Student governance in higher education institutions in the Western Cape, South Africa [electronic resource] : a case study.
Khan, Moonira Banu Mahomed.
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The aim of this study was to explore the role and contributions of elected student leaders in student governance positions, at the four higher education institutions in the Western Cape. The literature study revealed that whilst information on student politics is easily available, very limited information is available about the elected student leaders in student governance positions in higher education institutions, within the broader governance framework. The role of elected student leaders in contributing to the democratisation of universities was positively identified as an indicator of the evolving democratisation of universities. It was found that whilst elected student leaders are involved in, and do contribute to key decision-making in policy matters, this is not always the case. Of significance is the quality of the deliberative process and the level of seriousness in connecting the voice of students in a meaningful and consistent manner, to institutional decision-making, on matters that affect students. The theoretical framework of this study was grounded in Public Administration theory, deliberative democracy theory and governance theory within a higher education institutional context. The study intersects with deliberative democracy theory in understanding the advantage of good student governance as a way of contributing to the democratisation of universities and the student and the public good. The role of student leaders is fore grounded by illuminating ways in which they interpret their student leadership roles and how they interpret this in relation to the national and institutional policy framework referred to in the National Plan for Higher Education (Republic of South Africa, 2001). The policy context provides a basis for understanding the relationship between Public Administration and higher education. The Higher Education Act, No. 101 of 1997, provides the legislative framework for institutional governance, within which the statutory provision for student governance is situated. In particular, the Higher Education Act sets out the framework for institutional student governance and principles of good governance. The governance ethos of the Higher Education Act is derived from principles of good Public Administration as the basis for good governance, and the democratic values and principles as set out in Section 195 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996. An empirical study was conducted which included the administration of questionnaires to students in student leadership positions at the four universities in the Western Cape. In addition to the questionnaire survey, interviews were conducted with students and staff. The data was analysed statistically, using descriptive statistics. The findings of the study illustrate support for the continued existence of the student governance framework and for the role of student leaders in the decision-making processes of higher education institutions. However, there is a need for a more serious and consistent commitment to involving students in deliberative processes on matters of student interest and the public good. Such involvement is fundamental to the values and principles of democracy and good governance. The challenge for change is to seek meaningful and sustainable ways to complement the student governance approach by drawing in and connecting the broader student voice to the representations and the decision-making processes on its behalf by those who represent them, and by the decision-makers. It may be useful to review the role of student leaders in how this role is interpreted and deployed by the student leaders and how this role is supported by staff and the decision-makers involved in decision-making that impact on students. This descriptive study explored key factors such as the role and contributions of student leaders in governance positions, their functions, skills and applications deployed within their specific environment of student governance, and the general institutional governance environment and its influences on institutional democratisation. The research study culminates in providing guidelines for an integrated student governance framework in contextualising and supporting a wider deliberative student governance approach in higher education. This requires commitment and support from the management and student leadership, in pursuit of effective student governance within an environment that is nurturing and embracing of the student voice as central to achieving the institutional vision.
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