Dr Rubby Dhunpath, the Director of Teaching and Learning at UKZN, delivered the keynote address at the opening of a research conference hosted by the Institute of Education in Mauritius on the occasion of its 40th Anniversary.

In an address titled: “Reclaiming Research Agendas: Promoting and Sustaining a Self-Determined Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education”, Dhunpath examined the extent to which smaller states are able to preserve their autonomy in determining how their research agendas are shaped, mediated and enacted.

Using Reinhard Bendix’s conception of Reference Societies, Rubby argued that the world of globalised Higher Education was highly unequal. ‘It’s a world where existing inequalities are exponentially reinforced while new barriers are erected, where powerful universities and academic systems - the centres - have always dominated the production and distribution of knowledge.

‘The unintended or intended consequence of Reference Societies is that smaller and weaker institutions and systems have tended to be the beneficiaries - either through mimicking apparently successful models or through normative behaviour achieved through the hiring of staff, who as a result of their credentials, are able to socialise their colleagues into dominant organisational trends and practices.’

Dhunpath contended that ‘often, these disembodied research agendas and curriculum choices are completely alien to the realities of the country, resulting in the provision of a self-equalising education system that gravitates towards mediocrity’.

Citing the work of sociologist, Guy Standing – the author of The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class, Dhunpath argued that neo-liberal policies and inappropriate curriculum choices had produced a huge and growing number of people across the world living and working precariously, usually in a series of short-term jobs, without recourse to stable occupational identities or careers or stable social protection.  The Precariat is characterised by four-A’s: anxiety, anomy, alienation and anger.

People with a relatively high level of formal education, are forced to accept jobs beneath what they believe are in line with their qualifications resulting in Status Frustration.

It is the dissonance between promises made by Higher Education and the harsh realities of the job market that lies behind Status Frustration.

Dhunpath urged conference delegates to consider the extent to which they were complicit in perpetuating the crisis of the growing precariat class, particularly by remaining silent as politicians and policy makers ignore the employment crisis because they are too busy aping the successes of Reference Societies which have no relevance to their own realities.

author email : Dhunpath@ukzn.ac.za