‘Catalyse Social Science To Build A More Just Society’ – Nzimande Tells NIHSS Doctoral Graduands

Riyaz Patel

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Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande has lauded the National Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences (NIHSS) for producing its 3rd cohort of doctoral graduands, and “your milestone achievement of your 200th doctoral graduand in only 5 years.”

Delivering the keynote address at the NIHSS Annual Doctoral Conference Gala evening, Nzimande said he was pleased to see “first-hand, the efforts, impact and change that the Institute is making to the higher education landscape and in the humanities and social sciences in particular.”

The minister’s spirited address belied the fact that he had landed from the US only two hours before his appearance at the OR Tambo Centre at the Birchwood in Ekurhuleni.

“Whilst we do indeed need to strengthen the STEM disciplines throughout our schooling and higher education system, we dare not allow humanities and social sciences to decline.”

Emphasising and re stating the need for “high standards” in all areas of academia, Nzimande pointed to the NDP which calls on the higher education sector to produce more than 100 doctoral graduates per million per year by 2030.

In line with the dictates of the current and envisaged technological advancements under the rubric of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), the minister said his Department has established a Ministerial Task Team on the 4IR to provide “critical policy advice and interventions” required to ensure that our post-school education and training system is able to “effectively respond and also take a lead in many of the envisaged technological advances.”

Nzimande said the transformation of race and gender should extend beyond the demographics of students, academics and researchers.

“Our humanities and social sciences must also always assist us in understanding contemporary challenges we are facing in society and seek to assist in advancing solutions to those problems.”

The challenge, he added, “is how do we do this without sacrificing depth and rigour in the work that we do.”

The Higher Education, Science and Technology Minister said the findings of a study into what is retarding the production of South African black women academics is imminent, and that he intends to make the results public.

Nzimande said its important to “open the much needed dialogue and debate on how to accelerate transformation in our academia and research communities in our universities.”

He acknowledged that a lot has been done, but added that there is also a clear need and urgency to significantly accelerate transformation in the racial and gender profile of our academic and research communities.

“Both curricula and the nature of research questions must be framed such that they help overcome patriarchy and racism in broader society, including in the very halls of academia and research,” Nzimande added.

Nzimande said the gains made by the fees must fall campaign to increase funding for undergraduate students has had the “unintended consequence of taking all of student funding into undergraduate at the expense of post-graduate student funding.

“Yet the very increase in undergraduate students and throughput is soon going to increase the demand for postgraduate student funding, on top of the very existing reality of inadequate funding in this regard.”

“Higher education is the major driver of the knowledge system that must be linked to economic development.”

“I therefore would like to challenge you today as graduates that you must continue on your path to be producers of new knowledge and high-level skills,” he told the doctoral graduands.

You must continue to assist our country as experts in finding new local and global applications for existing knowledge and innovation that will change our country for the better.”

And while an organization like the NIHSS should foster freedom of choice in the research that is funded, Nzimande underlined that it “must catalyse a social science that seek to foster and support the building of a more just society.”

This, the minister added, is also closely linked to the debates around the “necessity of the decolonization our academic and research institutions, their institutional cultures and curricula.”

A key objective of the higher education ministry is to tackle the institutional inequalities in our university system, Nzimande added, especially that between historically advantaged and disadvantaged institutions,

“But I do not see this task as simply that of less advantaged institutions catching up with the more advanced ones.

“The Historically disadvantaged institutions must develop their own niche areas and make new contributions in knowledge and innovation as part of their own upliftment. But of course this will require focused government support, as well as inter-institutional support and cooperation.”

Again underlining the need for maintaining high standards, Nzimande took a swipe at what he termed “so-called analysts who get their analysis from newspapers.”

He further bemoaned the trend where those ‘analysts’ morph into ‘professors.’

“What are they professing,” Nzimande asked animatedly, much to the delight of the audience.

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