Transformation in Higher Education
Richard Florida’s influential concept of the ‘learning region’ captures the notion of regions as “collectors and repositories of knowledge and ideas, and provide the underlying environment or infrastructure which facilitates the flow of knowledge, ideas and learning” (Florida, 1995). It is increasingly being recognised that HEIs have an important role to play in the ‘learning region’ as valuable resources for the development of the cities and regions in which they are located, in that they help provide rich opportunities for knowledge transfer and creative enterprise (OECD, 2007). International examples of successful engagement between HEIs and city-regions provide compelling evidence of the beneficial outcomes for urban development. These include science/research parks, incubators, entrepreneurship and partnership initiatives and regional development strategies. However it has also been shown that many changes are required within HEIs in order to engage successfully with the city-region, promote alignment of their activities with the priorities of the city-region and build long-term strategic relationships with key stakeholders in the region (Arbo and Benneworth, 2007).The central focus of GCRO’s research is an examination of how the concept of a ‘learning region’ may be applied to the Gauteng City-Region (GCR), through the institutional vehicle of the region’s higher education institutions.
The vision for a dynamic and cutting-edge global city-region which provides beneficial outcomes for all was spelled out in the GCR Perspective (A Golden Opportunity: Building Gauteng as a globally competitive city-region, Gauteng Provincial Government, 2005) and subsequently the GCR Roadmap (the GCR Mapping and Positioning 2007-2010). In one way or another, all of these policy frameworks recognise the importance of higher education to the city-region. However in spite of the foundation laid by such frameworks, little is known about how HEIs relate strategically to the vision of the Gauteng city-region. There is currently a dearth of understanding about whether HEIs are cognisant of what is required of them and how HEIs, together with other key stakeholders, can contribute to the growth, development and transformation of the city-region. This research project poses critical research questions about the role of HEIs in meeting the priorities and challenges of the city-region, as defined in the GCR Perspective and the GCR Roadmap, and how best to unlock the potential of HEIs in collaboration with other important stakeholders in the city-region (government, business/industry, civil society and organised labour).
To lay a foundation for this research, GCRO recently conducted a set of facilitated discussion groups with key role players in the city-region such as HEIs, government, business, labour and civil society. Professor Pundy Pillay from the School of Public and Development Management (P&DM) served as the lead facilitator in the discussion groups. We succeeded in bringing together a number of HEIs from different parts of the city-region, such as Wits University, University of Johannesburg (UJ), University of Pretoria, Tshwane University of Technology (TUT), University of South Africa (UNISA) and Monash University. We talked about the urgency of inserting the concerns of higher education into a broad framework for regional development. We developed an exploratory proposal to set up a kind of regional forum for a network of different higher education stakeholders in the city- region, which would offer an explicit role for HEIs in the development trajectory of the GCR.