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The public mission of universities in South Africa: community engagement and the teaching and researching roles of faculty members

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Community engagement as a public mission of higher education is widely accepted in South Africa. This is articulated in White Paper 3 on the transformation of higher education and in institutional policies that promote different forms of community engagement. However, compared to the traditional roles of teaching and research, community engagement remains contested. It is most often viewed as voluntary and perhaps even peripheral. Given the serious social disparities in South Africa, community engagement needs to be invigorated and placed on par with the teaching and researching roles of universities. Furthermore, it should not only involve collaborative knowledge production, but should combine epistemological and ontological dimensions and involve holistic human development capable of dealing with social disparities A combined epistemological-ontological conception of community engagement is developed in this study and interventions are proposed at three levels. First, university induction programs, which tend to prioritize the teaching and researching roles of faculty members, should consider community engagement as equally important. Second, just as the teaching and researching roles tend to be well planned and/or incentivized, so too should community engagement. Third, community engagement should adopt a mode 2 knowledge production lens where community members reflexively produce knowledge together with faculty members and contribute to holistic human development. Finally, strategies are suggested to embed an epistemological-ontological conception of community engagement.

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Correspondence to Lester Brian Shawa.

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Shawa, L.B. The public mission of universities in South Africa: community engagement and the teaching and researching roles of faculty members. Tert Educ Manag (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11233-019-09040-1

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  • Public mission
  • Community engagement
  • Higher education
  • Teaching
  • Research
  • Mode 2 knowledge production