Charter to rejuvenate Human Sciences

Friday, August 5, 2011

Johannesburg - Prospective students, who will attend South African universities, can look forward to something new in the field of liberal arts programmes.

Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande received the report on the Charter for Humanities and Social Sciences, a document which provides recommendations to government on how to revitalise liberal arts programmes in South African universities.

Nzimande appointed a team, led by Professor Ari Sitas from the University of Cape Town, and Dr Sarah Mosoetsa from the University of the Witwatersrand in October last year to consider how to "rejuvenate and strengthen the humanities and social sciences."

Sitas said they went on fact-finding missions at tertiary institutions and spoke to over 1 500 people on how they make human sciences "sexy" to students.

"After our encounters with more than a thousand colleagues in all the institutions of higher learning, and interested parties in government and civil society, we are convinced that Humanities and Social Sciences scholarship can be a repository of heritage, history, memory and meaning, as this society strives for peace, prosperity, security and socio-economic well-being," said Sitas.

The report has identified six interventions to boost interest in the field. These included the formation of an academy of humanities and social sciences; an African renaissance programme and a framework to improve the academic integrity of the field.

Other interventions include the formation of a national centre for life-long education and educational opportunities; the creation of six catalytic projects that will animate the field of humanities and social sciences, and implementation of interventions to overcome the perceived crisis in the current landscape of scholarship.

Briefing the media in Johannesburg on Thursday, Nzimande and the task team believed that these recommendations will help to develop a vision for social sciences and humanities in the post-apartheid era.

Nzimande says the findings, which will be discussed with the Ministers of Basic Education, Science and Technology and Arts and Culture, will provide guidance on the way forward regarding government's quest to strengthen social sciences and humanities, and enhance quality in this key sector of higher education.

The minister said social sciences and humanities played an extremely important role in the liberation struggle and that the time had come to strengthen teaching of and research in the humanities and social sciences in higher education.

"In the past two decades, the social sciences and humanities have taken a back seat," Nzimande said, adding that the focus has been on singular areas only.

"The South African government has placed great emphasis on critical areas of skills shortage such as engineering, technology, the physical sciences and certain areas of business studies such as accounting. I agree with this emphasis, which is actually not unique to South Africa as economies around the world become increasingly technologically dependent.

"However, there is always a danger that too singular a focus on certain areas will lead to a neglect of other equally important areas," said Nzimande.

"Now is the time for the teaching of and research in the social sciences and the humanities to take their place again at the leading edge of our struggle for transformation and development ... they must play a leading role in helping our people understand and tackle the current challenges such as unemployment, racism, discrimination and HIV and Aids."

Nzimande invited the public and other relevant key partners to comment on the charter before it can be finalised.