Pathways to personal and public good: understanding access to, student experiences of, and outcomes from South African undergraduate higher education (2016-2018)

Melanie Walker, Rajani Naidoo, Vincent Carpentier, Paul Ashwin (PI), Jenni Case (PI), Sioux McKenna, and Delia Marshall

Funding: ESRC and NRF, grant number ES/N009894/1

This international research centre partnership is concerned with whether access to undergraduate education have a transformative impact on societies, what conditions are required for this impact to occur, and what are the pathways from an undergraduate education to the public good. The work in this project rests on a conceptualisation of undergraduate HE as comprising three key aspects: access to higher education; the experience of students within the system; and the impact these students have on society after graduation.

The project objectives are:

  1. To increase understanding of how undergraduate higher education in South Africa can most effectively contribute to the development of individuals and society
  2. To develop the capacity of an internationally networked group of South African higher-education researchers, with a particular focus on post-doctoral researchers
  3. To facilitate the development of  larger research-scale projects that bring together the examination regarding the impact of access to, students’ experiences of, and the contribution made by graduates of an undergraduate education
  4. To produce resources to enable policy makers, managers, and practitioners to further develop higher education in ways that enhances the benefits of widening access to higher education in South Africa 

Each of the three themes (Access, Student Experience, Graduate Outcomes) involves a team of participants who are working together for three years over a series of workshops. The themes share a common timetable of work, with the first year focused on the development of a shared vision for each theme and its relations to other themes. Year two involves working to answer the theme’s questions and understanding the relations between the answers developed by each theme.

Year three will focus on agreeing how this work will be developed into larger scale future projects and working on developing outputs aimed at academic audiences and research users. This timetable provides regular milestones for the project, as each theme will be expected to provide synthesis of their progress in advance of each project-wide meeting.

The final meeting in Year three will be a two-part conference at the University of Cape Town. The first part will be aimed at the HE research community in South Africa and will focus on examining how the project has contributed to our knowledge of HE.  The second part will focus on policy makers and research users examining the implications for policies and practices of the project's outcomes. 

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