Friday, 27 July 2018

African university students' first-year experiences in broader perspective

Not being much of a higher education teaching and learning scholar, in this issue I mostly enjoy the book reviews. And there are three: Liezel Frick reviews the book Going to university: The influence of higher education on the lives of young South Africans authored by Jenni Case, Delia Marshall, Sioux McKenna and Disaapele Mogashana (Cape Town: African Minds, 2017). The book follows 73  young people who first entered university in South Africa some six years ago, and documents their battles and challenges as they move more or less successfully into, through and out of university studies. 

Rejoice Nsibande carefully reviews a timely intervention into the question what meaning and practices of academic freedom apply to students today: Bruce Macfarlane’s book Freedom to Learn: The Threat to Student Academic Freedom and Why it Needs to be Reclaimed (London: Routledge Taylor and Francis, 2017). I saw Nsibande's book review published in the journal Critical Studies in Teaching and Learning (CriSTaL) and asked her if she would not do one for JSAA on the same book, but targeted to student affairs professionals. Great job! Rejoice highlights how the book develops and sustains its argument that university policies are impacting negatively on students’ lives; national policies demonstrate a lack of trust and respect for students as adults and the adoption of managerialism and performative culture has led to universities putting administrative processes and reporting to national bodies at the centre, at the cost of student success. Key to understanding Macfarlane’s argument is that students – as adults – should collaborate over choices and decisions on what to learn, how to learn, when to learn, and how to live their lives. I think one day I will write a book like than from the perspective of South African higher ed. I wrote once a paper on Student Freedoms (maybe I should publish it?), and supported the South African Student Union a few years ago, when I sought to develop a Student Charter of Students' Rights and Responsibilities. 

The third book review is by Taryn Bernard; she discusses the first volume in the new Bloomsbury series “Understanding Student Experiences in Higher Education”. The new series is edited by my dear colleague Manja Klemencic at Harvard. The book is called Negotiating learning and identity in higher education: Access, Persistence and Retention and it was edited by Bongi Bangeni and Rochelle Kapp (London: Bloomsbury, 2017). Similar to Going to University, it is part of a longitudinal research with students; in this case, they are all young black students who are mostly first generation, working class and from single parent families. Bernard particularly commends the authors for having been able to resist ‘deficit constructions’ of the students and rather to focus on the agency of the participants, and conducting research which highlights the agentic and enabled subject positions of the participants. Bernard argues that the book makes an important contribution to the global conversation around widening access and participation by offering an in-depth understanding of student experiences of black students at a historically white research university.

This is not to say that there are no good research articles - in the contrary. It is a great issue. One that I read very closely is from one of the most senior academics in higher education studies in SA, Prof Ian Scott. Mpho Jama, from the UFS Health Faculty, is another academic who continues to impress with her reflective scholarship. Overall, my friend Birgit Schreiber introduces the articles as follows (well - Teboho and I also chipped into this:)

"Discussions around first-year experiences of university students in South Africa have been focused on student adjustment and inclusion into the culture and discourses of higher education. However, the issue is much broader and includes efforts of articulation of processes and continuity of experience. 

This guest-edited issue of JSAA focuses on the wider issues and includes discussions on systemic articulation and ruptures in student experiences. Developmental shifts when entering higher education are experienced by students in a variety of ways. It is incumbent on higher education and the wider system to enable continuity of experience and articulation of systems in such a way that student success is at the centre. 

Thus, the core articles in this issue focus on systemic articulation, in and out of classroom experience and the operational and ontological engagement of students, beyond the first-year experience. Moreover, while discussions on university success are usually focused on higher education agency, it is essential that the silence around causality and influence of schooling and wider societal issues are recognised. The articles in this issue purposefully bring together such a wider perspective."

Vol. 6 Issue 1 of the Journal of Student Affairs in Africa available now Open Access from .