After many years of transformation in Higher Education we find that mere lip service is still being paid to the eradication of discrimination in our universities. In some instances discrimination is being suppressed only to reappear in more sinister forms.
Social transformation in this context requires a shift in collective consciousness of a society – local, state, national or global – so that reality is refined by consensus. Transformation in Higher Education is expected to happen intentionally by external stimulus. These transformations are only evident when they sustain over time where attitudes and values are held in a completely new context (or paradigm) based upon different assumptions and beliefs.
South Africa is said to have achieved these intentional social transformations in 1994 when it ended apartheid. This was not transformation, however, but a transition from the known system of apartheid to a defined democracy. Similarly, there was no transformation to the new Constitution – it happened overnight after a period of definition. What is significant here is that we knew where we were coming from and we defined and achieved our goal.
Successful mergers, like successful transformations, cannot be found except in the exact sciences such as mathematics and computing. Mergers have compounded the transformation process and resulted in the dominant culture taking over the other university. I speak from the experience of two mergers in KZN: one a University and one what is now a University of Technology, each merger including a historically disadvantaged institution. A more appropriate scenario would have been to create new universities and let the old ones die away with their discriminatory baggage.
All too often we now find universities of technology trying to emulate a university, rather than cutting their own niche. As part of this process we need to distinguish between a University and a University of Technology such as:
A university is a research oriented institution of higher learning meeting the broad interests and needs of students, staff, industry, market, knowledge economy, society and academia.
A university of technology is an industry oriented institution of higher learning meeting the needs of industry and society by enabling the development of the appropriate skills and technologies in mutual cooperation with industry and society.
Inherent in the differences is that the primary focus of a university of technology is not on research but on mutual investigation into the needs of industry and society.
It is not too late for our universities to reinvent themselves and serve as examples of conscious transformations of a social type resulting in reinvigorated and revitalized populations, economic prosperity and restored academic pride. We need to define what our new universities will be, and determine a time frame for this to happen.