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The Unbundled University: Researching emerging models in an unequal landscape. Preliminary findings from fieldwork in South Africa
Bronwen Swinnerton, Mariya Ivancheva, Taryn Coop, Carlo Perrotta, Neil P Morris, Rebecca Swartz, Laura Czerniewicz, Alan Cliff, Sukaina Walji
University of Leeds, Leeds, United Kingdom. University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa.
Higher Education, South Africa, Digital Technology, Marketisation, Unbundling, Social Cartography
As Higher Education undergoes a massive expansion in demand globally, and experiences financial pressures exacerbated by the global financial crisis of 2008, the sector is evolving rapidly. Market pressures on the sector encourage the search for additional income and new forms of provision, and private providers are increasingly entering the sector. At the same time, the HE sector has seen the appearance of many flexible online courses and qualifications, delivered by new configurations of providers and partnerships, including by parties new to the sector, through a process of disaggregating educational provision into its component parts, or ‘unbundling’. Whilst these changes may offer opportunities for increased numbers of learners to access education and thus contribute to economic prosperity, there is very little empirical research about the nature, process and impact of this unbundling and rebundling of educational provision, as it is playing out in this rapidly reconfiguring space. This paper reports data on South African Higher Education from the research project ‘The Unbundled University: Researching emerging models in an unequal landscape’, a project which explores the terrain in both South Africa and the UK. South Africa is deemed the most unequal country in the world and its HE system is under pressure, demonstrated in part by rising fees, student protests and calls for decolonised education, whilst online education is viewed by some, including the South African Government, as a way to increase access. Using a new dataset systematically collected from the public domain, data visualisation is employed to bring a novel perspective to the educational provision being offered using digital technology (and the private companies partnering with universities in South Africa to provide it), to uncover patterns of activity and their relationship to existing patterns of inequality in the HE sector. Using mapping, or social cartography, this paper reveals patterns and relationships which are otherwise not so obvious. Significantly, the maps reveal relationships between universities and private companies which appear to reflect existing inequalities, insofar as private companies partner almost exclusively with historically advantaged, research intensive universities, with high international ranking and reputation. This paper argues that such partnerships do not disrupt an unequal terrain, but rather reflect and possibly reinforce the power asymmetries already at play.
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