Curriculum reform in higher education : a humanities case study.

Adam, Fatima
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This study explores the nature of curriculum change in the Faculty of Humanities at the University of the Witwatersrand. In particular, it focuses on the relationship between the new socio-economic and political context and curriculum reform trends. While the literature indicates that trends throughout the world tend to privilege particular curriculum discourses informed by global and market pressures at the expense of institutional driving forces, neglecting the role of agency or local and institutional discourses rooted in the particular histories and cultures of institutions (Kishun, 1998), there is some indication that there could be room for institutionally informed choices at the curriculum level (Slaughter & Lesley, 1999). Using a qualitative approach, this study explores curriculum responses of the faculty within the context of global and national pressures in order to better understand the nature of contextuallybased challenges, strategies, practices and emerging curriculum trends. University curriculum across the globe is experiencing significant pressure to transform from its ‘insular’, distant and abstract form to one that is more responsive to the direct needs of society. This increased focus on responsiveness results in a shift toward mode 2 knowledge approaches (Gibbons, Limoges, Nowotny, Schwartzman, Scott & Trow, 1994) which prioritise curricula that focus on skills, application and problem solving. This shift is particularly challenging for programmes in the Humanities and Social Sciences, which have prided themselves on opportunities to step back, reflect and explore knowledge from a position of reasonable distance from everyday occurrences. This study embarks on a journey to explore what the implications of the emerging utilitarian discourses are for curriculum in the Humanities. This study argues that the dominant global-speak evident in the literature is not sufficient to account for the nature of curriculum change. While utilitarian discourses dominate curriculum transformation efforts in the faculty, there are various strategies for achieving responsiveness or usefulness, which has various implications for traditional liberal curriculum practices. In fact, the study suggests that responses differ by discipline, programme and even department, and range from radical to conservative curriculum transformation. Thus sweeping generalisations do not sufficiently and accurately account for the complexity of responses and outcomes at the institutional or faculty level. Curriculum reform therefore results from the interplay of a number of external and internal factors that occur within very specific contextual conditions.