Whilst it is recognized that South Africa is still in a process of transition regarding higher education to address the imbalances of the past, it should also be emphasized that Institutions of Higher Education in large are still underplaying the importance of higher education as commercialized commodity in the global world. This resulted in a low commercial higher education presence in the global world, a limited capability to attract quality students from foreign countries and a national oriented education approach. Even the school law that will soon be introduced in South Africa to address the imbalances of the past may have a negative effect of institutions of higher education to play a significant role in the commercialized educational world. The proposed new law emphasized adherence to the principles of equitability, rectification and representativeness above competence in the appointment of teachers. This may undermine the quality of education firstly, in schools and later in institutions of higher education in South Africa.
This is in sharp contrast with international trends signaling that the international higher education market is becoming more competitive as education competes as export and import commodity. Figures available indicate that higher education export represents on average around 6.6% of total student enrollments in 2000. This figure can still not be matched b South African Institutions 5 years later. In countries like Switzerland, Australia and Austria these figures were above 11% in 2000 making these countries the highest internationalized higher education countries in the world. Similarly, educational services in Australia, New Zealand and the United States of America respectively represent the third, fourth and fifth largest service export sectors. This clearly provides evidence that these countries realize the significance of higher education to transfer intellectual capital and enhance the economic competitiveness of nations.
It is important that Institutions of Higher Education in South Africa position themselves as nodes in an increasingly seamless knowledge base in the global world, which could have a greater interface with the knowledge-driven global economy. Therefore, Institutions of higher education in South Africa should given even more attention to integrate with influential international institutions that will enable them to internationalize higher education.
Currently, internationalization of higher education in South Africa happens more by incident rather than through thoroughly planned and organized approaches. If institutions of higher education in South Africa intend to consider higher education as a commercial trade commodity, serious emphasis should be place upon:
· Introducing purposeful policies and strategies that clearly indicate the road forward with regard to internationalization intentions and the specific areas that would need priority attention. However, this should not be developed as separate internationalization strategies, but should e seen as a natural element of the overall strategy of the institute.
· Implementing induction and course programmes that will attract quality foreign students to the institutions.
· Supporting academics to participate in conferences as well as in reputable academic journals to publish research results.
· Ensuring that all course offerings meet international accepted criteria as defined by the leading institutions of higher education in the developed world.
· Creating conducive learning environments equipped with the latest learning technologies.
Internationalization requires that institutions of higher education in South Africa should emphasize a somewhat loosening of the relationship with Government to create new transformational bodies to address the imbalances of the past, but also to broaden this mission to play a more active role in regional economic development. This can be achieved by establishing strong horizontal links with other universities research institutions and industry in the Southern African Development Community. If this can be achieved, the activities of institutions of higher education will no longer be isolated from the marketplace and its outputs could become merchandise products as well. Loosening the relationship with government will not only provide for more freedom to autonomously decide what educational and research outputs to create, but will also increase the pressure on institutions of higher education to perform better as they take up the responsibility to raise funds for projects and salaries.
It is imperative that higher education in South Africa can no longer take the disposition that placed research and development in contrast to one another. Rather, it should take the stand that the outputs of institutions should have a strong:
· Social development and application in which the simultaneous promotion and integration of education, scientific research and production occurs;
· Science and Technology Financial Management Support System in place in order to create a safe and secure research environment for academics; and
· Set of ” Key State Laboratories” where research and education of strategic importance to the development and well-being of the country can be carried out.
South Africa institutions of higher education currently rated only among the top 40 of the world’s host countries. An urgent need exist to rethink and reformulate the educational thinking models of institutions of higher education in South Africa. Because of the changing political situation accompanied by a changing global economy, many traditional ways in which institutions of higher education were previously governed will change. Unless institutions of higher education in South Africa succeed to internationalize successfully, huge opportunities to earn foreign currencies using higher education as a trade commodity will be lost.
Jan Grundling is the Head of the Centre for Entrepreneurship at Tshwane University of Technology in South Africa. He has published extensively in accredited Journals nationally and internationally.