On 18 October 2016, Kiaat residence in collaboration with the Faculty of Education held a colloquium in the auditorium, aiming at encouraging, motivating and empowering education students to strive for academic excellence, in their journey towards becoming future teachers. Ms Naledi Pandor, the Minister of Science and Technology, was the keynote speaker at the event, attended by 250 students from the four Groenkloof Campus residences.
In her address, Minister Pandor highlighted four main issues that are related to the current challenges of higher education. Firstly, she noted the fact that we have had a year of intense protests by students and workers challenging government, higher education leaders, the private sector and the entire society to concretely respond to the funding needs of poor students. Secondly, that there is a need to address demands for intellectual relevance and responsiveness. Thirdly she addressed the assertion that universities remain spaces of colonised and undemocratic practices and lastly that we need to respond to the funding needs of poor students. She made it clear that all of us have a part to play. The most justifiable demand is that the poor must be supported to access quality higher education.
With respect to the decolonization of the curriculum, she challenged the academy and students to provide content as “it would be tragic to allow governments to determine curriculum renewal and processes of knowledge production”. She went on further to challenge students that in their demand for de-colonised curriculum, they should not only focus on what is taught (content), but equally important, how it is taught and who teaches (lecturers), this curriculum. “I assume by decolonising, it is the intention to change what is taught, how it is taught and who teaches it”, she added. In this regard she challenged students to think about pursuing their academic career in order to contribute to the de-colonisation of the curriculum.
Minister Pandor touched on the achievements on government in higher education which include the fact that “the vast majority (over 80%) of the students in higher education are black and almost 60% are women; and that there has been considerable investment in institutional recapitalisation and in new infrastructure across the system, including student accommodation and the creation of two new universities.”
Minister Pandor highlighted the contribution of the Department of Science and Technology to this success which is mainly discharged through the National Research Foundation (NRF) whose primary function is to promote and support research through funding postgraduates. In 2014, the NRF supported 11 335 postgraduate students; covering 5.9%, 7.9%, 15.8% of all enrolled Honours, Master’ s, and Doctoral students, respectively, she added. Despite these small percentages, the NRF is the largest funder of postgraduate studies in the country. A study recently completed by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) on the retention and conversion of students in the postgraduate study pipeline showed that inadequate financial resources are the biggest contributor to students taking ‘gap’ years in between study levels, and to postgraduate students’ attrition in general. “It is clear from our experience that there needs to be improved support for and resourcing of postgraduate education”, Minister Pandor said.
Minister Pandor revealed that in 2008 the DST chose five priority areas – or "grand challenges", identified in ‘South Africa’ s Ten Year Innovation Plan’. The grand challenges relate to: our investment in bio-sciences for public health and food security; better understanding and mitigating the impact of global change; achieving energy security; optimally exploiting the potential of space science and technology and finally using science and technology to fight poverty and exclusion in our society.
“We need high skills, science and innovation,” she said. “Many of our struggles tend to focus on undergraduate education, but if South Africa intends to be a global player, greater attention should be given to postgraduate education,” she advised. In this regard she urged students to consider pursuing postgraduate studies in order to contribute to the countries development.
Prof Chika Sehoole, Dean of the Faculty of Education, in his speech made an observation that the colloquium was taking place at a time when higher education nationally is facing some challenges, especially in relation to the call for free quality and decolonized higher education. In addition to the Senate of the University of Pretoria’ s in principle support the free quality higher education, he restated his personal position for “free quality higher education for the poor.” He is of the view that “there are parents and families who can afford to pay for higher education, and they should be made to pay. If the income stream of parents who can afford, and which could be used to support provision of quality education, is blocked, “we may get free higher education, but which is of poor quality, because of insufficient resources,” Prof Sehoole warned.
He advised that the call for free quality higher education should also be accompanied by the responsibility placed on beneficiaries to ensure that they leave higher education with qualifications, “not at their own convenient time but within the minimum period.” It is for this reason that the University of Pretoria has adopted the [email protected] campaign to support students to complete their degrees in minimum period. In this campaign the University would like to encourage students to take responsibility for their own finish lines and #graduate on time.
He committed the Faculty to the [email protected] campaign as part of the Faculty’s vision of becoming a Faculty of choice for students and staff where all can pursue their academic goals and aspirations.
Also present at the event were Prof Ernest van Eck, Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Theology and House Father of Kiaat residence as well as Dr Matete Madiba, Director of the Department of Student Affairs.
After the event in the auditorium, everyone attended a dinner in the Normal Hall.
Prof Chika Sehoole, Dean of the Faculty of Education and students at the Kiaat event.