Pedagogy and Agency in Postgraduate Student Supervision in a Rural South African University

Pedagogy and Agency in Postgraduate Student Supervision in a Rural South African University

Phefumula N. Nyoni (University of Johannesburg, South Africa)
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 21
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-0264-8.ch015


Postgraduate studies in South Africa's higher education and the world have come to occupy an important position not only due to the high level of professional development attached to it but also due to the significance of post-graduate research towards the university's research output. This chapter is based on a combination of informal interviews with supervisors and doctoral students, observing student supervisor interactions as well as personal experiences within the doctoral study trail. The notions of agency and pedagogy related to the complexities surrounding how supervisor-student interactions could shape various forms of agency that may act as enabling or constraining within the doctoral study route are explored. This is particularly with respect to poorly resourced universities, particularly those often referred to as the historically disadvantaged universities (HDUs) in South Africa.
Chapter Preview


The expansion of postgraduate training and outputs within a global context has increased in a number of universities worldwide. This has particularly been the case as universities have increasingly become strategically seen not only as an important source and measure of global competitiveness but also central to driving socio-economic development worldwide (Kaggwa, Sekiwu & Naluwemba 2017). McAlpine and Amundsen have averred that both developed and developing countries across the globe have come to view universities as strategically positioned for championing social and economic growth as well as international competitiveness (2011, p. 4). Higher education policies have been viewed as vehicles for the promotion of socio-economic growth and global competitiveness. At the core of achieving socio-economic growth and global competitiveness some western governments have embraced the practice of rankings. It is within this context that the Canadian government for instance set a 2010 research and development target which aimed at attaining a top 5 ranking in those two areas (McAlpine and Amundsen, 2011, p. 4). It is significant to note that such targets have been driven by an increase in the enrolment of students on doctoral programs. Other countries such as the United Kingdom have also sharply increased attention on higher education policies particularly with greater emphasis on accountability, higher rates of research productivity coupled with higher doctoral student throughput as well as expectations their research out puts having global competitiveness.

This preceding view, albeit at global level is essential to this chapter’s arguments as the South Africa’s universities have not been spared the pressure of ensuring an increase in the enrolment of master’s and doctoral programs. This has occurred within a context of embracing rankings as well as ensuring research out puts meet international standards. This becomes an important issue within the South African context particularly when one considers the apartheid legacy of inequality that created a divide within the education sector. The legacy of historical disadvantage particularly within South African University system has linkage to the racially segregatory nature of apartheid policies. Bharuthram and Kies (2013) present an important insight on how the education for Black South Africans mirrored the inequitable relations of the racialist and non-democratic apartheid state. Subsequently, huge disparities between institutions arising from the discrimination of the apartheid era produced a legacy of the historically advantaged and the historically disadvantaged institutions.

The apartheid legacy in South Africa meant that the university system gets divided into what has come to be commonly known as formerly Historically Advantaged Universities (HADs) on the one hand and the formerly Historically Disadvantaged Universities (HDUs) on the other. In this categorization, the former are at the core of the arguments of this chapter as they represent poorly resourced institutions in terms of human and financial resources as well as infrastructure wise (Breetzke and Hedding 2016). On the contrary the latter category have benefitted from favourable policies and resources, which has given them an urge in terms of productivity and competitiveness. Focus on low resource settings is crucial considering the dictates of the knowledge economy currently prevalent not just in South Africa but across the globe as well. According to a report by the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASAf), the production of doctoral graduates is beneficial to the country in many regards (ASAf, 2010, p. 116). The report exposes an important strong correlation between the production of doctoral graduates and economic growth especially within the context where frontier research has increasingly become essential in knowledge-based economies (ASAf, 2010, p.116).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Historically Disadvantaged Universities: A common term in South Africa referring to a cluster of universities that were created under apartheid to cater for Africans and other non white populations.

Professional and Personal Baggage: Professional baggage includes features that define an individual as a professional while personal features are those that define individuals in their private realms which is usually outside their professional scope.

Knowledge Economy: An economy in which growth is dependent on the quantity, quality, and accessibility of the information available, rather than the means of production.

Good Supervision: This explains the art of effective supervisors who constitute those with the required clinical and expert knowledge to assist students in their research work whilst providing emotional support and having the capacity to develop and sustain positive working relationships.

Quality Dictates: A distinctive attribute or characteristic possessed by an individual.

Supervisory Process: This includes all the functions, practices and procedures that supervisors use to assist students with their research.

Holistic Perspective: This is an anthropological perspective in which many different factors are taken into account to generate a picture of the culture as a whole.

Complete Chapter List

Search this Book: