Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe
Print version ISSN 0041-4751
BITZER, Eli and WILKINSON, Annette. Higher education as a field of study and research in South Africa: a historical and thematic perspective. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2012, vol.52, n.3, pp. 382-396. ISSN 0041-4751.
This contribution addresses three issues concerning higher education as a field of study and research in South Africa. It starts off by tracing a number of moments in the historical development of higher education studies and research in South Africa - particularly in the period prior to the 1994 transition of political power. Next, the question of what the field of higher education studies and research entails internationally, is explored. The thematic categorisation of Malcolm Tight from the United Kingdom is used to determine international publication trends as derived from his analysis of406 articles in 17 selective academic journals for the period 2002 - 2003. Tight identified eight major categories or clusters of publications in the field of higher education research. These were: (1) Teaching and learning in higher education; (2) Curriculum planning and design; (3) Student learning experiences; (4) Quality in higher education; (5) Systems and policies in higher education; (6) Institutional management; (7) Academics and academic work; (8) Knowledge and the nature of knowledge in higher education. For the South African position, three different analyses ofstudies and articles on higher education were explored. The first included an analysis by Muller (1998), who analysed 371 titles of research projects as well as master's and doctoral titles that were registered on the Nexus database of the National Research Foundation for the period 1993 -1997. A second analysis, by Uys and Frick (2009), comprised the abstracts of 1237 articles which were published in the South African Journal of Higher Education in the period 1987- 2007. Although not directly comparable to Muller's, this analysis indicated similar as well as different clusters of research undertaken. A third analysis, by Wilkinson and Van Jaarsveldt (2009), comprised 159 articles published by the South African Journal of Higher Education between 2006 and 2007 as one section of their research. The other section looked at 382 titles of master's and doctoral theses as registered on the database of the National Research Foundation for the period 2006 - 2007. From a comparison between the international analysis by Tight on the one hand and the three South African analyses on the other, it was concluded that while the Tight mapping was largely confirmed by the South African anlyses, two further local themes have emerged and another seems to be evolving. The new themes are (9) Transformation in/of higher education and (10) Higher Education and community involvement. A theme that seems to be evolving, is research on the role and use of electronic information and communication systems in higher education, while research on quality issues in higher education seems to be on the downturn or, at least, not growing. Finally, the authors have highlighted a number of issues for possible future exploration in order to extend and promote higher education as a field of research and studies in South Africa. These include the continuing and pressing question of student access to higher education, the relationship of higher education to other levels of post-school education and the effects of the economic downturn worldwide on higher education institutions and systems. It is also suggested that a more accurate and continuous mapping of the field can assist policy makers, study leaders and postgraduate students in making more informed choices on selecting and funding research priorities and topics in the field of higher education studies and research.
Keywords : Higher education; field of research; field of study; higher education in South Africa; themes in research on higher education; research in higher education.