New Institute Positions Social Sciences within Their Rightful Tertiary Place

Cape Times (South Africa), April 2, 2014 | Go to article overview

New Institute Positions Social Sciences within Their Rightful Tertiary Place


BYLINE: Blade Nzimande

This week sees the birth of an important new South African institution: the National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences. I published regulations for the establishment of this Institute in December and last week I appointed the board which is to be chaired by Professor Ari Sitas, head of Sociology at UCT. The board is composed of eminent academics, and includes up-and-coming young social scientists.

Two studies on the humanities in the past five years - one appointed by me and one appointed by the Academy of Sciences of South Africa - were published in 2011. Both highlighted challenges in the humanities universities. The National Development Plan, too, notes a decline in the humanities which it refers to as "one of our country's comparative advantages".

It goes on to say: "Our education from basic to tertiary and through the science and innovation system should invest and build capacity and high-level expertise in these."

The institute is one important such investment. Since 1994 the government has focused its main efforts on strengthening education in the natural sciences, mathematics, engineering and technology. This has been correct given the historical neglect for these areas by the Bantu Education system.

However, our emphasis on mathematics, science and technology holds the danger that the humanities, including languages and the arts, will be neglected. This cannot be allowed. The humanities and social sciences could and should be a lot stronger in order to play their rightful role in the development of our society, our economy and our intellectual life. These disciplines are essential to understanding the society and the world we live in, and help to produce the knowledge and skills on which our societies depend.

They are also essential for taking informed social, economic and political decisions at all levels of government and informing the way private and public institutions are managed.

The humanities also teach knowledge essential to enhancing the paths of young people in many careers: in teaching, research, social work, journalism, economic analysis, advertising, the performing and visuals arts, writing, public service, human resource management, market research and many other areas.

The institute will not conduct its own research, but will work with and through existing universities. …

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