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Negotiating the transition from rurality to higher education in Southern Africa

UK - Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

The research addresses the knowledge gap that exists regarding the transition from rural school and home contexts to university learning in Southern Africa. The study aims to trace the implications of this transition in order to develop inclusive teaching and learning practices and support mechanisms in universities, as well as to make an international audience aware of the influence of rural life on higher education, and how this influence plays out in Southern Africa as a specific region. The research will make significant contributions to debates on widening participation, equity, social justice and post-colonial curricula in higher education across Southern Africa and more widely across the Global South. The study should shed light on the many misconceptions and stereotypes about rural existence, but in addition, explore the extent to which there are real constraints as well as opportunities provided by living in rural areas. It will also investigate how the students strategise to manage the constraints they have experienced and strengths they possess. In order to ensure context-sensitivity and sustainability, a participatory research approach will be adopted. This involves the training of a select group of students to document their own experiences as researchers, using personal documentaries created using iPads, engaging in dialogue with lecturers and administrators at key moments in the project. Three research strategies are key to the project: the first is an advanced literature review and a scrutiny of publically available documentation on macro-trends and socio-economic indicators on rurality. The second is the training of 48 second-year students in the humanities and the science and technology fields to become educational researchers. The students will document their prior learning in rural areas and their experience as university students, as well as how they negotiate the transition, and what social and technological resources they draw upon. This will be accompanied by interviews with administrators and academics in order to obtain a varied perspective on this transition, and to ascertain if there are examples of good practice to draw upon. This data collection will take place at the universities of Johannesburg, Rhodes and Fort Hare, which represent a range of South African higher education institutions, all with students from rural backgrounds. The third strategy is to share the interim findings and the research methods with academics and academic developers from Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The purpose is to engage in dialogue on the research methodology, the interim implications for developing post-colonial learning and teaching, and to ascertain to what extent these findings are common to the Southern African region. Academic developers and academics from these countries belong to an academic development network, the Southern African Universities Learning and Teaching (SAULT) forum. The network will allow for the use of the findings in the entire region. Attention will be paid to the capacity of the researchers within South Africa and the SAULT forum, including support for conducting similar research in the region and for academic writing. The mainly qualitative data will be analysed using thematic and narrative analysis. The themes informing the analysis are broadly drawn from socio-cultural theories of teaching and learning, with an emphasis on practices. This includes attention to the contexts in which students learn, the material conditions as well as cultural practices, the interrelationships amongst individuals and groups, and the formation of student identities. The proposed study benefits from a strong and practised collaboration between academics at the universities of Johannesburg, Bristol and Brighton, with expertise in teaching and learning in hi gher education, social inclusion, digital technologies and participatory research methods.

Project Identifier: GB-GOV-13-FUND--NEWT-ES/P002072/1
Activity Status: Implementation
Start Date: 01-10-2016
Budget: Not Provided

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