Transformational Leaders: How to achieve equity in the South African university?

How can South African universities tackle the persistent inequality many of its students’ experience when it comes to learning success? While the South African higher education landscape has witnessed much change with respect to creating more equitable access opportunities for students previously under-represented, the sector still has a long way to go to ensure that these very students (who are mostly black) achieve the kinds of learning success their white peers enjoy. Suellen Shay, Dean of the Centre for Higher Education and Development at UCT offers her response to this important question. In a recent comment piece in the University World News, (pdf of article available at end of post, or click on link) she suggests ‘transformational leadership’ at our universities could offer some plausible responses to this ongoing challenge. She suggests that transformational leaders are committed to understanding the reasons for poor student success, ask the right kinds of questions about university curricula and importantly acknowledge the role that institutions play in shaping the student experiences and thus student success.


This article offers a slightly new angle on a long standing debate about how to make our sector, its curricula and pedagogic practices responsive to the needs of its students – an issue that in many respects defines the ECP project. In the spirit of academic and professional dialogue within the ECP community here at CPUT comments and responses to Prof Shay’s position would be welcomed. The following questions are offered as prompts to open up this conversation:

  • What do think about Prof Shay’s main argument in this article?
  • What are the other strategies required to ensure that all students irrespective of their schooling, socio-economic or cultural background have a reasonable chance of succeeding at university?
  • What are the major obstacles and opportunities to achieving equity with respect to student success in our sector, or institution or the ECP course you work on?



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *