The Vrije Universiteit And South Africa ~ The Meaning Of Traditions For Future VU-Policy In South Africa?

The organisers of the Conference proposed that this paper[i] should reflect on future relations between the Vrije Universiteit (VU) and South Africa (SA), ‘with an eye for and knowledge of the traditions in which we stand and operate’.[ii] Amongst some others, I will address three aspects to uncover the importance of relations for the future South Africa-Vrije Universiteit involvement. As will be indicated, such relations are intimately linked to the traditions in which we stand, but they are also in need of redirection. For this, I will develop a few case studies, deliberately using relations between the Vrije Universiteit and South Africa as examples. This will inevitably bring relations with Afrikaners specifically into focus, but the lessons learnt should be applicable with regard to future relations with all South Africans and all institutions in South Africa in general. This is important because it is premised that the SAVUSA (South Africa-Vrije Universiteit-Strategic Alliances) programme interprets future relations with South Africa in the widest possible sense. The following aspects were accordingly selected for reflection:

The first aspect relates to the context that is defined for the new initiative at the Vrije Universiteit, and is expressed by the last part (-SA) of the SAVUSA acronym, namely ‘Strategic Alliances’. Although this aspect was not included by the organisers in the title proposed for this paper, I will address it in the first section as it is of importance in evaluating past traditions, as well as for planning of future relations.

The second aspect deals with the role of traditions. The key issue is whether traditions have any meaning, positive or negative, when consideration is given on the formation of strategic alliances. The long history of interactions between the Vrije Universiteit and South Africa, specifically with regard to the recent past, opens up ample opportunity to reflect on the role of traditions.

The title implies that the Vrije Universiteit wishes to deepen its relationship with South Africa. Relationships are influenced by traditions, but encompass a broader dimension. The context mentioned above implies a thorough-going reconsideration of existing relations, with SAVUSA as the instrument. Once again, an understanding of relations in the context of strategic alliances will need to be reflected upon.

Context – Strategic alliances
The last two letters of the acronym ‘SAVUSA’ indicates that the founders of this programme have created a new context for their future relations with South Africa, namely that of strategic alliances. Strategic alliances are widely practised in the field of business management and industry. This category of practice is built on very close relationships, as indicated by a description in a recent scholarly book on strategic management (Thompson, Gamble and Strickland 2004: 130):
During the past decade, companies in all types of industries and in all parts of the world have elected to form strategic alliances and partnerships to complement their own strategic initiatives and strengthen their competitiveness in domestic and international markets. This is an about-face from times past, when the vast majority of companies were content to go it alone, confident that they already had or could independently develop whatever resources and know-how were needed to be successful in their markets. … Strategic alliances are cooperative agreements between firms that go beyond normal company-to-company dealings but fall short of merger or joint venture partnerships with formal ownership ties.

Strategic alliances are partnerships that often exist for a defined period during which partners contribute their skills and expertise to a co-operative project. An ultimate aim of these partnerships, is frequently to learn from one another with the intention of developing company-specific expertise to replace the partner, when the contractual agreement achieves its aim or reaches its termination date. Such relations are complex. On the one hand the outcome is increased competitiveness for each of the partners, but on the other hand an outcome is expertise gained from a partner who might become a competitor after termination of the alliance. Accordingly, some key issues have to be understood, each raising many important questions that are essential in learning the intentions of prospective partners before they engage in a strategic alliance (Pearce and Robinson 2005: 219).

In industry, core competencies are seminal in identifying partners for an alliance. New competitive expertise has to develop from these competencies. Some key issues are, therefore, to assess and value the partner’s knowledge, to determine knowledge accessibility and evaluate knowledge tacitness and ease of transfer. These objectives raise questions like ‘What are the strategic objectives in forming an alliance?’ ‘Which partner controls key managerial responsibilities?’ and ‘Do we understand what we are trying to learn and how we can use the knowledge?’ (Pearce and Robinson 2005: 219). These authors also indicate the importance of key issues and questions linked to relations, like ‘What is the level of trust between parent and alliance managers?’ ‘Are we realistic about our partner’s learning objectives?’ and ‘Is the alliance viewed as a threat or an asset by parent[iii] managers?’

Thompson and his colleague’s underline that many alliances are unstable, break apart and fail. The commitment of the partners to work together and their willingness to respond and adapt to changing internal and external conditions are prime requirements for stable alliances.

A successful alliance requires real in-the-trenches collaboration, not merely an arm’s-length exchange of ideas. Unless the partners place a high value on the skills, resources, and contributions each brings to the alliance and the cooperative arrangement results in valuable win-win outcomes, it is doomed (Thompson, Gamble and Strickland 2004: 130). Read more

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The Vrije Universiteit And South Africa ~ Some Trends In South African Academic History: Changing Contexts And Challenges

Seismographic social and political shifts introduced the 1990s: the end of the Cold War, the demise of communism abroad, and in South Africa the official end of apartheid and the subsequent instalment of a new democratic government. Given these developments it is reasonable to expect that historians, who construct their versions of the past in the present, and are at least to some degree influenced by that present, should, in the light of wider contextual changes, re-evaluate their approaches and revise their interpretations. The relationship between societal change and historical production is, however, not a simple one-to-one function.

It is against this background that this paper seeks to identify and briefly explore selective developments pertaining to the dynamics of the historical profession in South Africa and the intellectual correlates that help to define the current nature of the enterprise . The chapter focuses only on certain aspects and makes no claim to have covered the vast and treacherous area exhaustively.

Academic historians and the question of growth
The 1990s were not the most auspicious of times for the profession. Instead of bewailing this fact, it may be more profitable to apply historical insights to the phenomenon and to ask what are the conditions that are particularly conducive for the expansion of the historical enterprise as practiced professionally? This necessitates a brief look at the contextual forces that helped to shape the profession in South Africa.

The profession reached its high point during the 1980s. It was a period when the History Department at the University of South Africa could boast with a staff of 35 historians; today it is halved. The University of Stellenbosch had a staff of eight; today it is almost half that number. Staffing figures at some other universities in the country would tell very much the same story.

To explain the growth up to the 1980s, one has to bear in mind that structurally job opportunities were limited for black people and given the lack of options many gravitated towards teaching (Crankshaw 1997: 23). This helped to swell the number of teachers and of those who included history as a subject in their courses. Moreover, since the 1960s the educational system rewarded teachers who obtained degrees financially and also those who sought to improve their qualifications. This served as a powerful incentive to engage with the discipline. Of course the system was skewed as it was largely whites (because of their higher participation rate in tertiary education) that benefited most, but black people were not excluded. Many teachers used the opportunities to gain higher degree qualifications in a teaching subject such as history. To oversimplify matters slightly – interest in history could be bought. But there were always those individuals who may have enrolled initially for pecuniary reasons, but for whom it also turned out to be an occasion to engage meaningfully with material that otherwise might have remained outside their ken.

The system almost inadvertently provided the opportunity for what can be called ‘creative misuse’, in that educators who were on top of their subject could introduce critical material that ran against the apartheid grain. In this way a mustard seed of doubt could be disseminated far and wide, undermining the spurious historical legitimacy for apartheid. The Minister of Education, Kader Asmal, has recently singled out for acknowledgement ‘the role of many courageous historians, educators and practitioners who refused to abide by the official line at the time …’ (The South African History Project Progress Report 2001-2003: 20). Read more

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The Vrije Universiteit And South Africa ~ Political Studies In South Africa. A Personal Perspective

First, let us consider the discipline’s demography in South Africa. Over the last ten years political studies or political science has been taught in each of the country’s 21 universities. Aspects of the discipline were also taught in public administration courses at polytechnics; several of these institutions are now being amalgamated with universities. Historically, as with other areas of social science, politics as an academic community was sharply divided, socially and intellectually between the English language universities and the Afrikaans medium institutions. Within Afrikaner departments, traditionally, the discipline was influenced quite heavily by American behaviouralist and quantitative social science models and methods and researchers tended to focus their work within the confines of the formal political system (including the structures of ethnic homeland government). At the segregated black universities, departments were often led and staffed by graduates from Afrikaans institutions as well as from UNISA. In English speaking departments, by the 1980s, Marxist approaches had supplanted traditionally liberal ideas about politics and leading researchers concentrated their attention on popular political movements, emphasising those dimensions of their activities and ideas that corresponded most closely with expressions of class consciousness. In this context, the study of the discipline had a strong historical dimension: indeed at institutions such as Wits and Cape Town the boundaries between a ‘revisionist’ history grounded in Marxist conceptions of political economy and the discipline of politics became very blurred indeed. Today, though legacies of these differences between Afrikaans and ‘English’ institutions remain, the distinctions between Afrikaans-speakers and English language practitioners of the discipline in South African are less important, particularly since the introduction of English language courses at Afrikaans universities.

South African politics departments are small – between five and ten full time staff is normal, though Wits with its separate establishments for political studies and international relations employs more than twenty political scientists. Overall at the universities there are around 200 or so politics lecturers teaching about 10,000 students enrolled in undergraduate courses. This has been an expanding student population: in the aftermath of the ANC’s accession to government politics classes grew swiftly, contracted slightly in the late 1990s and once again grew, a reflection of trends in secondary school matriculation as well as optimistic perceptions among students about the subject’s vocational utility. Most first year politics classes (including those at former elite institutions such as Wits and Pretoria) are now recruited mainly from working class districts in African townships, though Cape Town and Stellenbosch represent exceptions to this generalization. Read more

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The Vrije Universiteit And South Africa ~ ANNA And A ‘New’ Lexicography For South Africa

In this paper we will try to make clear that the ANNA-project, in its own way, is one of the (possible) examples to show that different/changing situations, needs and target groups (may) require different/new approaches, models and products.
We will do so by taking the following steps:

– First, some basic terminology will be given.
– Secondly, the lexicographical situation in South Africa will be outlined.
– Thirdly, the ANNA-project itself will be presented.
– Next the ‘new’ features of the ANNA-project will be highlighted.
– To end with, the pros and cons of ANNA in a ‘new’ South Africa will be discussed.

We can define lexicography in at least two ways. The first ‘classical’ definition could read as follows: ‘Lexicography is the description of one or more aspects of one or more vocabularies in function of one or more target groups or users’. For the second, more ‘formal’, definition the following ‘frame’[i] could be used:

Although the latter definition differs formally from the former, it does not really do so from the point-of-view of content. One can easily paraphrase the above frame-based definition as: ‘Lexicology is an activity which leads/should lead to a product made by lexicographers/metalexicographers with the aim to come to a (scientific) description, etc’.

Next to the possibilities that a frame-based definition offers on the levels of explicitness and consistency, it serves our purpose better than the more traditional one in two ways:

– First, it makes clear the fact that lexicography as an activity is no longer to be considered as a solitary act of a lexicographer, but rather as a scene on which next to lexicographers, different players, such as metalexicographers (theoreticians, designers of models/theories upon which to base lexicographical practice), tool developers, project managers, data providers, users, and publishers play a role.
– Secondly, as one can observe, a frame has a stable side (the left hand side, the slots) and a variable side (the right hand side, the fillers). It is to be expected that changes in the fillers over time will entail changes in the character of lexicography itself and so lead to a ‘new’ lexicography. In particular this is what has happened to the fillers for the ‘format’, ‘means’, ‘beneficiary’, and ‘other-participants’-slots during the last decades.

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The Vrije Universiteit And South Africa ~ Stimulating Research Future

The wealth of Africa
Wealth producing innovation does not occur in a vacuum.
Technological breakthroughs do not automatically lead to increased wealth. More wealth does not lead to a better society.

Research for a better life
The benefication of research into wealth requires
– Skilled people;
– And ideas;
– That translate into novel practices;
– Organisations;
– And products

In other words, it takes social innovation to make wealth through research and it takes research to make innovation in the 21st century.

The NRF – A South African national mandate in an African context

Support and promote research
– through funding, human resource development and the provision of the necessary research facilities

To facilitate
– the creation of knowledge, innovation and development in all fields of science and technology, including indigenous knowledge.

In order
– to contribute to the improvement of the quality of life of all the people of the Republic
Managing and stimulating research across the knowledge spectrum

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The Vrije Universiteit And South Africa ~ International R&D Cooperation With South Africa: Selected Policy Perspectives

This paper endeavours to offer policy perspectives on international relations between South Africa and other countries in general and South Africa and the Netherlands in particular. More specifically, the paper looks at South African Dutch relationships against the historical background on the one hand and current research priorities for South Africa on the other. The paper, first of all, offers a number of propositions that will guide the remainder of the paper. In the second place, a listing is offered of some notable South African scholars and leaders with Dutch connections. Some of the characteristics of the South African research and development (R&D) system are next offered, followed by main challenges faced by that system. The fifth section deals with its comparative strengths and weaknesses. In the sixth section different sets of priorities are given after which the paper looks at different aspects of international R&D cooperation. The paper concludes with a number of recommendations for the future.

Two background notes may be in order at this point. The analyses in this paper are mainly informed by the author’s exposure to international collaboration (for instance, the collaborative study undertaken by the Vrije Universiteit and the Human Science Research Council on social movements), interpretations of national policy and priorities, and exposure to the business of a national advisory council. Finally it is necessary to say that this paper focuses on science, technology and innovation, more particularly on research and development, with an emphasis on the social sciences and humanities. The following limited set of propositions guided the composition and analyses in this paper.

– Academic exposure to the Dutch Higher Education and Science and Technology systems in the past contributed substantially to both the emergence of a democratic dispensation and also to scientific excellence in South Africa – and it will hopefully in future contribute to both.

– The democratisation of South Africa has brought in its wake the potential for full participation in the global research and development network, including training, collaborative research, international funding for research, access to opportunities – training and research – access to job opportunities, and mobility of research workers. The country still has a long way to go to realise all the potential inherent in these new opportunities.

– South Africa possesses a reasonably strong science and technology system which was inherited from the previous constitutional dispensation.

– There still remains, however, a number of factors that could inhibit optimistic scenarios about the future: The relative geographic isolation of South Africa, Information Communication Technology limitations, asymmetrical needs (for instance the challenge to match the need for excellence with that of capacity development), and the relatively limited financial capacity of the country.

– South Africa is well placed to offer Europe in general and the Netherlands in particular unique opportunities for good quality collaboration in various fields of research and development, especially if certain conditions are accounted for.

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