A Strong and Successful System?
There is no doubt the reforms made in the higher education system were all necessary and good in terms of bringing some kind of equity and evenness into the governance structure. However, higher education and government officials need to examine the results closely in order to determine why some reforms have resulted in positive change while some have not, and still others have made matters worse.102
For example, one key focus of higher education policy has been on improving access to higher education for all South Africans. As mentioned previously, the government set a target rate of20 percent enrollment by the year 2015. While the country is trending toward that number, significant questions have arisen about who is enrolling and the quality of the education they are receiving. Today, universities are swamped with students—in some cases, their enrollments have doubled—resulting in large classes and leading to a growing concern over the caliber of the graduating students.103
The reconfiguration of the higher education system was an attempt to create a differentiated system by orchestrating extensive institutional consolidation and mergers and also by creating mechanisms whereby the state required institutions to offer specific qualifications and courses of study. It was also a way to “right” the inequalities that existed in the higher education system after decades of apartheid rule. But one of the continuing concerns is that, even with the reconfiguration, those institutions that were historically disadvantaged will continue to be so as a result of the ongoing lack of funding and institutional capacity.
People also question higher education institutions’ ability to maintain high standards of quality while at the same time meeting the expectations for opportunity and change, as well as their capacity to acquire the financial resources required to implement and sustain all the government initiatives. The plans are good, and the democratic aspects of reform welcome. Yet there is growing uneasiness among faculty members and administrators that such plans could lead to a breakdown in the higher education system—as the government struggles to find solutions to funding shortages and, at the same time, tries to ease the increasing financial burden on working-class and poor families that send their children to university.104