Plan to nurture social sciences
IN AN ATTEMPT to cure the stagnant enrolment and high failure rate in the humanities and social sciences at universities, the government plans to establish an institute that will encourage academics in the field to network, share information and undertake research.
Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande told Sowetan he would like to see preparations for the establishment of an institute of humanities and social sciences under way by June. To be opened next year, the institute will also be responsible for advising the government on issues affecting the field.
"The model of the institute will be that academics can network. They do not have to leave their current institutions but they can use the institute for networking, research and teaching. For now we do not foresee full-time staff," Nzimande said.
The idea of the institute was triggered by a report Nzimande commissioned into the state of the humanities and social sciences.
The report painted a bleak picture. It stated in part: "The real crisis point in our entire (humanities and social sciences) is at first-year level. The problems are many: large classes, understaffed (academic) programmes, poorly qualified staff, poorly run departments, high failure rates, poor resources, limited access to computer laboratories and unsupportive library systems."
Researchers who compiled the report also cited what some academics described as "killing fields", a term describing the rate of failureamong first-year students at universities.
Nzimande is also drawing up a career guidance plan for students across various specialisations.
"We are now working on comprehensive career guidance with the widest range on information. Not only for the human and social sciences but for all streams."
Nzimande said he planned to amend the Higher Education Act to accommodate the establishment of the academy.
The Amendment Bill has already been published for public comment. The institute was a recommendation in a report that Nzimande commissioned into the study of the humanities.
A study by the Academy of Sciences of South Africa (Assaf) last year indicated that while enrolments in the sciences were going up, they have been stagnant in the humanities for about 15 years.
According to Assaf research the enrolment of students in higher education increased on average by 2.6% every year from 1996 (509000 students) to 2008 (799000). Excluding education, enrolments decreased from 273000 to 215000 in the same period.