The Current State of Dialogue in South African Universities: Change through Open Conversations and the Facilitating Role of ICTs

The Current State of Dialogue in South African Universities: Change through Open Conversations and the Facilitating Role of ICTs

Kevin Allan Johnston (University of Cape Town, South Africa), Bane Nogemane (Standard Bank, South Africa) and Salah Kabanda (University of Cape Town, South Africa)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8598-7.ch015
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Abstract

The current state of dialogue within certain South African universities was explored, and if and how dialogue can be used to address the issues of transformation and the lack of social cohesiveness. The role of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in facilitating or inhibiting open conversations was examined. Through qualitative analysis of surveys administered to staff and students at universities, the researchers identified that power disparity, and the slow pace of transformation were prevalent and needed to be addressed. University management generally practice open conversations, and students and staff were willing to participate. Organisational structures were not conducive for open conversations. The ICT infrastructure used had no significant role to play, while Social Network Systems (SNSs) were perceived as enablers of open conversations. This chapter contributes to the existing body of knowledge about change management, and presents open conversations as a means of driving and realising organisational change.
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Introduction

South Africa is ‘a society torn by a long history of antipathy and violence between groups’ (Dixon et al 2010, 402). In the early nineties, racial segregation was officially disbanded to allow equal participation of Black people in public and economic life (Durrheim & Dixon, 2010). However, to undo centuries of segregation requires effort from all stakeholders involved, for example the government, people, and higher institutions of learning. Compared to previous years of segregation and unfair discrimination, South African higher institutions are currently receiving greater diversity among their students and staff in terms of racial, socioeconomic background, and gender. This diversification if not carefully monitored, has the potential of creating and fostering historical discrimination and inequality within higher learning institutions in South Africa. It is therefore a moral and civic responsibility of higher learning institutions to undergo transformation and redress socio-economic historical imbalances that are as a result of the apartheid government (Ramdass, 2009). However, transformation has been marred by the lack of institutional dialogue, lack of openness and inactivity of institutional forums (Lewins, 2010; Soudien et al., 2008). These inhibitors call for the need for communication – a dialogue process for people to engage on issues of transformation. Information and communication technologies (ICTs) have been associated with bridging communication gaps between people, and could therefore potentially be a tool for facilitating institutional dialogue, enhancing institutional forum activities and openness within higher education institutions. Bull and Brown (2012) posit ICTs as an ideal medium for this participation to occur, as ICTs can cut geographical and organisational boundaries, allowing more people to get involved. Traditionally conversations happen face to face or in meetings, but with the advent of technology, conversations can take place via ICT mediums such as email. As open conversations are inclusive in their nature and seek to encourage the participation of all individuals, ICTs have been put forward as the ideal means of facilitating such conversations (Bull & Brown, 2012; Byrne & Sahay, 2007; Yang & Li, 2012). If properly implemented and contextualized, ICTs can increase communication operational efficiency, quality, and transparency (Zimmermann & Finger, 2005).

The purpose of this chapter was to explore the current state of dialogue of university students and staff members over issues related to transformation (or lack thereof) within South African institutions of higher education. Particular emphasis was placed on the role of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in facilitating or inhibiting open conversations at universities in South Africa.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Organisational Change: Refers to altering the beliefs, attitudes, and behaviours of university stakeholders in order to redress past inequalities and overcome discrimination of all forms in South African universities.

Facilitating Role: A role which makes a process or path possible or easier.

Open Conversations: Entail interactive situations in which any person can freely ask open-ended questions without fear, where individuals are energized and inspired; where individuals listen attentively and learn from one another.

ICT: Information and Communications Technology (ICT), includes computer hardware, software, and networking technology.

Dialogue: A conversation between university stakeholders regarding issues related to transformation and social cohesion

South African Universities: South African Universities were restructured after the fall of Apartheid to widen access and reset the priorities of the old apartheid-based system.

Transformation: The processes to redress socio-economic historical imbalances that are as a result of the apartheid government in South Africa.

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