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  • The Skewed Revolution: Trends in South African Higher education: 1988-1998
  • Trish Gibbon (bio)
David Cooper and George Subotzky (2001) The Skewed Revolution: trends in South African higher education: 1988-1998. Bellville: Education Policy Unit, University of the Western Cape

'Empiric', Peter Burke reminds us, was 'a traditional English term for practitioners of alternative medicine, men and women innocent of theory' (2000:16) who based their practice on the observation of symptoms. Dismissed by Aristotle as mere description that could not rise to the level of true knowledge, it took Francis Bacon to elevate empiricism to the status of a serious scientific method, a method which followed 'neither the empiric ant, mindlessly collecting data, nor the scholastic spider, spinning a web from inside itself, but the bee, who both collects and digests' (Burke 2000). This also provides the terms within which Cooper and Subotzky's detailed empirical study of changes in the South African higher education system over the decade 1988-1998 must be assessed. What has been collected, and how has it been digested?

The authors describe their work as 'a reference handbook of higher education in South Africa based on detailed analysis of selected SAPSE data over the past decade' (viii). In this, it is also a final salute and farewell to SAPSE, the South African Post-Secondary Education data base of the Department of Education that has now been replaced by the somewhat more sophisticated Higher Education Management Information System (HEMIS). The two areas on which the authors focus attention are student enrolment patterns and staff employment trends and it becomes immediately and abundantly clear that the real focus is on whether equity, a major transformation goal of the new South Africa, has been achieved in these two critical areas. [End Page 133]

To reveal the patterns of enrolment, Cooper and Subotzky present their data in terms of institutional and historical type: universities and technikons are the primary categories, which are then broken down into their origins in the racial dispensations of white, African and non-African (the institutions specifically designated for Indian and coloured students). 1993 is taken as the key median point, and racial and gender shifts are often analysed from a pre- or post-1993 perspective. At the most general level, in terms of total population ratios, the data show that white and Indian students are still over-represented, coloured and African students under-represented in the higher education system. Nonetheless, Africans commanded over 50 per cent of enrolments in 1998 from a mere 21 per cent in 1984. Trends vary considerably over the sub-types during the period examined, with all the six African historically disadvantaged universities (HDUs) expanding up to 1993 and then experiencing a sharp decline in enrolments, while the Afrikaans historically advantaged universities had a huge surge in African enrolments post-1993. The authors are quick to point out what is now generally well known, that many of these enrolments are in undergraduate teacher diploma qualifications offered in partnership with private providers. By contrast, the five African historically disadvantaged technikons (HDTs) grew steadily over this period, while the previously white historically advantaged technikons (HATs) experienced tremendous growth, particularly in African enrolments, a phenomenon that has begun to reverse the 'inverted pyramid' of tertiary enrolments (inverted in favour of university enrolment) identified in the 1996 report of the National Commission on Higher Education (NCHE). Overall, African headcount enrolment in technikon programmes increased from 2 000 in 1984 to a staggering 127 193 in 1998.

From broad institutional enrolments, the enquiry moves to enrolment by qualification level and field of study based on six primary CESM (Classification of Educational Subject Material) groups and 22 first-order CESM categories. The finding that more than half of all masters and doctoral enrolments are at the 'big four' universities of Pretoria, Stellenbosch, Cape Town and Wits will not surprise anyone familiar with this system. African enrolments are still concentrated at undergraduate levels with marked gender skewing in favour of male students at postgraduate levels across all race groups. At the universities, African students are enrolIed predominantly in social science and humanities programmes, particularly at the six African HDUs. In this respect, the technikons...


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