Remarks by the Minister of Education, Naledi Pandor MP, at the handing over of the Community-Higher Education Service Partnership (CHESP) from JET to the Council on Higher Education (CHE), Johannesburg.
9 September 2008
Dr Nick Taylor: CEO of JET Education Services
Dr Cheryl de la Ray: CEO of the Council on Higher Education
It's a pleasure to be part of this important occasion, the handover of Community-Higher Education Service Partnership (CHESP) from JET Education Services (JET) to the Council on Higher Education (CHE).
JET created CHESP in response to government's 1997 White Paper on higher education.
Since then CHESP has worked closely with the Department of Education and the Higher Education Quality Committee of the CHE to advance community engagement in South African higher education institutions.
CHESP has been seminal in making community engagement an integral part of teaching and research – a mechanism to enrich teaching and research with a deeper sense of context, locality and application.
Along with this change in perception, the terminology used in community engagement has shifted from “community service” to “knowledge based community service” to “community engagement” and to the current “scholarship of engagement”.
CHESP was innovative in identifying service learning as the entry point into community engagement.
CHESP supported the conceptualization, implementation, and, evaluation of 256 accredited academic courses, in 39 different academic disciplines, in 12 higher education institutions. These courses served as a basis for generating data that inform higher education policy and practice at national, institutional and programmatic level.
I hope through this intervention, our institutions will produce better engineers and better architects and better mathematicians - responsive to the needs of communities including those in the rural hinterlands.
Teaching, research and community outreach is what universities do. Politicians look on this trilogy in utilitarian terms. You'd be surprised if we didn't. Universities produce graduates, ideas, and wealth. All of us want more graduates, better ideas and greater wealth. Yet those who work in universities seldom take a purely utilitarian view of what they do. Some of them revere the pursuit of truth and beauty on non-utilitarian terms, especially now that we live in a world fundamentally determined by human rights.
In 1997 Lord Dearing reviewed the higher education system in the UK and he suggested that universities should not only “do” teaching, research and community engagement. He suggested that universities should have a fourth purpose. He suggested that universities should have a social goal. In fact, he said that universities should “ play a major role in shaping a democratic, civilized, inclusive society ”.
One way in which they can pursue the social goal of an inclusive and democratic society is by strengthening the voluntary social groups that make up civil society. I don't just mean churches and self-help groups organized on the internet. I mean trade unions, professional associations, and political parties. These three voluntary groups have a crucial role to play in balancing the power of the state.1
I think universities can do more in the field of education itself. I was very pleased to hear from the new VC at UCT, Dr Max Price, that UCT was going to give special attention to schooling . It is no longer good enough for universities to say that schooling is not their problem and that they are not in the business of remedial teaching. It is time for a sea change in the scale of support that universities should direct towards the school sector.
I would certainly want universities to establish direct relationships with schools and communities. I would encourage them to set up partnerships. The aim would be to increase the number of learners qualified to go to university. To do this, universities need to adopt schools and communities. Some do I know. All should. This is not something that corporates can do alone.
In the late 1990s most South African universities had a wide range of community services projects. Yet there was no systematic audit of these activities.
CHESP has helped universities to audit their programmes. This has assisted these institutions to develop a typology of community engagement activities and to use the data to inform the development of an institution-wide policy and strategy for community engagement.
Community engagement is no longer on the margins of academic life in our universities. It is located in the DVCs' office in some of the institutions. It is to be found in the introduction of short course in service learning for new academics and student leaders. And it is also included in some of the post-graduate modules in higher education and orientation programmes.
Through CHESP, we have made significant progress in the field of community engagement.
I am pleased to see that the CHESP audit work has also informed the HEQC's criteria for programme accreditation and institutional audits.
It is therefore appropriate that this good work should find its new home in the HEQC. There is already synergy developed between the CHESP's work and the HEQC work.2
I would like to thank JET and Jo Lazarus for pioneering the community engagement project in higher education. CHESP leaves a rich legacy of awareness of community engagement that will benefit many in the years to come.
I thank you
1Stephen Schwartz, “ More than a burger joint ”, The Australian , 7 May 2008
2Karen MacGregor “ South Africa: engaging developments on the up ” 24 February 2008. “Community engagement has been embedded in South Africa 's higher education quality assurance system as a core function that universities must systematically develop and describe in institutional audits, along with teaching and research. Next month, universities will attend a World Bank and government-hosted workshop to brainstorm ideas, encourage collaboration on and develop a framework for community engagement.”