This article presents challenges facing higher education in South Africa and how knowledge management can be applied to ameliorate the situation. Some of these challenges include internal and external pressures for accountability and transparency in the management of the institutions; declining state subsidies; stiff competition from global counterparts; low graduate throughput; declining enrolments; inadequate facilities (e.g. space, ICTs and equipment); ill-prepared graduates for the job market; limited partnership with industry and government; brain drain; bureaucracy and general poor service delivery. The authors submit that South African universities have largely not embraced knowledge management practices and argue that KM integration within the universities’ strategic processes and operations can help address the challenges facing them. The paper is largely based on authoritative secondary and primary sources complemented by the authors’ experiences working within university environments in Southern Africa.
Challenges Facing South African Higher Education
South Africa consists of 23 public universities (Ministry of Education, 2006) following the completion of the restructuring process which started in 2002 and resulted in mergers of some of the original 36 state universities and technikons (now universities of technology). The challenges engendered by this restructuring process included de-racialising education, forging new institutional identities and cultures through development of new institutional missions, social educational roles, and academic programme mixes. Moreover, the restructuring process obligated the universities to achieve equity, standardise language of instruction, undertake curriculum reform, expand access, etc. Besides, South African formal education is largely modelled on Anglo-Saxon tradition which is proletariat in nature, and the curricula is shaped to a high degree in such a manner that primary and secondary education were not meant to be preparatory processes to university (The Higher Education Working Group, 2005) instead, the path to a university is perceived as being a progression from primary through secondary to tertiary level. In addition, a lot of resources have been allocated to education without necessarily getting the desired outcomes. Traditionally, there has long been a misplaced notion within the South African higher education that theory comes out of the academic universities and is then converted into applied technology in the technical colleges and university of technologies.