Deconstructing quality in South African higher education

Date05 February 2018
Publication Date05 February 2018
AuthorKehdinga George Fomunyam
SubjectEducation,Curriculum, instruction & assessment,Educational evaluation/assessment
Deconstructing quality in South
African higher education
Kehdinga George Fomunyam
Durban University of Technology, Durban, South Africa
Purpose This study aims to examinesix South African universities with a particularfocus on the quality
of teachingand learning.
Design/methodology/approach A qualitative case study approach was adopted and data were
mainly generatedby means of open-ended questionnaires. The questionnairewas circulated to approximately
1,800 students and 746 completed it. The data were categorized and analysed thematically, using both
nationaland international benchmarks for quality teaching and learning.
Findings The ndings reveal that teaching and learning in South African universities is marred by a
plethora of challenges.Lecturers lack basic skills and essential resources to effectivelyfacilitate teaching and
learning. Furthermore,quality benchmarks set by the Councilon Higher Education are only met on paper and
little ornothing is done to translate this into practice.
Originality/value The study proposes amongothers that clearer policies on funding are recommended
to ensure proper allocation of resources,staff development and institutional comeliness. Finally, to enhance
transformation, universities should prioritize teaching and learning and take steps to ensure that those
teachingin the classroom are qualied to do so.
Keywords Quality education, Quality framework, South African higher education,
Quality education, Teaching and learning
Paper type Research paper
This research on South Africanhigher education and the fallacy of quality was informedby
previous research undertaken by the researcher in a South African university. The rst
study pointed to a lackof quality teaching and learning from studentsconstructions,calling
for broader researchinvolving several other universities to test thisconclusion. In this study
six universities were selected with the hope of furtherexploring the phenomenon of quality
in South African highereducation.
Quality in higher education is not a new issue, and it has been the subject of debate for
decades. Ansah (2016) notes that universities and government agencies previously used
terms such as academic standards, standards of degrees, student assessment and
accountability to represent quality in higher education. He adds that the growing need for
higher education in Africa in particular and the world in general has increased pressure
on universities to deliver at optimal level. Furthermore, the central role played by higher
education in societal development, poverty alleviation, social transformation and social
justice has highlighted the need for quality. This has motivated nations and regions to
adopt quality assurance mechanisms (Shabani et al., 2014).Henard and Leprince-Ringuet
(2008) identify four major reasons for the increasing demand for quality in higher
education, especially with regard to teaching and learning. The rst is the increasing
number of students enrolling in higher education institutions. Globally, the number of
students gaining access to higher educationsincethe1960shasincreased.InSouth
Received18 November 2016
Revised13 July 2017
Accepted22 September 2017
QualityAssurance in Education
Vol.26 No. 1, 2018
pp. 44-59
© Emerald Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/QAE-11-2016-0072
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
Africa, the number grew by 194,000 between 2006 and 2013 (Cloete, 2016). The second
factor is that nations and students are demanding learning experiences that offer value
for money, especially in light of constant changes in the funding structure of many
universities (Teferra, 2013). Higher education is seen as an investment that should
enhance national development, individual wealth creation and poverty alleviation. This
requires that universities account for their teaching and learning practices. Students who
pay tuition fees regard themselves as clients that must be satised. As such, they are
concerned about the quality of the lectures they pay for. The third reason for the constant
demand for quality in higher education is the changing student body and teaching
methods. Independence in Africa and the ending of racial discrimination in countries
such as the USA led to a more diverse student body. Universities are required to adapt to
such diversity and several contextual challenges (Shabani et al., 2014).Furthermore,the
increasing use of information and communication technology (ICT) in education,
especially higher education has increased demand for quality. This is because lecturers
have more resources at their disposal to respond to student challenges. When institutions
or the state deploy more resources (ICT resources), expectations on the return on these
resources are high, especially because the reason for its deployment is the improvement
of the educational experience. Finally, change fosters reection and debate. New trends in
higher education such as convergence, divergence, globalization, internationalization,
decolonization and transformation have created a platform for debate about higher
education, how it is offered and how it addresses these issues. Hénard and Roseveare
(2012) add that the new breed of academics that are trained in the digital age have a
different understanding of what good teaching is and how this contributes to quality
education. National standards are thus being developed to harmonize quality imperatives
and to ensure quality teaching and learning.
Spaull (2013) notes that quality education in South Africa is extremely difcult to
dene owing to the countrys diverse population and the incongruous nature of the
education system. He adds that quality education in the country is dened by both
immeasurable or unquantiable objectives and outcomes such as social and civic
participation, responsible citizenship, democratic values and egalitarianism and
measurable cognitive skills.
Among the reasons for the recent studentprotests in South African universities is the call
for improved quality, as students demand value for money (Cloete, 2016;Fomunyam,
2016b).Fomunyam (2014) arguesthat students feel that the education they receive does not
adequately prepare them for wider world. This raises questions about the quality of
education, especially as theseinstitutions on paper pass all quality assurance checks. Is the
idea of quality in this institutions as pertaining to teaching and learning a fallacy?
Department of Education(1997) highlights four underlying objectives of higher education in
South Africa:
(1) to meet the learning needs and aspirations of individuals through the development
of their intellectual abilities and aptitudes throughout their lives;
(2) to address the development needs of society and provide the labour market with
the ever-changing high-level competencies and expertise necessary for the growth
and prosperity of a modern economy;
(3) to contribute to the socialization of enlightened, responsible and constructively
critical citizens; and
(4) to contribute to the creation, sharing and evaluation of knowledge.
South African

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