South Africa has a complex and fractured past, with a political system that was legislated against diversity in education. Until the democratic breakthrough of 1994, Schools and tertiary institutions were divided on racial and ethnic grounds. This has spawned an unenviable legacy, which has required fundamental structural changes at all levels of the education system, including in governance and legislative frameworks.
These were among the sentiments shared at the 12th Annual Strategic Leaders Global Summit on Graduate Education that took place from Monday to Tuesday 12- 13 November 2018, when Prof Shireen Motala, UJ Senior Director: Post Graduate School, led a presentation on Supporting Diversity in Graduate Education.
The University of Johannesburg (UJ), in collaboration with the Council of Graduate Schools, hosted the very successful Strategic Leaders Global Summit on Graduate Education in Johannesburg, South Africa between the 11-13 November . The theme was “Diversity in Graduate Education”. Delegates and Graduate Deans from 17 countries developed and debated their vision of the future of graduate education, taking into consideration the varied ways the international graduate education community currently works to promote diversity of peoples and perspectives, including assessment in the admissions process, relevant curriculum, peer and faculty-mentoring, robust orientation programmes, language support as well as how funding and rapid technological advancements affect the delivery of graduate education and the mission of universities, among others. The senior Higher Education leadership included delegates from South America, USA, Africa, Europe and Asia .
Suzanne Ortega, President of the Council of Graduate Schools gave a keynote address, noting that since the Summit began in in 2007, the subjects of diversity and inclusion have been incorporated into the overarching topic of each meeting. As for this year, she said, the focus will be exclusively on promoting the success of traditionally excluded and underrepresented populations in graduate education. “CGS has prioritised diversity and inclusion in its own work, including several grant funded projects, an award, and the creation of the Diversity and Inclusiveness Advisory Committee in the early 1980s. I realise that some of these initiatives may be new and thought this would be a good opportunity to outline them.”
The sub-themes of the summit included global/regional/national understandings of diversity; campus culture, recruitment as well as inclusivity and ways to address specific demographic challenges, including indigenous peoples, refugees, and migrant populations.
According to Prof Motala, Diversity in the UJ context has had several different iterations and forms, including creating diversity in terms of social class, with the student profile largely shifting to working class, first generation university students who have had the opportunity to access tertiary education. “This is very much within the UJ goal of equitable access to academic excellence for all its students,” she said, adding that there have been attempts at UJ to create a more diverse student population.
UJ, she explained, currently has a student population of 50 628. Of this figure, 13.88% of postgraduates and 5.70% of undergraduates are international. At a doctoral level, 63% are South African, 14% from the rest of SADC, 20% from the rest of Africa, while 3% are from the rest of the world. Only 39.6% of the doctoral students are female, while 68.5% are black, 3.3% are coloured, 7.8% are Indian and 20.4% are white (HEDA : 2018).
“The postgraduate ecosystem in the rest of Africa is challenging. Issues include inadequate funding for research and doctoral studies, competing national and regional priorities, the preference of many academics for consultancy over teaching and research, limited innovation, low institutional capacity, lack of academic freedom, poor quality supervision and a lack of infrastructure including ICT. All this mitigates against the promotion of diversity.”
“The 2016 UNESCO statistics show that the top five twelfth annual strategic leaders’ global summit countries from which our international students are from Zimbabwe, Namibia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Lesotho and Nigeria. Although the demand for doctoral education in Africa is growing the levels of provision and enrolment rates are low,” added Prof Motala.
The global summit concluded that although most universities internationally have embraced diversity, concerns remain. More specifically enabling Africa to grow its own capacity for producing knowledge must remain a key principle. The opportunities are there to grasp through the CGS network and include student funding, which promotes equity, quality and excellence, split site doctoral schools and joint supervision. In the pan African context, building knowledge using indigenous and local knowledge systems to encourage contextual relevance is vital.