Friday, 28 June 2019

The significance of space in higher education transformation

Congratulations to Dr Nyakato Philippa Tumubweinee who graduated today from the University of the Free State. Her thesis examined the significance of space in the social construction of the everyday on a university campus.

I am proud to have been a co-promoter of her PhD together with Prof. Loyiso Jita.

Friday, 7 June 2019

Reflections of South African student leaders - towards a long history to the #FeesMustFall campaign

Early announcement - soon to be published:

Reflections of South African Student Leaders

This exciting collection brings together the reflections of thirteen former SRC leaders from across the landscape of South African universities. Each student leader’s reflections are presented in a dedicated chapter that draws closely on an interview conducted in the course of 2018/19 as well as an interactive process of editing, correcting, and approving the chapter between the researchers and the student leaders. 

Among the purposes of the research and book is to provide a longitudinal, a historical, perspective to #RhodesMustFall, the #FeesMustFall campaign, the #EndOutsourcing campaigns and so forth which continues to change South African higher education profoundly.

Each former student leader was asked a set of questions:

  • What is your personal background and context of getting involved in student leadership at university level?
  • What is your personal background and context of getting involved in student leadership at university level?
  • What were the most important contextual issues defining your time in student leadership?
  • How did you see your role in the SRC and the role of the SRC in the university?
  • What kind of support did you receive from your institution during your term of office?
  • What is your view of the student governance model, the electoral system, and the involvement of political parties in the SRC as prescribed by your university?
  • How did you relate to the student body during your term in office?
  • How did you participate in university governance (‘co-operative governance’)?
  • What were the main challenges that needed to be dealt with during your time in leadership?
  •  How did you as student leader deal with these various challenges?
  • To what extent was the student voice heard?
  •  How do you explain the continued use of student protests in a context of formal student representation in governance structures?
  • How do you understand the emergence of the 2015/16 student movement, including #RhodesMustFall, #OpenStellenbosch, and #FeesMustFall, its way of operating (including social media etc.), and its achievements?
  • What lessons have you learnt in student leadership?
  •  What would you change regarding student governance?
  • What has been the impact of your participation in student leadership on your political attitudes and ideology, your participation in politics, your career, and your personal life?
  • What were the most important contextual issues defining your time in student leadership?
  • How did you see your role in the SRC and the role of the SRC in the university?
  • What kind of support did you receive from your institution during your term of office?
  • What is your view of the student governance model, the electoral system, and the involvement of political parties in the SRC as prescribed by your university?
  • How did you relate to the student body during your term in office?
  • How did you participate in university governance (‘co-operative governance’)?
  • What were the main challenges that needed to be dealt with during your time in leadership?
  •  How did you as student leader deal with these various challenges?
  • To what extent was the student voice heard?
  •  How do you explain the continued use of student protests in a context of formal student representation in governance structures?
  • How do you understand the emergence of the 2015/16 student movement, including the #RhodesMustFall, #OpenStellenbosch, and #FeesMustFall campaigns (amongst others), its way of operating (including social media etc.), and its achievements?
  • What lessons have you learnt in student leadership?
  • What would you change regarding student governance?
  • What has been the impact of your participation in student leadership on your political attitudes and ideology, your participation in politics, your career, and your personal life?
In addition to presenting the student leaders’ answers to these questions in a variety of ways, the book includes an introduction as well as cross-analysis conclusion chapter. 

For the Council on Higher Education, this book represents its second successful publication from its leadership reflections project (which also included a colloquium on student governance in 2019). The first book was published in 2016 as Reflections of South African University Leaders, 1981-2014.

For the Human Sciences Research Council, the research for this book is part of its project on the historical dimension of the new South African student movement “From #RhodesMustFall to #FeesMustFall”, funded by the Andrew Mellon Foundation.


SETA life: acronymical overload and skills planning data shocks


If you know the first 10 abbreviations/acronyms, you qualify: you are clearly a skills development expert in South Africa 😂😂😂.

Jokes and acronymical overload aside - in a context of growing unemployment, poverty and inequality; demand for high-level skills, skills shortages, and massive youth unemployment; we need to get skills development and related to that, skills planning, right. SETAs, or sectoral educatoin and training authorities, prepare annually updates on their sector skills plans, based on sectoral labour market research and workplace skills plans and reports. In the last years, these SSPs have, apparently, improved in quality. I was involved in research related to the SSP of the public sector ETA; here as a member of the higher education and research chamber of the education, training and development practices SETA, I am still catching up to the work of ETDP SETA and the specific mandate of the HER chamber.

So long, quite a few interesting infos have come from our ETDP SETA HER Chamber workshop of yesterday. Figure 1: What is Skills Planning? And how did the Labour Market Intelligence Project (LMIP) approach the task of developing a skills planning system for SA?

Figure 2 gives an impression of the "skills supply side". What is happening within the schooling and post-schooling system? If 100 learners start at Grade R (pre-Grade 1), how many will get a GETC (Grade 9 completion), or a matric (Grade 12), or make it into higher education and eventually get a higher education certificate, diploma or degree?

The short answer is: 4. In other words, the other 96 percent will not have a (3 year) degree within 6 years of finishing matric. The tragedy is that a degree is basically a guarantee in SA to get a good job; it is a ticket  to upward social mobility, and typically means that an entire extended family will benefit and be lifted out of poverty and have opportunities for their young ones because one family member made it. But the number, even with a GER of 19%, is still way too small.

Lastly, what about the demand side of the Labour Market. Where is there employment growth,? Where does value add/growth also lead to significant employment growth? In other words, where can we get 'bang for the buck' in terms of stimulating sectoral growth for enhancing employment? Figure 3 gives an idea: ... financial services, transport, construction, government, public and social services, and manufacturing. The harsh reality: it is not mining, not agriculture, although the latter can certainly provide for self-employment and dignified livelihoods.

Thursday, 24 January 2019

Tweeting #FeesMustFall - Some early results from the Social Media Analysis

Resistance against neoliberal higher education policies is a global student concern. In South Africa, the effect in the university sector has been a level of contentious student politics that is unprecedented in the post-apartheid era. The new SA student movement of 2015/16, known by iconic twitter handles such as #RhodesMustFall and #FeesMustFall has come to spark an unprecedented amount of research into student politics and opened up new lines of inquiry.

Together with Prof Tanja Bosch from UCT and Nkululeko Makhubu from HSRC, I have had the fascinating experience to do a "social media network analysis" or digital network analysis / DNA on a number of twitter handles and hashtags related to the student movement. At the most basic level, an analysis of tweets and tweeters can show, for example, who were the top 10 tweeters who tweeted the most, as in the first figure.

A more complex analysis can show how different tweeters (or rather: twitter handles) are 'connected', that is, who tweets to whom (e.g. by means of a mention) or who retweets or quotes a tweet from who, and so forth. That then gives quite cool network maps, like the one below, where one can see the relationship between major online news sites (e.g. theCapeArgues, Netwerk24, News24, SABC_online) and student handles such as @Shackville and @RhodesMustFall. Our analysis argues that the DNA structure illustrates the argument made by RMF life-tweeters, that they used Twitter for (what I would call) movement propaganda purposes; and it reflects the flat movement leadership structure. All of this and more will be revealed and elaborated on in our chapter in Richard Davis book.

I made a presentation at the 2018 HSRC Social Sciences Research Conference in Tshwane, South Africa to summarise findings that Tanja, Nkululeko and I are busy publishing in a forthcoming book published by Routledge. The article called "Tweeting #FeesMustFall" was published in December in the HSRC Review and deals with #FeesMustFall-related Twitter activism by students at the University of Cape Town in 2015/2016. It's short and sweet.

Enjoy. The HSRC Review article can be downloaded freely here.

Tuesday, 22 January 2019

A focus on student well-being and quality services

The Journal of Student Affairs in Africa has just published its 12th issue!

Vol. 6(2) - which includes a number of research articles, reflective practice articles, and campus reports dealing with two pertinent matters: student psychological well-being on and off campus, as well as the psychological well-being of unemployed university graduates; and the assessment of quality in student affairs and services. In addition, the issue as always contains book reviews.

Here is the: Table of Contents. The issue can be downloaded, fully open access, from the website of the journal:

Editorial Commentary
Towards Student Well‑being and Quality Services in Student Affairs in Africa
Thierry M. Luescher, Birgit Schreiber, Teboho Moja

Research Articles
Students’ Attitudes and Perceptions on Xenophobia: A Study of a University in Durban
Olubunmi Damilola Akande, Hilary Jephat Musarurwa, Sylvia Blanche Kaye

Psychological Health and Optimism amongst Unemployed Graduates in Zimbabwe
Julia Mutambara, Tinashe R. Makanyanga, Pilot Mudhovozi

First‑Year College Students’ Emotional Intelligence and Help-Seeking Behaviours as Correlates of their Academic Achievement
Melese Astatke

Student Satisfaction Regarding Service Quality at Ethiopian Public Higher Education Institutions: A Case Study
Solomon L. Lodesso, Eldridge J. van Niekerk, Cecelia A. Jansen, Hélène Müller

Reflective Practice
Quality Enhancement in Student Affairs and Social Justice: A Reflective Case Study from South Africa
Thierry M. Luescher

Who Are Our First‑Year At‑Risk Humanities Students? A Reflection on a First‑Year Survey Administered by the Wits Faculty of Humanities Teaching and Learning Unit in 2015 and 2016
Genevieve Hundermark

Holistic Health, Disadvantage, Higher Education Access and Success: A Reflection
Angela A. Morris-Paxton, Johanna M. van Lingen, Diane Elkonin

Campus Report
IASAS NASPA: 4th Global Summit on Student Affairs and Services
Tiki Ayiku, Lisa Bardill-Moscaritolo, Stephanie Gordon, Brett Perozzi, Birgit Schreiber

SAFSAS Summit 2018: Looking Back, Looking Forward: Understanding Our Space In and Role In the New Normal
Saloschini Pillay, Birgit Schreiber, Sibusiso Chalufu

Mental Health at Universities: Universities are Not In Loco Parentis – Students are Active Partners in Mental Health
Birgit Schreiber

Book Reviews
Clarence, S. & Dyson, L. (Eds.). (2017). Writing Centres in Higher Education: Working in and across disciplines. Stellenbosch, South Africa: African Sun Media
Annsilla Nyar

Jansen, J. (2017). As By Fire: The End of the South African University. Pretoria, South Africa: Tafelberg Publishers
Vicki Trowler

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Collaborating with other researchers; the student experience & building on our own knowledge base and theory

It is one of the great joys of my job that I get to collaborate with a peers, senior and junior researchers, from across South Africa, the continent and the globe. One great research project that involved such collaboration was the ESRC-NRF funded "Higher Education Pathways to the Public Good". The project looked at ways in which studying at university actually contributes in various measures to social justice, social cohesion, democracy, equality, sustainable livelihoods and freedom. The leaders of the project were the super-smart Prof. Paul Ashwin from Lancaster University and Prof. Jenni Case, formerly from the University of Cape Town, now Virginia Tech. 

Most closely I worked with Dr Philippa Kerr (who is in the middle of the picture in white and red). She was my Post-Doc in my last months at the University of the Free State and the literature review that underpins the chapter we wrote for Paul and Jenni's book was to a large extent the fruit of her diligently reading herself into a completely new literature.

I mean they are all great - what a fantastic team Jenni and Paul put together. I will certainly want to work again and again with people like with Thando Njovane, Mandy Hlengwa, Mary Masehela, Sherran Clarence, Thandeka Mkhize, Janja Komljenovic, Tristan McCowan, Ibrahim Oanda, Sioux McKenna, Rebecca Schendel, Suellen Shay and and and. They all have expertise in matters that I know just a bit about, and talking to them, and being able to listen to them and their knowledge, is always such a great pleasure.

Now what was different about this project is that it did not - in most cases - do new empirical research. So, no time was spent on interviewing people; constructing, distributing, and eventually analysing surveys; or any of that jazz. Nope. The idea here was to see what do we already know. You know, we are too often doing in the Social Sciences what happens even in the economy: getting the data and then not working on the beneficiation. It's like we are doing social mining rather than social science! Meanwhile, the science comes in with the theory part; it's not only about getting the methodology right -, oh no, - the science comes in when one works with knowledge rather than data... when we build a knowledge base and build from that knowledge base, empirically grounded, contextually relevant, indogen Southern theory; African theory. So sometimes we gotta go and stop mining for data, and start working through the findings of others, adding a layer of complexity. You know. All that Gold that's been mined in South Africa, and then most of it has just been melted and poured into the shape of a Gold Bar, and off it goes. Meanwhile, that very same Gold could be worked into much more... from jewelry to applications in science and technology. So you could say, this project really took a good step towards doing some beneficiation; working through existing knowledge, conceptualising, theorising (yeah, those my words :).

The book is available here - as always, I try to make sure it's open access. And thankfully, Paul and Jenni and the crew had the same commitment. By the way, the e-book has an index - that gives a good idea of where to find what.

In the case of Philippa and I, we decided to do a 10 year literature review, starting with three South African journals, on what actually has been researched and found about the undergraduate student experience. Our chapter is beautiful and shocking: if our dear political role-players, decision-makers, policy-makers, the so-called political and government leadership, the university leaderships, ... if they would actually read - yes read - what is known, what was known already in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 about how bad, how unacceptable, how injust, how traumatic indeed, the experience of studying at a university in South Africa is for many students - and particularly black students, female students, working-class and poor students, LGBTIQA students, - then there would not have been a 2015 or 2016, because hopefully, they would have responded to the very issues that the student movement, that #RhodesMustFall, #OpenStellenbosch, #RUReferenceList, #BlackStudentMovement, #FeesMustFall, #EndOutsourcing, and so forth, and so forth have raised and raised so desperately. My chapter with Philippa Kerr is here. Enjoy - it's a good and worthwhile read!

Friday, 28 September 2018

Being an 'Expert Commentator' - and the THES university rankings

It happens occasionally, a few times a year, that I am being asked to be an 'expert commentator' for some newspaper article. Usually it is about higher education, typically about student politics, and I quite enjoy the flattery involved in providing 'expert commentary'. By now I should have learnt that whenever there is something that I do NOT want them to print, I must NOT say it, because it will be exactly that, which they will print. That's Murphy's Law of expert commentary. In the article below, published on 27 September 2018 in one of the three main Cape Town daily newspapers - the Cape Argus - I was asked my opinion about the latest THES university rankings. And guess what - they would of course use my 'scare word' consumer choice 😱 as the preferred keyword in the two printed sentences that came from a good 10 minute talk with Athina May, the very friendly and capable journalist who wrote the story. 

The article is copied in full below:

Cape Town - UCT is the top university in Africa.

This is according to the Times Higher Education World University Rankings’ top 1000 universities in the world. It features nine of South Africa’s institutions.

Stellenbosch and Witwatersrand (Wits) universities moved up the ladder from last year’s grading.

However, education specialists argue that the rankings don’t accurately measure a university’s strength in Africa because they don’t take account of socio-economic factors affecting institutions.

More than 1250 higher education institutions across 86 countries were ranked against each other. UCT climbed 15 positions to 156, while Wits landed in the top 250 and Stellenbosch climbed to the top 350.

UCT executive communications director Gerda Kruger said the university was proud of their accomplishment and notable improved score in the research area, which they said confirms their position as a research-intensive institution that makes a contribution to the local and global knowledge pools.

The vice-chancellor and rector of UWC, Professor Tyrone Pretorius, said to date few African universities have featured on global rankings because of their diverse priorities when compared with global elite research universities.

“African universities are operating in developing economies. Research shows that higher education can contribute strongly to economic growth.

“More universities on the continent are realising they must produce graduates who can get to work in their own countries and tackle issues like poverty and inequality.”

Pretorius said universities aimed to meet national goals, and the continent’s needs should be taken into account.

University of the Free State rector and vice-chancellor Francis Petersen agreed. He said the rankings were largely driven by the effect of research generated by universities and where it played a role in the global arena, so universities that weren’t research- intensive were not likely to receive high rankings.

The research director for Higher Education and Development in Africa, Professor Thierry Luescher, said the rankings may not be measuring what we’d like them to, but they played an important role in the public’s perception of higher education institutes.

He said consumer choice was influenced by rankings and high rankings could secure more involvement of businesses in higher education with respect to funding.

Stellenbosch University deputy vice-chancellor of strategy and internationalisation Professor Hester Klopper agreed and said rankings played a role in attracting students and academics from across the world, helping build effective collaborations with other universities, institutions and organisations.

Cape Argus

Saturday, 25 August 2018

After the PhD: The becoming researcher's job hunt ... some tips for the application pack

What is true for any job application at a professional and senior level also counts for getting a Post-Doc, researcher or lecturer position: you must get your application pack right. There are very few but important basics.

Currently at the HSRC we are hiring a lot of new entry level (post-PhD) and senior researchers, and I am going through roughly 200 (!!) application packs for about five jobs (and these 200 have already taken the HR hurdle!). That means, there are about 40 potentially eligible candidates for every post. From those 40, somewhere between 3 and 5 will be shortlisted and invited for interviews. So the bin is very close to the desk. And these are all - please note - highly qualified emerging and established researchers from across South Africa, the African continent, as well as from the UK, Sweden, Germany, Norway, and the USA.

To make the shortlist and not drop in the bin your application pack needs to respond to the advert and look the part. So here some basics:

(1) Have a great CV

Firstly, a CV is a formal document; make sure it is complete for the job you are applying for, up-to-date, accurate (and true!), and looks right.

The CV is often the first thing someone who seeks to hire you will look at (along with whatever you may have completed on an online platform). If your CV looks like you are straight from high-school, it's a major turn-off. A CV must look great. It must say - I am competent, I am who you want to hire, I have what it takes. It must be dressed up properly - just as you would dress up for an interview. Have your CV checked by a professional. Look at other people's CVs and improve yours. Update it regularly. 

Different professions have different rules about what needs to be in a CV. For a researcher/academic job, some of the unique additional things are listed below such as research outputs (publications list), research projects and research networks, funding including scholarships, grants for research, as well as supervision and mentorship. Furthermore: participation in professional or academic associations, relevant training (e.g. in key methodologies or software tools like Nvivo, Atlas.ti, STATA or SPSS, etc.), experience in publishing including editorship/reviewing.

Different countries also have different rules on what can go into a CV. In some countries, adding a picture is not allowed, nor any reference to ethnicity or race. In others, like South Africa, employment equity legislation encourages putting your ethnicity and EE status. Similarly, age, ID number, etc. can be tricky. I would put age but not ID number, for example. 

make sure that you are doing great work - including the 'above and beyond' - that makes you an outstanding candidate for the researcher. What are the key 'variables' from which one looks at the potential of a emerging researcher? Here are some pointers:


Obviously, listing your qualifications is important. Indicate type, discipline, year, institution; if it was thesis based, the title and names of supervisors/advisors, any awards or distinctions; and if it was coursework based, some major courses/topics covered.

Research outputs

Research outputs mainly refers to knowledge products, that is peer-reviewed publications in high-quality, relevant journals and scholarly books. 

Journal articles: choose relevant quality journals. That are not only those who are necessarily listed by Scopus or WoS/ISI, but also those that are relevant in your discipline and your context. Many quality African journals are not listed. They may be on the DHET or Norwegian lists, but not on ISI. If they are where your discipline and topical scholarly conversation is conducted, then that's where you must participate. 
Book chapters: it's a great opportunity to publish on a common topic with international (and local) peers. Make sure your editors and publisher are reputable.
Books (monographs or edited collections) indicate in some disciplines that you have now a certain standing. However, all depends on the publisher. Self-published books, sorry - unless it's a poetry collection. Publishing your thesis is a great idea - either as monograph or a series of articles. Just remember, there are predatory publishers out there who take a thesis and publish it without any 'value added'. Rather don't!
Research reports typically do not have the same standard of peer review as journal articles or reviewed scholarly books. Hence they are typically not counted as part of the peer reviewed research output, but they indicate your research productivity. 
Conference proceeding are sometimes also considered, especially if published. But don't count on in. Attendance of conferences is a good way to see in which 'circles' you mingle. 

Key: one list you do NOT want your journal to be listed is in the Beall's list. Learn to identify predatory journals and do not publish in predatory publishers. If you ever did, do not list them. Count your loses and move on. Similary, publishing your thesis with Lambert is devaluing it in the eyes of recruiters. Publishing in predatory journals that charge high fees and have questionable review and QA processes cast doubt on your ability to produce work "that stands the test of peer review". 

Make sure you have a Scholar Google Profile, an and/or Researchgate account, and your ORCHID. All this shows you are switched on and part of the world-wide community of knowledge producers. A public Google Scholar Profile also gives the recruiters an idea of your citation count and where you stand in your research career. They are more important in our business that LinkedIn. On the topic of social media, please be sure to monitor your own Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and whatever accounts. Nothing like a good researcher profile and a Facebook account that shows a drunkard. 

Research experience, projects, networks, funding

This is really important to show. Research experience (and networks) can be well illustrated in a listing of actual projects. Important to show: duration, name of PI (principal investigator), grant holder, grantee and grant amount (if it is/was funded), your role and contribution. Of course, this must correlate with research outputs, conference/workshop attendance etc.

If you have raised or participated in raising research funding, this is important to note as well. Scholarships and fellowships can be listed, but are not as prestigious as actually having landed a grant from a major foundation or governmental or non-governmental research funding body. The role in the study and in raising the funding (PI, Co-PI, co-grantee, researcher) should be indicated, proposal name, dates, funding amount. 

Of course - a CV must be an accurate reflection of your competencies! Typically, good HR departments verify all qualifications, and good shortlisters will check whether your publications actually exist. Anything too weird and suspicious, is in danger of heading for the shredding bin.  

And - of course - every job is different and has different requirements and criteria. Customize your CV to highlight what recruiters want to see. For an academic teaching appointment, you may want to add the courses you taught; for a research appointment, you will want to include all relevant software skills, research methods courses taken and taught, etc.

(2) Have a great application pack (in addition to your CV)

A CV is a very important component, but only one component of an application pack. Sometimes, if the requirement is for a short CV, have a separate document with your research outputs listed separately. Please remember, your research outputs should be listed neatly, by year (and categorised), and with a consistently applied referencing convention. Also: include DOI or online links (as embedded hyperlinks in a Word or PDF), and if you have publications in lesser-known journals, or apply for a job where the recruiters may not be familiar with the key journals in your field, indicate if they are listed in key indices (e.g. ISI-journal, Scopus journal, DHET-accredited, etc.). 

Include your top 2-3 articles or chapters as PDFs. But better if they are less than 5 (max 10) years old and have good citation traction. Sometimes this is specifically requested.

The motivation letter: must respond to the job advertisement and particularly to all requirements (criteria) and responsibilities. If something is not 100%, explain. Thus, if you apply for a job in an Education Faculty but you are a Development Studies major, explain why you think you make a great fit. That requires research! and it requires sincerity. By all means, show your best side, but any grandstanding should be avoided. Also: this is a formal letter.    

Reference letters and referees: work confirmations, grant confirmations, and actual letters of references from previous research supervisors are great to include. Referees are important and should be senior enough, preferably from different work and country contexts. Ask them if they will be your referees before including them and send your application pack to them!

You want more info? I just found this great resource link: 

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 .

Clearing Research Ethics Clearance

Credits: Bill Watterson - Calvin and Hobbes - one of my most beloved comics strips
Good grief... REC/IRB here we go again. We do years and years of research training to become highly qualified, scarce skills social science researchers, and when we actually want to put all that training into action, assemble the most talented and qualified team, design a great project proposal, hunt down the money, and ready we are, then there is that one hurdle still to take... and it's a paper deluge. Wasn't doing years of research training, Honours, Master's, PhD, Postdoc, all meant to ensure that we know the rules of good and ethical research? At what point is it that these qualifications become accreditation? Rules, rules, rules. We learnt them and we apply them, not? Isn't it so? What can a research ethics committee do? Is it not that in the end, we still have to trust the PI, the principal investigator, after submitting 20 pages of 'research ethics application', research proposal, research instruments including project information sheet, consent form, questionnaire, and so forth,... that in the end we still have to trust the PI to actually use them? Is it not so? I know, I know. It is about protecting the research participants, ensuring that the PI has taken all into account what might cause harm. Of course. I know, I know. But gosh, the processes, the paper war, the forms and all. In most social science research, we are really just asking our research participants to share their knowledge, their perceptions, their experiences with us - to enlighten us. The rules of good behaviour, along with the rules of ethical research learnt in training years... What are we trying to achieve in the ethics review process? If in the end it turns out to be a massive administrative/bureaucratic process, but there is no actual value add, then what have we achieved? If it is all about showing I know the rules, I can apply the rules, then why not having every few years a 'renewal exam' in research ethics, but then a scaled down review process for individual projects? Or what would be the solution? Trust and Punishment? I've been looking for something that can lighten up the mood of this blog post, that comes after I received approval for two ethics applications - no less than three months after I submitted them. That the approval sat for one month in the ethics committee administrator's inbox without being forwarded to me doesn't quite help... but really. The deluge of paper. The amount of work. And at the end, the value add was minimal. I could have gained more from a 1 hour conversation about my projects with the Chair of the REC/IRB, than the 30+ hours that it took me to assemble all the application stuff, the 3+ hours it took REC/IRB members to read through it, the hours of admin and responding to me with pedantic comments about irrelevant stuff, and another 5 hours of responding to these comments. Value add? Minimal. Good grief... I get it. Knowing that one has to connect the dots doesn't necessarily mean we know how to connect them right or how to see the full picture when immersed in the research process; the big picture of ensuring all is done as best it can and no one will be harmed. But really; I think we need to rethink this the clearing of the hurdle of gaining ethics clearance; rules, rules, rules. Thanks Calvin and Hobbes for lightening up my mood. :)

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

What does Student Governance mean?

When I decided in 2002 to write a Master's thesis on student governance at the University of Cape Town (which eventually became a PhD), I only knew the term student governance in the way we had used it in 1999 as a Students' Representative Council ("It is what we are meant to be doing") and eventually the way we defined it in the context of the far-reaching UCT Student Governance Review of 1999-2002. The formal definition we came up with then was:

"Student governance consists of the structures and processes implemented to: 
(1) reflect and guide the needs and views of students within the University's governance system; (2) represent the interests of students in the institution; (3) execute and initiate key functions in the interest of students, (a) oversight of student activities; (b) leadership and development of the student body; (c) advocacy of student interests; (d) provision of benefits to the student body; (4) focus student attention on challenges facing society; (5) facilitate student participation in national higher education policy development. (SGR 2000: 7). 

Now that was a dam-good definition; perhaps for an SRC a bit to formulaic; and it was not really reflective of what we did, of our political commitments and the struggles we were fighting: fighting for students against academic and financial exclusion, organising and leading protest marches, holding meetings in residences and on upper campus, rallies, oh the pamphleteering (where was Twitter!), taking racist lecturers to task, and then all the speechifying for every other thing on campus. And the Fish Eagle with Appletizer, not to forget. 

After having studied student politics for a long time, reading and researching, and writing about it; in the process writing an entire PhD about it, and having been supervised by a political philosopher (for my sins! - but thank God for THAT training!), my definition of student governance has changed quite a bit. The SGRs' definition of 2000 I would call a quite formal definition of 'student representation' rather than one of student governance, and I would also point out to some limitations ..."structures" ... and "processes" that are "implemented"...  too much functionalist policy speak. But as I say, it is a good definition. 

So what does Student Governance mean? I had to answer that question in less than 1000 words, and for me, that is not easy :) :) The above snippet gives an idea: student governance, in my view, is different from concepts like student participartion, student representation, or so, by the idea that governance is related to rules - the making and changing of rules, and the effect that these rules have. Governance is about regulative politics, and student governance is about both being governed by student rules and participating in the making and changing of these rules.   

It is always a huge honour I think to be asked to do write the official entry for an international encyclopedia. In the age of wikipedia, this might not be such a big thing anymore after all. And yet, as much as I was wowed by the request to write the entry on "Higher Education Expansion in Africa and the Middle East" for the Springer Encyclopedia of International Higher Education Systems and Institutions (2017), so I feel extremely honoured to write the entry on "Student governance" for the new SAGE Encyclopedia of Higher Education. 

Thursday, 17 May 2018

Understanding #FeesMustFall: Starting a qualitative data analysis

My interest and that of other researchers into the student movement - like Tanja Bosch, a professor and expert in communication studies, media studies and youth at UCT - is in the different uses of different platforms of social media during movement campaigns like #FeesMustFall; the different audiences, etc.; and the significance of the use of social media for the specific character and successes and failures of the student movement.

Just yesterday, my colleague Nkululeko Makhubu and I got an interesting lesson in social movement theory by Luc Chicoine, a visiting scholar from the University of Quebec, Montreal, Canada, - remember the Maple Spring? He introduced us to the concepts of 'framing' and different types of frame alignment, cycles of protests and contention (by Makhadam as he pronouces it), etc. all adding to the seminar he gave earlier this week at the HSRC on protest event analysis. Yes, it is acronymed to number 1.

Today now, Travis Noakes (nope, he is not banting at the moment I asked :), gave all of us, that's Prof Bosch, Makhubu and me, a workshop in using Nvivo 12 for analysing our data. It's a process - and it has it's own language... nodes, nodes, child nodes, parent nodes. Seems very time-consuming, but, as the wordcloud above shows, it may actually be worth it.

What's the point? Eventually, the close to 500k tweets we got as digital trace data from the net will be connected to a qualitative database, and all that feed into getting a better understanding of the amazingly creative way, student activists in 2015 invented a South African 'internet-age networked student movement' (yes, I coined that term :). Never mind the remarks about the 'anti-social media' by Prof Jonathan Jansen in his 2016 book. The point is, listen and you won't get burnt - as by fire. But it has always been difficult for principals to listen to the children in their care...

As we are starting to talk to student leaders at UCT about the use of social media during the 2015/16 South African Student Spring (as Ferial Haffajee calls it in her first excellent book What if there were no Whites in South Africa) we are getting a striking cloud of words. This is very, very rough. But I thought it is worth sharing... That students see their movement as a social movement first and foremost, linked with Twitter and Facebook, Rhodes, leadership, and so forth.
Follow our project @osphera #FeesMustFall

Sunday, 11 March 2018

Internet-age student movement research in the era of big data and social media

I have written previously about the South African student movement (of 2015/16) and the way social media use by students and others during the movement signaled a new era in student politics - and possibly grassroots politics overall in South Africa, making it the first 'internet-age student movement in South Africa' (see publications). As it was during the Arab Spring, Facebook and Twitter, along with other platforms (like WhatsApp) were used prolifically by activists, sympathizers, as well as journalists to inform on the movement.

This Wednesday at the HSRC, Nkululeko Makhubu and I got really excited to receive the raw data of all tweets with hashtag #feesmustfall in an excel file from the period of 1 January 2015 to 31 December 2016 to analyse. It is extremely exciting to have such big data to work with - it is also a bit scary to think how much information about a person remains stored in the 'cloud'. Today it is almost exactly three years since the start of #RhodesMustFall, and two and a half years since that of #FeesMustFall. Yet, with the right extraction tools, it is possible to get information to the most miniscule datum.

For instance, in our dataset, we have for every one of the 576,000 tweets extracted so far the exact date and time when it was tweeted, location, language, user name of tweeter, twitter handle of tweeter, gender; mentions (handles of others mentioned in the tweet, the actual tweet content including links to pictures, videos, websites etc. in the tweet), other hashtags, and so forth.

Even though this is open, publicly accessible data, it still requires of the researchers to be extremely sensitive to the ethics of research. Thus, how one treats matters like the identity of a tweeter, is really an important question; after all, using certain data in ethically questionable ways may have very real-life implications for the tweeter. What I tweeted in the hype of activism in 2015 must be seen in that context... and such big data sets do not provide such context. As a young student being thrust into the midst of student activism and protest, I may have said (or rather: tweeted) things that I may very well want to disown now; the university experience - including participating in a student protest - is, after all, a learning experience and it is part of learning that one makes mistakes... 

Pear factor, a media monitoring, research and analysis company, sent me last year a 'teaser' of their capabilities when it comes to doing social media data analysis and infographics (Thanks very much!). I included (above) two snips of those infographics.

We will be doing different kinds of analysis on our own data set, but this just illustrates how, in an aggregate fashion, much can be learnt about the 'virtual'/online dimension of the student movement. The timeline indicates here that tweeting using their keyword and hashtag spec 'exploded' mid October 2015 - coinciding with the national timeline of #FeesMustFall (i.e. March to Parliament on 21 October, March to Luthuli House on 22 October, March to Union Building on 23 October 2015). It also shows the geographic spread of tweeting centred on South Africa and the main metropolitan centres in particular, but spreading around the globe, including English-speaking Africa, Europe (especially UK) as well as the United States, India, Middle East and Australia.

I will be documenting the progress with this study in detail on the website and make regular updates via @osphera and on my own blog, facebook and twitter accounts.


Friday, 1 December 2017

The African Renaissance - and its Buildings

The duomo cathedral in Florence
Walking through Florence in November 2017, the history and legacy of the European Renaissance is omnipresent. Not only that there are, of course, specific museums and exhibitions, and then there is Michelangelo's David and the Uffizi, and so on. But what is so fascinating to me is also the architectural legacy. Wikipedia says that "Italy of the 15th century, and the city of Florence in particular, was home to the Renaissance. It is in Florence that the new architectural style had its beginning, not slowly evolving in the way that Gothic Architecture grew out of Romanesque architecture but consciously brought to being by particular architects who sought to revive the order of a past Golden Age. The scholarly approach to the architecture of the ancient coincided with the general revival of learning." The renaissance there was multilayered; it also span as a period several hundred years.

New houses in a typical township

As I walked through Florence, Italy, while visiting for a conference at the Centre on Social Movement Studies (COSMOS) of the Scuola Normale Superiore (which is a number of posts worth on its own), looking at the magnificent buildings I could not help but thinking. First, most of those buildings are churches, cathedrals (such as the famous Duomo) and other religious institutions. The second most magnificent buildings, to me, were the 'government' buildings and those urban palaces built by the dominant families of Florence... like the Medici's, and their rivals, like the Strozzi family. 

Wits University in Johannesburg
What the architecture of the African Renaissance does and will look like is somewhat peripheral. What I was rather wondering is, if the 'dominant ideological apparatus' at the time was the catholic church and that is clearly reflected in its enduring buildings, what is the African Renaissance's equivalent and what buildings are we talking about? This assumes for the moment that the African Renaissance does and will have a 'built environment' dimension. I immediately thought about universities and other educational institutions, and seeing that Florence in the 14th to 17th century was pretty much Khayelitsha on steroids, I had to ask myself again. Why oh why are we not building magnificent universities and TVET colleges etc. in the erstwhile townships? Why not having in Soweto etc. also iconic university and educational buildings that become central focus points, like a cathedral in keeping with what I perceive as the 'education'-bias in popular (and political) African 'ideology' during these renaissance times.  

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Student Politics and Protests: International Perspectives

New book out, edited by Rachel Brooks
Student Politics and Protests: International Perspectives

Student Politics and Protest: International Perspectives explores a number of common themes, including: the focus and nature of student politics and protest; whether students are engaging in fundamentally new forms of political activity; the characteristics of politically engaged students; the extent to which such activity can be considered to be ‘globalised’; and societal responses to political activity on the part of students. 

Student Politics and Protest: International Perspectives does not seek to develop a coherent argument across all its chapters but, instead, illustrate the variety of empirical foci, theoretical resources and substantive arguments that are being made in relation to student politics and protest.

International in scope, with all chapters dealing with recent developments concerning student politics and protest, this book will be an invaluable guide for Higher Education professionals, masters and postgraduate students in education, sociology, social policy, politics and youth studies. The book includes the following chapters, including a chapter on student politics in Africa co-written by Manja Klemencic and me, based on our work and that of our authors published in the book Student Politics in Africa: Representation and Activism (2016) which can be purchased from ABC or downloaded for free from African Minds.

1. Student Politics and Protest: an Introduction. 
2. Campaigning for a Movement 
3. Student Struggles and Power Relations in Contemporary Universities. 
4. Neoliberal Discourses and the Emergence of an Agentic Field: the Chilean Student Movement 
5. Affinities and Barricades. 
6. Student Politics and the Value(s) of Public Welfare 
7. The Politics of Higher Education Funding in the UK Student Movement 1996-2010 
8. Student Power in 21st Century Africa 
9. Students’ Associations 
10. ‘If Not Now, Then When? If Not Us, Who?’ Understanding the Student Protest Movement in Hong Kong 
11. Student Mobilization during Turkey’s Gezi Resistance: From the Politics of Change to the Politics of Lifestyle 
12. Network Formation in Student Political Worlds 
13. Conclusion