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HIGHER EUCATION AS A FIELD OF STUDY: The appreciation and feasibility of research within the higher education
As an emerging field of study there are many challenges and questions that evoke when one declares higher education as a field of study. Some people like Dennis Mileti (2003) could easily declare that since people talked about Emergency Management as a discipline, "therefore it is."Philips (2003:2). In defining higher education as a field of study there are questions that will engage us for years to come as they have for the years ago. "Position papers will be written, perspective challenged, debates entered in curriculum committees, turf battles waged in graduate councils" Phillips (2003:2). The debate is sometimes reduced to the question of whose definition of 'field of study' to be used. Philips (2003:2) suggests that we need to pause and examine the past while contemplating the future.
How far we are with higher education as a field of study and what direction is it taking. We need to look back and say where we come from. according to Goodchild (nd) the study of higher education has not yet reached maturity but possesses many of the attributes of scholarly field. He contests that programmes designed to prepare persons entry in higher education exist in profusion. He also states that there are approximately eight hundred professors who think of themselves as professors on higher education. This suggests that these professors would have easily agreed with Mileti (2003) in that when people talk of something therefore it is. We need to look at what characterizes higher education and higher education as a field of study in particular. Although in the past few decades there was very little literature regarding higher education as a field of study, new research suggests the opposite at the present. Hobbs and Francis (1973) and Francis and Hobbs (1974) were able to that the theoretical research available in the disciplinary journals was rare in the higher education. They also found that there was little apparent use of periodical literature of the theoretical findings Kellems (1975(3), 135-154). Goodchild (nd) suggests that there is a growing literature that deals with various parts of higher education domain. So, this suggests that we are indeed moving in a direction.
Let us use this definition of a 'field of study' so that we can all be at par. This has no intention to undermine or offend anyone's intellect. Can we agree that as a field of study, Higher Education is more encompassing on the one hand, and does not have its own theoretical foundation, on the other? it relies on academic disciplines such a social sciences to explain the educational process. Maybe it is because of this basic reason that we have seen less funding in the field of study than in the academic fields. Things have changed now, or they promising to change or we need to change things around.
In the next topic I want us to look at the lively-hood and the sustainability of the field.
Appropriateness and feasibility of research within higher education.
What can we look at and decide that we can take higher education as a field of study? The debate comes back again. When we look at the time line of higher education we recognise many changes with time before 1994 and the situation after 1994. By 1994, there were in south Africa 36 higher education Institutions, which were structured along racial and ethnic lines and characterised by a sharp distinction between universities (21 ) and technikons (15) OECD,(2008). New lines would be drawn or are being drawn away from those of the past. Universities are beginning to see the bigger picture now. Where all institutions want to become centres of excellence. Some have chosen to become entrepreneurial university and other virtual universities. the question remains, how we become specialists in higher education if there is no specialisation in higher education as a field of study. How are the lecturers prepared to meet the organisational objectives? Nzimande, (2009:3) talks about the key features of higher Education and Training System. "...the system of HET will be supported by an institutional base that is both diverse and differentiated as well as being conceptualized as an integrated and coherent whole in which meaningful learning pathways are developed across institutional and workplace education and training forms." Nzimande (2009:3) the people responsible for the development of these learning pathways are the higher education practitioners. This sets out a challenge to all lectures at Higher Education Institutions to engage in research in order to address the challenges that the minister of higher education talks about in the topic policy development. Other disciplines in higher education would include but not restricted to higher education management and leadership, program planning and development, research, transition studies (workplace to learning place and learning place to workplace). I view the following as possible areas of research in higher education. The green paper on Skills development (1997) aimed to develop an "integrated skills development system which promoters economic and employment growth and social development through a focus on the education training and employment services". if no one is doing research on higher education we may never find out what this means and therefore higher education institutions may never be able to provide the service as suggested by the government.
To simplify the above, in 1997 the above was taken forward in the skills development act (97of 1999) which aimed to:
* Develop skills of the south African workforce....
* Encourage employers to use the workplace as a learning site
* Increase the levels of investment in education and training...
* Ensure the quality of education and training in and for the workplace;
To me all of the above I the act am research opportunities for higher education practitioners. Lecturer and other higher education staff need to understand and have expertise in the skills needed for the workforce. The only way we know how to better acquire new knowledge is through research. This would help the higher education institutions in terms of funding from the government and other stakeholders based on the turnaround or the outcomes of the training and kind of education they provide. This brings me to the quality of education and training in and for the workforce. We need more people in the preparation of lecturers for dealing with the demands of the workforce. Through innovation and advancement in technology we may not hold the old knowledge and hope that it will be adequate for more years to come. The minister also mentioned 'quality interventions' which include among other things the introduction of formal qualifications for lecture Sers Nzimande (2009: 5) formal qualifications now will not necessarily be formal qualifications in the next ten years to come. We have seen situations where institutions, in their quest to be the tbest, end up producing one line of workforce more than any othrer. For example the University of Zululand is producing more teachers than any other qualification at the present. Does it ever occur to the leaders that at one stage these teachers will experience what many people call a bottle neck situation, where there will be more educators than the schools actually need?
The Education white paper 3, and the National plan for Higher Education (NPHE) in their policy documents, they articulate increased participation as one of the goals of Higher Education Transformation in South Africa, which is the achievement of equity in the higher education system.OECD, 2008. The higher education practitioners are expected to respond to this call and I f they are not prepared through research they will not respond appropriately. By responding appropriately I mean that participation would be increased, equity achieved, and the quality of education not compromised. Increasing participation and achieving equity in terms of gender, race, ethnicity, and socio-economic status is easy because it is a statistical issue. Dealing with large numbers of students also needs a research base answer. A gain it is the responsibility presenting itself as an opportunity to higher education practitioners to venture out ways and means of dealing with large numbers in limited resources, for example. The other issue here that needs to be addressed is that of background.
To conclude, I would like to point out to other fellow lectures and academics that there is a brighter future in higher education as a field of study, and there can be more disciplines than what I mentioned here.
Hallinan,M. (nd). CATHOLIC EDUCATION: Field or Discipline?
Kellems, S.E. 1975 Research in Higher education. (3) 135-1554
McCaffery P. 2004. The Higher education Manager's Handbook. London and New York: RoutledgeFalmer
Nzimande, B. 2009. Statement by the Minister of higher education and Training Towards a Skills Revolution. South Africa
Phillips, B.D. 2003. Disaster by Discipline1: necessary dialogue for emergency management education. Creating educational opportunities for the hazards manager of the 21st century. Colorado