21 06:00

UNIVERSITIES are facing a major shake-up that will result in the creation of a three-tier system comprising universities, university colleges and higher education colleges.

In a bid to increase access to universities, the Department of Higher Education and Training is revamping the system to introduce higher education colleges that will confer undergraduate degrees.

It is also creating university colleges that will cater for some, but not all, programmes offered by mainstream universities.

Dianne Parker, deputy director-general for universities in the department, told City Press on the sidelines of the higher education transformation summit in Durban that the restructuring would eliminate unnecessary competition among universities by forcing them to focus on different academic areas.

Higher education colleges, she said, would focus only on offering undergraduate qualifications.

“Their staff may do their own research, but the focus as an institution will not be research. Their focus will be on teaching. They will be offering certificates, higher certificates, advanced certificates, diplomas, advanced diplomas, degrees, and a whole range of those in specific fields. They will not offer honours programmes, and won’t have a research profile,” Parker said.

University colleges, she said, would operate at a higher level than higher education colleges.

“We are talking about a mechanism that will enable new universities to be born. The University of Cape Town and Wits University were all university colleges when they started. A university college is an evolutionary model for institutions. It differs from a higher education college in that it is working towards becoming a university.”

This will be the second major higher education revamp since 1994. A merger process undertaken in the mid-2000s resulted in the reduction of universities to 23 and the incorporation of smaller ones into bigger institutions. The process was however heavily criticised for focusing largely on historically disadvantaged institutions, while leaving established universities such as Wits, Rhodes and Stellenbosch largely untouched.

Parker said the aim this time around was to create a system where universities were not competing to offer the same programmes or attract the same calibre of student.

“We want a situation where everybody has an area of speciality.”

Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande told City Press last month that they wanted universities to focus on specific areas of specialisation, usually linked with the main economic activity of their geographical location. – News24

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