THOUGHTS ON POSITIONING UNIVERSITIES AND THINK TANKS IN AN EMERGING DEMOCRACY
The multi-party and bilateral negotiations which were the precursor to the establishment of democracy in South Africa were not effective in the consolidation of one of the key vehicles that facilitate the development and survival of a nation state, i.e. higher education and its institutions. Higher education is a commanding height for an emerging nation or a developed one. It is for these reasons that the broader South African public still battles to understand why universities exist.
The matter became more complex with the mergers and incorporations of universities with universities and in some cases with technikons. Part of South African society that had begun to understand the existence of universities in their neighborhoods, were confused again by the fact that some of these institutions began to focus on areas that were not directly academic, as understood in a typical university context, such as small business development, community engagement, bridging programs and high school homework support.
We must remember that perceptions go a long way and certain characteristics of a university must be visible for the observer to recognize it as such. At the same time, it must be understood that the achievement of academic success by students at a university is also based on observation and mentoring by professors. Lessons abound on this experience as demonstrated in the achievements of Historically Black Universities and Colleges (HBCU’s) in the USA that are located in African-American communities.
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