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Exploring Complexity in Higher Education

Exploring Complexity in Higher Education

Universities are devilishly complex spaces and there must be a conversation as to how to design them for complexity rather than leaving this up to chance.

This was the call from Professor Ahmed Bawa, Universities south Africa CEO and former DUT Vice-Chancellor and Principal. Prof Bawa was speaking on day two of the inaugural DUT Courageous Leadership Conference organised and hosted by the Durban University of Technology.

The Conference, which kicked off yesterday (Thursday, 25 August 2016) and ends today (Friday, 26 August 2016), is being held at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli Durban ICC.

Making reference to the #feesmustfall campaign, Prof Bawa began his talk by sounding a cautionary note, saying that following the rise and spread of the student campaign, there was widespread surprise as to the fragility of the higher education system. “Higher education has become unfundable to many young people. Twenty-six universities in the country face tremendous financial pressure, so much as that there is concern as to their viability”, he said.

Delving into his talk on complexities in higher education, Prof Bawa said universities are social institutions and every social stakeholder has their own perception about what they (universities) should be. “Given this fact, think about how complex that terrain is. Globally we have complex academic communities, and that complexity is in the senates, councils, faculty boards, etc. We also have multiple products and they often compete with each other for space and resources. Adding to that is the fact that our customers are also our owners,” he said. 

Prof Bawa said the purpose of universities is the creation of a new generation of intellectuals, the creation of a new humanity that is not stuck (in the present or past), addressing social inequalities, solving problems as well as applying knowledge. In the heart of all these purposes, said Prof Bawa, is knowledge.

“Let’s try and think about how we can design universities for complexity instead of living it up to chance. When we design for complexity, we also design for simplicity in experience for staff and students. We must also design for integration so that students experience simple structures instead of complexity when they come to university. We must also not forget to design universities for learning; everyone at the university has to be learning and at the top of their game,” he said.

In closing, Prof Bawa said transformation and complexity in higher education is interwoven. “Complexity is completely built into the idea that we have to transform and we have to think about this,” he said.

–          Sinegugu Ndlovu

Pictured: Professor Ahmed Bawa, Universities South Africa CEO and former DUT Vice-Chancellor and Principal during his keynote address on day two of the inaugural DUT Courageous Leadership Conference organised and hosted by DUT at the Durban ICC.

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