n South African Journal of Higher Education - Autonomy lost : the bureaucratisation of South African HE

Volume 28, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 1011-3487



Transformation of the higher education (HE) sector in post-1994 South Africa serves a dual purpose. Firstly, it is a response to the local imperative of democratisation, in the sense of developing citizenship and social redress. Secondly, it is an attempt to reposition South African universities within the global HE terrain, which had changed considerably during the preceding period of South Africa's isolation. The scale of these changes has understandably caused feelings of discontent among academics, and has resulted in a growing literature, which seeks to explain both the process of transformation and its effects in terms of corporatisation. The authors argue instead that transformation of HE is better understood as a process of bureaucratisation. They acknowledge that this bureaucratisation has corporate aspects, but argue that these are incidental rather than essential. What is essential is the importation and imposition of an administrative structure which has brought academics increasingly under surveillance. This has not only changed the nature of the job, but also the ways in which academics relate to themselves and others, and has significantly eroded the autonomy of individual academics. The article ends by considering a range of responses to attend to this loss of autonomy.

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