How are the relationships between South African universities and development understood?

Molebatsi, Palesa Malehlohonolo
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University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg
Many development scholars argue that universities can and should address societal problems of poverty, inequality and unemployment. There is international literature that argues, in particular, two things: firstly, that certain economies thrive because they are knowledge driven; and secondly, that universities play a central role in preparing workers for the labour market. That same literature also goes on to argue that under-developed countries should emulate these economies, because this is a good way of achieving development. Thus, an increasing number of researchers and policy-makers in South Africa are interested in how universities do today, and can in the future, contribute to development. Empirical studies have been conducted analysing the relationship between South African universities and development. Yet, the evidence that exists, while useful, remains superficial. Specifically, it gives partial or incomplete analyses of the dynamics underlying the relationships between universities in South Africa, and development. The purpose of this study is to build an understanding of those dynamics. I develop an extended analytic framework with three ideal types (The Abstract University, the Entrepreneurial University and the Developmental University) and analyse two data sets, with the main finding that South African universities do not make significant entrepreneurial or developmental contributions to development. Simultaneously, they are expected to perform more welfare activities as part of their functions. I argue that a Welfare ideal-type university is emerging in South Africa which seems to undermine the essential core of the university: the development and acquisition of knowledge. A floundering can be observed with respect to the purpose, the norms and the form of the university in South Africa, with the result that the role of universities is increasingly loosely defined. This analysis illuminates a specific aspect of the relationship between universities and development in South Africa, namely that it is a two-way one: different approaches to development nationally and within universities lead to changes in the nature of the university, which in turn affects development. In the case of South Africa, where emphasis is placed on welfare activities, the question arises whether universities will continue to be universities in the future
A thesis submitted in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy to the Faculty of Humanities, Graduate School of Education, University of the Witwatersrand, 2022