Equity and in/equality

Transformation of Higher education

Imbued with political capital and often cited in rhetoric, ‘transformation’ is a signifier floating in associations that vary greatly, dependent on the speaker, context and a whole range of often obtuse intentions. In some places, discourses of transformation are drawn upon to inform structural and cultural initiatives aimed at change in contexts grappling with structural inequalities, where transformation is often twinned with diversity, inclusivity and social justice. In others, transformation discourses are synonymous with modernisation in terms of digital technology or teaching-and-learning. As a scholar formed within the time of radical transitions to authority in the South African academy, discourses of ‘transformation’ hail many complex commitments, subjectivities and legacies – including those of my own as a scholar.

In much of my work, I am interested in analysing the constructed nature of such discourses and whose interests they serve and goals they further, particularly in terms the role of higher education in relation to learning, teaching and knowledge creation at the local and global level. Some of this you will see interwoven in the projects below.

PROJECT TITLE: Transformation towards sustainability in higher education: Interactional dynamics in gender and intersectionality
Collaborators: Dr Nandita Banerjee Dhawan (School of Women’s Studies, Jadavpur University), Dr Dina Belluigi (Higher Education studies, Queen’s University Belfast) with the collaboration of Dr Grace Idahosa (Centre for Social Change, University of Johannesburg)

UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) identify a number of global challenges that affect Lower-Middle Income Countries (LMICs), including quality education (4), gender inequality (5), and strong institutions for peace and justice (16). Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) are intended as key drivers of these SDGs, with outcome targets of the transformative HE agenda including gender equality and inclusion to be fit-for-purpose to promote sustainable development by 2030. This pilot project considers the relation between policy-practice in the participation of the diverse academic staff (across markers of difference including gender, race, caste/ ethnicity, religion, ability, etc.) in HE in India and South Africa, to study the interconnectedness of sustainability and the transformation agenda in teaching, research and governance within higher education institutions.

The aim of this pilot project is to map an evidence base of the policy-practice relationship within six representative institutions within each national context, thereby identifying the critical focal areas for a larger comparative study on sustainability and equality in the drive for building world class universities.

Sign up to the blog page for informal information as the project grows. For research related information as the project progresses, go to ResearchGate Projects.

The concept note for the Transformation for Sustainability Colloquium Keynote Feb 2020 

Informed by this project, the following academic outputs have been shared:

Dhawan, N., Belluigi, D. Z., Idahosa, G. E. 2021. Disrupting the ‘new middle class’ space of Indian
public universities. Paper presented at the  International Conference  on  Globalisation  of
Professional Legal Education: Constitutional Conspectus
, 3 April 2021, organized by the School of
Law, Bennett University, Greater Noida, India.

Belluigi, D. Z. 2021. ‘Gender Injustice in academic practice: Insights from some of my research projects in South Africa and India’ for Fellows of CARA’s Syrian Academic Programme’, part of the panel ‘Curriculum design: Factoring in Women’ with Dr Cath Camps: University of South Wales, Dr Dina Belluigi: Queen’s University Belfast, Dr Aysha Divan: University of Leeds, Dr Hanadi Omaish:
International Sham University & Dr Abdulkader Rashwani, 11 March

Dhawan, N.B., Belluigi, D. Z., and Idahosa, G. E. 2021. Gender Equity in Indian Higher Education: Vision of Institutional Leadership, paper presented at the International Conference on Gender, Language and Education: Equality and Diversity Issues in Asia and Beyond, hosted by The Education
University of Hong Kong, 2-4 Dec. https://www.eduhk.hk/lml/icgle/schedule.php 

Belluigi, D. Z., Dhawan, N. B. and Idahosa, G. E. 2020. “Sustainability is based on the faith we have
towards the work that we are doing”: The conditions of academic citizenry in South Africa and India
, paper presented at Africa Knows! It is time to decolonise minds, 2-4 December, Conference of the Leiden African Studies Association.

Vessel Cirlce 1
PROJECT TITLE: Positioned on a ‘tight rope’: The reception of equity-agenda development programmes in a rapidly transforming higher education context
Collaborating researchers: Dr Dina Zoe Belluigi (Queens University Belfast) and Dr Gladman Thondhlana (Rhodes University, South Africa)

This research project is concerned with the complexities of relational and interactional diversity of academic staff which have emerged once the minimum expectations of standards of numeric access of black student participants were met in an historically white university. In the national context of South Africa, a number of well-funded, meticulously planned, and prestigious affirmative action programmes were created precisely to ‘assure’ the quality of individuals selected from historically under-represented groups to be ‘future leaders’ in key academic positions in higher education. Structured institutional evaluation processes and relationships were established to ensure the quality of the recipients of such programmes through the ‘development’ of the recipients’ research, teaching and civic engagement. These programmes have been deemed largely successful in terms of safeguarding quality while increasing staff diversity, and thus have been rolled out nationally, with funding now mainstreamed by the state.

However, this study surfaced the ways in which those represented as a supplement to transformation have paid a tremendous cost by being positioned on the continuum between transformation as redressing demographic imbalances and the quality assurance of academic faculty. Our role was not to ascertain the quality of such programmes, but in response to a request by some of the recipients, we aimed to explore the more fundamental and nuanced problematic of institutional transformation through inviting insights into the lived experiences of the programmes’ recipients. Of the 27 who actively participated, data was generated via a questionnaire, followed by presentation of our analysis to small discussion groups. Additional engagement occurred through postcards with metaphors chosen from the questionnaire responses which invited participants to compose messages to imagined readers of their choice within the institution.

Academic outputs from this project:

Belluigi, D. Z. & Thondhlana, G. 2020. “Your skin has to be elastic”: The politics of belonging
as a selected Black academic at a ‘transforming’ South African university. International Journal of
Qualitative Studies in  Education
. https://doi.org/10.1080/09518398.2020.1783469

Belluigi, D. Z. & Thondhlana, G. 2021. In whose interest is ‘training the dog’? Black academics’ reflection on academic development for ‘access and success’ in an historically white university in South Africa. Thomas, D. S. P. and Arday, J. (eds). Doing Equity and Diversity for Success in Higher Education: Redressing Structural Inequalities in the Academy. Palgrave Studies in Race, Inequality and Social Justice in Education, Palgrave Macmillan. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-65668-3_20 

Belluigi, D. Z. & Thondhlana, G. 2019. ‘Why mouth all the pieties?’: Lived experiences of the recipients of faculty equity-agenda programmes for the transformation of South African higher education.  Higher Education [online]. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-019-00380-w

Impact for this project see here

Vessel Cirlce 2

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