Habib on transforming higher education

Observing a tradition sacrosanct to academia, Professor Adam Habib, Wits Vice-Chancellor and Principal, has completed the last rite of passage laid out to academics pursuing the professorial status, by delivering his inaugural lecture.

Habib delivered his inaugural address titled: Transcending the Past and Reimagining the Future of the South African University in the presence of academic colleagues from and outside of Wits University, students, family and Wits Chancellor Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke.

In his usual fashion, Habib began his address by posing pertinent questions about institutions of higher learning in the country.

Setting the scene, Habib asked: “As we continue our soul searching 20 years into our democratic era, should we not take stock of our successes and failures in transforming higher education and the university sector? Is there no merit in asking hard questions about whether the country’s institutions are the embodiment of the values of their much acclaimed Constitution?”

In answering this question, Habib tackled linguistically racialised universities and their failure in upholding the values of the Constitution and transforming South African society. Holding back no punches, Habib said that the universities of Stellenbosch and the North West were using “Afrikaans as a mechanism to promote an ethnic project and undermine the emergence of non-racial and cosmopolitan institutions.”

This is a violation of the Constitution, he said, despite the denial and justification of these charges by proponents of such universities who argue that the Constitutions allows South Africans to receive education in the language of their choice.

Equity, the corporatisation of South African universities and the need for a differentiated higher education system are some of the areas covered by Habib in his inaugural lecture drawing on some of his work as a scholar in political studies.

Developing a differentiated higher education system

“It is as necessary to develop a differentiated higher education system that produces the diverse professional and human resource skills based required. The best exemplar of this is Finland,” said Habib.

“The country does not have a single university in the top 50 of any of the global ranking systems. Yet it consistently tops the competiveness ranking and the human development indicator charts. This is because its educational institutions are differentiated, each with different mandates and responsibilities, independent and yet connected to one another, thereby creating a seamless system that is both nationally responsive and globally competitive.”

To read his address, click here.

Listen to his speech: Part 1 and Part 2.