UTLO Conference Critically Examines the Challenge of Access in Higher Education

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Professor William G Tierney delivering a keynote
address at Day 2 of the UTLO conference.

Wilbur-Kieffer Professor of Higher Education and Co-director of the Pullias Centre for Higher Education at the University of Southern California, Professor William G Tierney, delivered a keynote address on “Challenge of Access: Praxis and Structure in Higher Education” on the second day of UKZN’s Teaching and Learning Conference.

Tierney, whose research focuses on increasing access to Higher Education, said education is seen as a key vehicle as a way out of poverty.  ‘How do we get more low-income, first generation youth, into university and graduate?’ said Tierney.

He said a truism has been that the wealthier the country is, the better developed the educational system. Referencing China, Tierney said, ‘Countries that have sought to improve their economic well-being, have invested heavily in schooling.’

‘There is, in general, a common acceptance that a high school education is no longer sufficient for a society which wishes high wage jobs in a global society.’

Tierney said having grit – ‘passion and perseverance for long-term goals in the face of setbacks’ has been identified as an individual characteristic that is predictive for success’. He looked at the connection between “grit” (determination) and social capital of first generation college students with regard to success at university.

Tierney said the role of the academic is not simply to acquiesce, but instead to ‘engage in analysis of the overall cultural politics that defines the era and proffer ways for social engagement’.

He examined the construct of “responsibilization”, which he defined as assigning the burden of managing one’s risk in society entirely to the individual rather than to the state and/or the influence of institutional cultures and more broadly the role of globalization.

Tierney extended these debates in a workshop on “Creating a Culture to improve Student Performance: Increasing Access to Higher Education.”

Day two at the conference included, among others, sessions on “The Role of Technology in a Constructivist Classroom” by ZG Baleni and “Inclusion of a community of practice in the digitalization of indigenous knowledge” by L Sosibo and A Mwanza.

– Raylene Captain-Hasthibeer