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Do Statutory and Professional Bodies in South Africa Threaten Academic Freedom at Universities: a Perspective from the Engineering Profession Do Statutory and Professional Bodies in South Africa Threaten Academic Freedom at Universities: a Perspective from the Engineering Profession

Structured Abstract 

BACKGROUND  

There  is  a  perception  amongst  university  leaders  and  leading  politicians  in  South  Africa  that  an increasing  influence  has  been  exerted  on universities  by  some  professional  bodies  in  determining what  can  be  taught  and  by  whom.  As  a  result,  university  leaders  and  academics have  become concerned  that  the  nature  and  extent  of  some  professional  bodies’  involvement  amounts  to  undue interference, with possible serious consequences for the academic freedom of universities.  

PURPOSE OR GOAL 

This study, limited to the engineering profession, is aimed at assessing the effect of statutory councils’ accreditation  visits  and  requirements  on  the protection  of  academic  freedom  in  South  African universities,  with  specific  reference  to  teaching  methodologies,  the  curricula  and assessment practices.  

DESIGN/METHOD 

An  exploratory  empirical  study  is  reported  in  this  paper.  A  semi-structured  questionnaire  was  used  to elicit  perceptions  from  Deans,  Directors of  Schools,  Heads  of  Department  and  senior  academic  staff members in engineering faculties at universities in South Africa.  

RESULTS 

Among  other  observations,  it  appears  that  the  selection  of  accreditation  visitation  panels,  which  is mostly  in  favour  of  academics  as  opposed to  professionals  in  full  employment  in  the  industry,  and documentation, a requirement of such visits, impact on academic freedom.  

CONCLUSIONS  

Accreditation  of  professional  bodies  should  focus  on  the  quality  assurance  of  programmes,  and should allow universities the academic freedom to inter alia determine curricula, teaching and learning methodologies and assessment practices.  

 

KEYWORDS  

Academic freedom, accreditation, engineering, higher education, South Africa 

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Created 2016-11-13
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