The changing landscape of higher education in South Africa in 2004

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INTRODUCTION

“The rhetorician, Cicero tells us, obeys three imperatives: what he writes or says must (1) be truthful, (2) be pleasing, (3) move us to action.” (The Idea of a University, Newman, 1852/1999, p.xii) Ten years after South Africa embraced democracy, the higher education landscape is beginning to show signs of transformation. The wheels of change that seemed slow to get moving are by now acquiring momentum and direction. But all is not well. The year is 2004 and six academic staff members, working on a campus in a dusty South African township are concerned that not all change is for the better, and that the way things are changing will negate the original purpose for change. Will their campus be closed down because it is too African? Will it only stay open if there is no trace of its African identity left?

Prior experience with self-study research

I initiated the R@I project with some knowledge of action research that I acquired in conducting a self-study AR project into my developing practice as psychotherapist during the period 1998 to 2000. I submitted a report on that research as a dissertation in partial fulfilment of my Master’s degree in clinical psychology (Louw, 2000). In this current research, which I submit for a doctoral degree, I expanded the self-study method to a living theory action research method, which included a collaborative AR project in which I facilitated 17 discussion meetings (of about three hours each) over a two-year period (May 2004 to March 2006).

Turning resources into assets

One of the major themes present throughout this thesis, and which emerged from my inquiry into my facilitation of the R@I project, is the concept of turning resources into assets. I explain in chapter three the origin of this phrase from the work of Brulin (2001). In the context of this thesis, resources refer to any people, relationships, information or material goods that are deemed valuable and which could contribute towards reaching a desired goal, but which have not been utilised or engaged for this purpose.

Conclusion

In this chapter I introduce the study and briefly sketch the context within the transformation of higher education in South Africa in the early to mid 2000s. I situate the study in terms of my role, values and approach, and provide an outline of the seven chapters in this document. Specifically, I present my thesis as being concerned with my living theory of how I improved my academic practice in the context of a collaborative action research project with five of my colleagues on a South African university campus. In the following chapter, chapter two, I describe the contexts and evolution of the research questions within the larger context of higher education transformation in South Africa ten years after democracy.

ABSTRACT
Dedications
Acknowledgements
CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION
Philosophical commitments and conceptual frameworks
A collaborative action research project and a self-study
Living theory action research
Experiencing myself as a living contradiction
Prior experience with self-study research
Turning resources into assets
Living in the direction of my values
Conclusion
CHAPTER 2 CONTEXTS AND EVOLUTION OF THE RESEARCH QUESTIONS
The context of the research projects
The South African sociopolitical landscape in 2004
The changing landscape of higher education in South Africa in 2004
Vista University prior to 2004
The incorporation of Vista (Mamelodi) into the University of Pretoria
The Psychology Department of Vista University, Mamelodi campus
Some effects of the incorporation process
Itsoseng Psychology Clinic
Introducing the participants of the core action research project (R@I)
Distinguishing the core action research project from the thesis project
The core action research project: Research@Itsoseng
The thesis project: My living theory of how I aimed to improved my practice as an
academic
The relationship between the core action research project and the thesis project
The research questions within the larger contexts
Conclusion
CHAPTER 3 PHILOSOPHY AND FRAMEWORKS
Practitioner research
Self-study research and action research
A reflexive process
Personal reflexivity
Prior experience
Professional interests
My political background and commitments
My beliefs
My values
Ontological assumptions
My ontological assumptions: A holistic, relativist position
The “self” and identities
Agency
Epistemological assumptions
The action turn
The nature of knowledge and the knowledge creation process
Methodological assumptions
Action research
Living theory action research
The relationship between universities and surrounding communities
The university: Its mission and three tasks
Turning resources into assets
Community engagement as the third task of a university
Contributing to social and economic development
Conclusion
CHAPTER 4 METHOD
The core action research process (R@I)
Cycles of action and reflection
One set of action-reflection cycles or two?
Data recording
Seventeen meetings (May 2004 to March 2006) as data
Presentations about our work as data
R@I team member evaluation of the value of the R@I project
Making sense of the data
Sorting and categorising data
Analysing for meaning
Analysing the data for the core research project
Analysing the data for my living theory
Validity of knowledge claims
Primary validity criteria
Secondary validity criteria
Validity measures through quality of craftmanship
Communicative validity measures
Pragmatic validity measures
Ensuring ethical practice
Negotiating and securing access for the R@I project
Protecting the participants
Assuring good faith
Conclusion
CHAPTER 5 CORE ACTION RESEARCH PROJECT: RESEARCH@ITSOSENG
Action research cycles
The first cycle (R@I meetings 1-10, 26/5/2004 to 25/4/2005)
The second cycle (R@I meetings 11-14, 23/5/2005 to 21/11/2005)
The third cycle (R@I meetings 15-17, 20/1/2006 to 29/3/2006)
The core action research project: Research@Itsoseng
Research question: How can we improve the functioning of Itsoseng Psychology Clinic?
Cycle 1
Research question: How can we increase our research output?
Cycle 1
Cycle 2
Cycle 3
Conclusion
CHAPTER 6 REFLECTIONS ON MY FACILITATION OF THE R@I PROJECT
Progression of my own learning in how to facilitate the R@I project
At the outset
Experiencing the dual role of an insider action researcher
Initial insights and transformations
Adjusting to the implications of the incorporation
Facilitation of R@I during an uncertain future for the Mamelodi campus
Maintaining a research focus
Strategic challenges
Evaluating my educational influence in facilitating the R@I project
Invitation to team members to evaluate my educational influence
Responses from my five team members
Overview of the R@I members’ responses
Conclusion
CHAPTER 7 MY LIVING THEORY OF MY ACADEMIC PRACTICE
My living contradiction revisited
Towards my living theory – what I have learned and gained from the R@I project
What have I gained from participating in the R@I initiative as a team member?
What increased awareness and/or shifts (or not) did I notice in terms of my values
(what is important about research for me)?
What increased awareness and/or shifts (or not) did I notice in terms of my way of working (how I approached research projects)?
What increased awareness and/or shifts (or not) did I notice in terms of my identity (how I think about myself as a researcher)?
What increased awareness and/or shifts (or not) did I notice in terms of my unique abilities and preferences?
What increased awareness and/or shifts (or not) did I notice in terms of the resources available to me as researcher?
What did I do that made the R@I project valuable to me as a team member?
My living theory of my developing academic practice
Contributions of this study
The relevance of the study to community engagement as an academic task
The relevance of the study to psychology
The implications of the study to the concept of transformation
The implications of the study for action research methodology
Limitations of this research
Considerations for future research
Conclusion
EPILOGUE

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TURNING RESOURCES INTO ASSETS: IMPROVING THE SERVICE DELIVERY AND RELEVANCE OF A PSYCHOLOGY TRAINING CLINIC THROUGH ACTION RESEARCH

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