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


The 25th Annual Conference of the Southern African Association for Institutional Research (SAAIR) will be held in Durban, on the eastern seaboard of South Africa, from 13-15 November 2018. Three pre-conference workshops will take place on 12 November.


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


Pre-conference workshops Monday 12 November

Venue: DUT conference centre, Block E&V, Ritson Campus, Durban University of Technology, Winterton Walk. (coordinates: 29°51’05″S 31°0’26″E) (wikimaps) Download: Ritson Map

Pre-conference workshop 1: Using logic models for assessment in administrative student services [Full day, limited to 20 participants]

Facilitator: Dr John Choonoo, Director Office of Institutional Research and Program Assessment, City University of New York


This workshop provides a method for assessment of administrative student services that include programs and interventions developed by various administrative areas such as academic counselling and advisement, admissions, registrar, student government, food services, residence life, tutoring services, career development, teaching and learning centre, athletics, student clubs, financial support services, and community-based projects.  A Logic Model is a simple but useful framework for assessment of programs, interventions and student support services developed by various administrative areas to improve student learning outcomes. This framework relates mission, activities/processes and, operations to intended outcomes through words, pictures, flowcharts, and/or maps. Arrows are used to match activities/processes and operations to specific outcomes.


Learning Objectives

  • Know what a logic model is and how to use it to assess your program operations, services, and interventions.
  • Be able to identify key components of a logic model by addressing the following questions — What is the situation, What we invest in (resources), What we do (activities), Who we reach (participants), What we produce (operational/service outcomes), What do participants know and are able to do (Learning Outcomes).
  • Generate a clear and shared understanding of how your program works to produce change.
  • Support program planning and improvement.

Planned Activities

  • Participants will be provided with a set of templates to model a specific, programme, operation or intervention of interest to them.
  • Participants will be convened into small groups to collaborate on development of their logic models.
  • Participant groups will present their work to the entire group.

Target Audience

  • Administrators involved in student affairs and various other units involved in programme operations, programme planning, and programmatic interventions.


  • Participants to bring their own laptops.

Pre-conference workshop 2: The role of institutional researchers and planners in decision making [Full day, limited to 20 participants]

Facilitator: Angel Calderon, Principal Advisor Planning and Research at RMIT University, Australia.

This workshop is designed to provide participants with the essentials for an effective practice of institutional research and planning (IRP) in a rapidly changing higher education landscape. Participants will be guided through the fundamentals of IRP, what it means to be a professional in this field as well as discussing best practices. Central to the workshop is the critical role IRP professionals play in decision making, how their contributions align to the institution strategic directions and how their input can be catalyst for institutional change.


  • Provide context to decision making in higher education: Settings, processes and practice.
  • Empower practitioners with the fundamentals of the role of institutional research and planning (IRP) in decision making.
  • Empower practitioners with the fundamentals to develop and implement an effective professional practice.
  • Facilitate discussion on method, tools and sustainable practice for supporting decision making.

Target audience:  Early career professional staff from institutional planning, strategy, information management and related areas.

Pre-conference workshop 3:  Institutional researchers as internal disrupters [Half day, limited to 20 participants]

Facilitator: Dr Jan Lyddon, Achieve the Dream/Siyaphumelela Data Coach.

IR professionals are often focused on providing the data, giving some assistance with interpretation, and that’s the end of it. Or is it? Taking a look at data in different ways and shining a bright spotlight on critical trends can – and has – served as a significant disruptive force. The most prominent example is looking at student success rates through the full spectrum of the students’ life cycles in postsecondary education. Before 2004 in the US, this was given scant attention except for sending a mandatory graduation rate survey (GRS) to the federal government. Since 2004, however, more and more higher education institutions are relying on their institutional researchers to help them understand and make use of student success data. Initially these data were easy for institutional leaders to overlook, or even actively ignore. Through persistent reminders of the implications, IR personnel helped top leadership shift their attention from access to both access and success.

IIE as a disruptor for IR: But there is more. Bringing coherence to many parts of the institution is a new role that many are stepping up to. Described as integrated institutional effectiveness (IIE), this chief coherence officer role is plowing new ground in bringing forth and making use of a variety of forms of evidence to help institutions live out their missions and roles. It challenges us to bring together under one umbrella functions such as planning, learning outcomes measures, continuous improvement (program review), stakeholder communications/compliance, and various forms of IR. This disrupter aspect of work opens up new challenges to improve our skills and perspectives, but also contributes greater benefits to institutions.

Learning outcomes:

  • Navigating the bringing of uncomfortable news.
  • Understanding role of IIE/chief coherence officer.

Target audience: Institutional researchers

  • The workshop will be limited to 20 participants.

Conference programme 13-15 November

The conference begins daily at 08h00 and ends 16h30. Thursday 15th ends 15h00.

There will be a “gala” dinner with a difference on Wednesday 14 November, 18h30-22h00.

Watch this space, work in progress.


Annual General Meeting

The SAAIR AGM will take place on Wednesday 14 November. This is an important event in the calendar of the Association, particularly as this is an election year for the new Executive Committee that will lead SAAIR for the years 2018-2020.

Details pertaining to the nominations and elections will be sent out in early September.

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
Registration opens 20 August 2018
Registration closes 8 October 2018


All conference registration payments are to be made by 29 October. You will not be able to attend the conference if payment is not received.

If you have made your payments but not received acknowledgement thereof, please contact Carin Strydom, SAAIR administrator,

Conference Registration

Conference registration is open until 8 October 2018.

All conference registration payments are to be made by 29 October. You will not be able to attend the conference if payment is not received. If you have made your payments but not received acknowledgement thereof, please contact Carin Strydom, SAAIR administrator,


Registration fees:

R4 200.00 (paid up SAAIR members)
If you are not a SAAIR member or not paid up for 2018, an additional R400.00 membership fee is levied.

Pre-conference workshops (Full day) R 600.00
Pre-conference workshops (Half day) R 420.00

Please click on this link xxxxxx to register.

Please pay appropriate amount into the following account:

Name of bank: First National Bank) (FNB)
Branch name: FNB Brooklyn
Branch code: 251345
Type of account: Cheque account
Account number: 62397735758


Reference:                            2018 conf_your name and surname


Once you have registered, you will receive an invoice indicating the total amount to be paid. If you have not heard from us within 10 days of registering, please contact us at with a copy to .


Proof of Payment:

Please email proof of payment to providing your full name as reference.

Sponsors and Exhibitors

Quantum Education Systems (Pty) Ltd

More to follow


The conference venue is the Maharani Hotel conference centre. The Elangeni-Maharani Hotels are located on Durban’s central beachfront and there are numerous other hotels in the area within walking distance.


Southern Sun Elangeni & Maharani have 100 beds set aside for SAAIR conference delegates at a special rate of R1 380.00 per person per night, excluding the tourism levy. Please book directly with the hotel and quote DUT Freesell 1326540. To get this deal, you must have booked by 12 October, following which normal rates apply.


Beachfront hotels:


  1. Southern Sun Elangeni & Maharani
  2. Protea Hotel Durban Edward
  3. Suncoast Towers
  4. Garden Court South Beach
  5. Garden Court Marine Parade
  6. City Lodge Hotel Durban
  7. Road Lodge Durban
  8. Blue Waters Hotel

Within driving distance, but not on the beachfront:

  1. Hilton Durban
  2. Audacia Manor Boutique Hotel
  3. The Benjamin
  4. Coastlands Musgrave Hotel
  5. Riverside Hotel
  6. Further afield look for Umhlanga hotels in the links provided below.


Durban offers a plethora of accommodation Durban offers a plethora of accommodation. For other options (BnBs, apartments, including hotels north of the Umgeni) check out:



Things to do before and after conference
What to expect from the weather

Over the course of November in Durban, the length of the day is increasing. From the start to the end of the month, the length of the day increases by 38 minutes, implying an average daily increase of 1 minute, 19 seconds, and weekly increase of 9 minutes, 10 seconds.


The shortest day of the month is November 1, with 13 hours, 16 minutes of daylight and the longest day is November 30, with 13 hours, 54 minutes of daylight.


The month of November in Durban experiences essentially constant cloud cover, with the percentage of time that the sky is overcast or mostly cloudy remaining about 40% throughout the month. A wet day is one with at least 1 millimeter of liquid or liquid-equivalent precipitation. In Durban, the chance of a wet day over the course of November is rapidly increasing, starting the month at 37% and ending it at 45%. Please come prepared with raincoats/umbrellas.


Daily high temperatures increase by 1°C, from 24°C to 26°C, rarely falling below 21°C or exceeding 29°C.

Daily low temperatures increase by 1°C, from 19°C to 20°C, rarely falling below 17°C or exceeding 23°C.


Conference venues and hotel accommodation typically are air conditioned. Please come prepared with a light jacket or shawl for comfort.

Dietary requirements

The conference catering is halaal and kosher friendly. Provision is also made for vegetarian and gluten-free diets. Should you require strictly halaal or kosher prepared foods, an additional cost will be levied.

Conference organising committee

Conference organising committee

Nicky Muller, Conference chair

Rajan Naicker

Ansuya Chain

Koo Parker

Esther Joubert

Faith Chibvura


SAAIR office

Carin Strydom c: +27 (0)71 160 5458 f: +27 (0)86 756 6324

Further information

CONFERENCE SUBMISSIONS HAVE CLOSED. All submitters have been notified of the outcome. Should you not have received such, please contact