Julius Nyerere Lecture: Higher Education, Transformation and Lifelong Learning
“Fifty percent of students entering higher education in South Africa will not complete university with a degree.”
This alarming statistic was presented by Dr Saleem Badat, Rector and Vice-Chancellor of Rhodes University, who was speaking at the 10th Annual Julius Nyerere Lecture on Lifelong Learning, held at UWC's Library Auditorium on 14 October 2013.
Dr Badat delivered a keynote address on Higher Education, Transformation and Lifelong Learning. His talk addressed the core purposes of higher education, and the roles that are associated with these purposes. Higher education, he maintained, has a role to play in amplifying a learning culture both within and outside of higher education institutions.
“People must be encouraged to realise that knowledge matters,” said Dr Badat. Lifelong learning for human development builds a learning culture in every home, street, community, province and nation. Developing lifelong capabilities of literacy, numeracy and critical engagement with everyday problems – including learning how to learn – are integral to learning throughout life.
UWC's Annual Lifelong Learning Lecture takes its name from Julius Kambarage Nyerere, the first President of Tanzania, and one of Africa's great political leaders and most respected post-colonial thinkers. As a Mwalimu (Swahili for “teacher”) himself, Nyerere was the rare type of intellectual who was open to new ideas and criticism, and yet displayed a profound independent-mindedness. He saw education as a means of bringing about human liberation and equality in society, and believed the main purpose of adult education is to inspire a desire for change. The lecture series honours these beliefs, and has drawn prominent speakers both nationally and internationally.
Higher education must engage in transformation, Dr Badat argued, but universities must also make sure they are able to produce knowledge and serve students first. “Let us be clear,” he explained. “If a university is not good at research, and at teaching and learning, it cannot undertake real service to the communities. We must have something to offer first.”
Transformation itself is about change, Dr Badat clarified, “but not all change is transformation”.
The changing of demographics, numbers and proportions of students and staff, and pursuing and achieving 'race', gender and disability equity goals, are important aspects of transformation. But so too are meaningful equity of access, opportunity and success for people of working class and poor rural social origins. Democratising access to knowledge is a major part of transformation for black, working class and poor rural people. It also means challenging the intellectual and daily legacies of colonisation, racialisation and patriarchy. This includes creating institutional cultures that genuinely respect and appreciate difference and diversity – whether class, gender, national, linguistic, religious, sexual orientation, epistemological or methodological in nature.
To achieve transformation, citizens must be open to – and must embrace – learning throughout life. This is not including just formal education, but informal, non-formal, self-directed learning too.
Universities, in turn, must realise that they do not stand outside of society; they are subject to conflicts and contradictions and will tend to express the ideological struggles present in all societies. Universities need to be solid and dynamic enough to withstand these tensions, and must be able to perform various roles and functions.
“We must make sure our universities are healthy enough to maintain the role that society calls on us to play,” Dr Badat concluded.