Re-imagining our universities: the role and impact of institutional research in times of disruption


We invite you to submit a proposal for a paper or other type of contribution for the 25th Southern African Association for Institutional Research Conference (SAAIR) to be held in Durban, on the eastern seaboard of South Africa, from 13-15 November 2018.


The 2018 conference theme centres around the uptake of higher education research, either through HE scholarly research output and/or through the work of institutional researchers that largely evidences as grey literature in the form of policy documents and reports. This theme follows on from both the 2016 and 2017 conference themes (Considering the #mustfall campaigns – New opportunities for Southern African Higher Education Institutional Research and Rethinking university engagement in Africa). The former focused on the disruption caused by the student protests and the unpreparedness of universities to deal with such, while the latter considered how engagement could strengthen the quality of institutional research as well as providing data for evidence-informed decisions for sustainable leadership.


The world is undergoing a fourth industrial revolution (Industry 4.0), driven amongst others by mobile connectivity, artificial intelligence, big data, the Internet of Things, and next generation robotics. Political turmoil, issues of environmental and economic sustainability, declining subsidies, increasing student debt and the high pace of technological change also characterise the global higher education environment and Southern African universities are not isolated from these challenges. Adam Habib, Vice-Chancellor of Wits University, describes these as three key challenges, viz. “the competing demands for limited resources in an environment where policy directives are not adequately substantiated and funded; the political destabilization of universities that are often used as a “political football”… and increasing remuneration and other demands from internal role players who are impervious to the realities of managing complex higher education institutions in the current global economy” (Daily Maverick, 5 March 2018).


These are indeed complex times that require skilful navigation.


How might universities best prepare themselves to deal with such dynamic change? How do we buffer against the fallout from the ‘disruption’ that is refashioning the economy, reshaping the way we work and reimagining the way we engage with each other? How can we best prepare our students for engaged and productive lives spanning a longer productive life, multiple careers, changing technologies and the new world of work? These questions could possibly be answered through Higher Education Research (HER) and/or through institutional research. But is there evidence of such research? And if so, is there uptake of recommendations and evidence of improvements/ enhancements in terms of informed decision-making, policy amendment/adoption or in any other way?


As SAAIR members in our institutions we may be able to claim that ‘we have the data’ but the important question is, ‘how much influence does this have’? As an association, we believe that through our SAAIR members, we have a contribution to make to support decision-making in the Higher Education system. We need to consider how these challenges influence our agenda, so that we are responsive and proactive, and move to a position of knowing, through evidence, that our inputs and research outputs are heard/taken up by decision makers.


This yields two important questions for our conference theme:

  1. Are we responsive or is it business as usual?
  2. If we are responsive and can make a valuable contribution, how do we know if our work is taken up to inform decision-making?


Students of the future

  • democratising mobility
  • internationalisation
  • broadening access
  • needs of the next generation of students
  • developing next generation contextualised curricula


Technology, big data, AI and the future of higher education

  • Big data, learning analytics, technology enhanced learning and open/self-directed learning
  • harnessing the power of learning analytics
  • working with big data


Repurposing Institutional Research(ers)

  • The many lenses of IR
  • practice and the role of professionals involved in processing data
  • supporting institutional performance
  • being change agents or guides


Transforming leadership

Types of contributions

Contributed paper (CP)
This is a scholarly paper in which the author(s) share research results. Such a paper may draw from a research report, a case study or the use and application of a particular research methodology, or may address particular theoretical and conceptual issues relevant to the theme of the conference. The proposed paper can be based on original data collection or secondary data analysis and can be based on quantitative, qualitative or mixed methodology. Clear evidence of findings is required.
Contributed papers will be scheduled in 30-minute slots of which at least 10 minutes should be dedicated to discussion.
The Exco intends, as a capacity development initiative, to identify the best papers from emerging/young scholars/institutional researchers. This will only focus on Contributed Papers, with the idea of providing some support to convert the best paper(s) into articles for publication.
The submission for this presentation type will thus assist the evaluation committee towards identifying such potential candidates.


Panel discussion (PD)
This is a collegial discussion of a single topic relevant to the theme of the conference by several discussants. The outline for such a presentation should describe the topic and the central issues that will be explored. It should also describe how the differing perspectives of each participant will contribute to the development of the topic. The total time allowed for a discussion panel will be 60 minutes.


Pre-conference workshop (CW)
A workshop should be aimed at facilitating active involvement by participants in deliberations around a topic relevant to the theme of the conference. It should generally consist of a brief introduction followed by planned activities/processes of engagement. The outline for a proposed workshop should describe the topic, the participant activities, the audience that will be targeted through the workshop and its intended outcomes. The outline should also specify any special requirements that may be needed for the workshop (e.g., individual laptops for participation, venue specification, etc.). Please note that such specifications will need to fit in with the overall logistical arrangements for the conference.


3-minute pitch presentations (PP)
This affords an opportunity for early stage or not yet completed research to be presented in an innovative way. Presenters have 3 minutes to give a presentation supported by only THREE slides or ONE poster. Strict time control is exercised, as the intent is to get the importance of the research across to the audience in this short space of time. This will be a session affording the opportunity for question and discussion time for all the relevant presentations. Three-minute pitch presentations can depict research or evaluation findings, or outline a research process.


Demonstration (D)
A demonstration displays materials related to a project having to do with research or practice. These may include a variety of formats, such as computer programs or multimedia presentations of a project.

Keynote Speakers

Angel Calderon is the Principal Advisor Planning and Research at RMIT University, Australia. Angel has worked in institutional research and planning over the past 25 years in several Australian universities. He has also worked as a journalist and foreign correspondent in several countries. He is a regular speaker on international forums on global megatrends, university rankings, higher education competitiveness, strategy and development. He is co-editor of a book on institutional research and planning in higher education. He has also co-authored another two volumes on higher education (global issues in institutional research and trends in science education). In 2018, he has authored several reports and two book chapters, including one about the geopolitics of higher education in the [forthcoming] Handbook on the Politics of Higher Education. He has undertaken consultancy in the tertiary education sector and across various industry sectors in the fields of environmental scanning, market research, scenario planning and strategic planning. Over recent years he has travelled to several Latin American countries to advise decision makers on higher education policy issues, including building capacity for planning and strategy, university rankings and internationalisation. Between 1998 and 2007, he was co-editor of the Journal of Institutional Research and co-editor of the Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management. He regularly publishes papers and opinion pieces on higher education policy, international education, impacts of trade liberalisation on educational services, emerging markets, graduate outcomes and satisfaction, benchmarking and university rankings.


Neil Butcher is based in South Africa, from where he has provided policy and technical advice and support to a range of national and international clients regarding educational planning, uses of educational technology and distance education, both as a full-time employee at the South African Institute for Distance Education (SAIDE) from 1993 to 2001 and as Director of Neil Butcher & Associates since then. He has worked with various educational institutions (including UNESCO and the Commonwealth of Learning), assisting with transformation and research efforts that focus on effectively harnessing the potential of distance education methods, educational technology, and OER. Neil has travelled extensively through the developing world conducting research on educational policy, higher education, distance education, education management information systems, and educational technology for a range of organizations, governments, and donors. He works with OER Africa as the project’s OER Strategist, and is also currently consulting to the World Bank on a range of project activities across several African countries and in India.


Dr Diane Parker is Deputy Director General: University Education in the Department of Higher Education and Training, South Africa. Before the joining the Department she spent 18 years as a teacher educator and academic in the fields of sociology of education and mathematics education. She served on the Board of the Health Professionals Council of South Africa, the Higher Education Quality Committee, and the Council on Higher Education. She is responsible for overseeing policy development and implementation to regulate and support the South African Higher Education System, including universities, private higher education institutions, the Council on Higher Education, National Institutes of Higher Education and the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS).

Important Dates


Deadline for outlines and abstracts Friday, 30 June 2018
Notification of accepted proposed contributions Friday, 3 August 2018

Further information

Detailed information on the theme; keynote speakers; types of contribution; proposal evaluation process; and criteria can be accessed at: or you can open the documents attached at the bottom of this page.


Please send submissions to:


Ms Nicky Muller
SAAIR Conference Chair 2018


Ms Carin Strydom
SAAIR Office


Please click on the documents below to open:

SAAIR 2018 Instructions for submissions
SAAIR 2018 Conference submission template