Academic journal article Perspectives in Education

Research at Private Higher Education Institutions in South Africa

Academic journal article Perspectives in Education

Research at Private Higher Education Institutions in South Africa

Article excerpt


Very little is known about whether and what kinds of research are being undertaken at private higher education institutions (PHEIs) in South Africa. In 2009, the Council on Higher Education (CHE, 2009: 48) opined, "[a]t present private higher education institutions contribute little to national research production". Of the approximately 100 PHEIs registered at the time with the Department of Education (now the Department of Higher Education and Training - DHET), the CHE was aware of only two institutions - St Augustine College and Monash South Africa - which were consistently producing research in the form of journal articles, books and chapters in books.

At the 2009 CHE consultative conference, it was proposed that leading private higher education providers form a task team to understand the potential role of private higher education better. As a first step, deeper understanding is needed of the current state of the sector. Five working groups were constituted to investigate, research and report on specific aspects of the private higher education sector, with guidance and technical support being provided by the CHE Directorate: Advice and Monitoring. The working groups focused respectively on the size and shape of the private higher education sector, teaching and learning, community engagement and research, and financing and resourcing, with a final group assigned the task of coordinating and integrating the results.

A questionnaire was formulated and sent to all registered PHEIs in the country to elicit detailed information. Drawing upon the results of this survey, this article examines the recent research profile of PHEIs, specifically the kind and quantity of research produced by PHEIs from 2008 to 2010. In addition, attention is paid to the quality of this research, using the same criteria that were applied to evaluate research undertaken at public universities (i.e., publication in Thomson ISI-accredited and DHET-approved journals) and, where possible, comparisons are made to the research outputs of public universities.

It is on this basis that this article aims to contribute to existing knowledge about a sector which, almost two decades old, "is not yet fully understood" (CHE, 2009: 92). A profile of PHEI research activities and output is presented below, with emphasis on postgraduate output. After discussing the general findings, an effort is made to place these within the broader context of the factors that encourage or discourage research in South Africa and at PHEIs in particular.

The PHEI landscape in South Africa

PHEIs mushroomed in South Africa during the mid- to late-1990s (Subotzky, 2003: 419). Most studies of the sector have focused on questions of policy, registration and regulation, as well as quality assurance and equity, and to a lesser extent, on teaching and learning (Cele, 2005; Kruss, 2007; Lange & Luescher, 2003; Perspectives in Education, 2002).

To date, little mention has been made of research, yet there might be untapped potential here which could be important not only for the broader higher education sector, but also for the country. As Subotzky (2003: 420) noted, the potentially complementary role that PHEIs could play in human resource development in South Africa could and should extend to conducting research.

While there is evidence of the existence of hundreds of PHEIs in the country, only a few of these are registered (as specified in terms of chapter 7 of the Higher Education Act, No. 101 of 1997) (RSA, 1997) and are permitted to offer and award formal higher education qualifications. A recent examination of several organisational data sets that list private post-school education providers found that, according to the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA), there are at least 362 PHEIs, while data from the Sector Education and Training Authority in the manufacturing, engineering and related services industry (MERSETA) indicated the existence of 323 PHEIs (Blom, 2011: 18, 39). …

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