Physial space and transformation in higher education: the case of the University of the Free State
Tumubweinee, Philippa Nyakato
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The significance of space and objects in space on South African higher education campuses was brought to the fore during the 2015/16 student movements. The movements highlighted that official higher education policy and institutional practice have not adequately considered the implications of material and immaterial space for transformation. While the idea for this thesis predated the student movement campaigns, the 2015/16 student movements focused the route of enquiry on the implications of space and objects in space at a higher education institution for knowledge production aimed at transformation in higher education. The claim is that space at a higher education institution, which constructs the social and is in turn constructed by the social, provides a lens through which to focus on the ‘where’ and thereby produce knowledge for transformation in higher education. Space at a higher education institution is intimately linked to the specificities of historical and spatial context-related factors, as well as to other factors – such as race, class, and gender – that impact on the reality of the everyday in higher education. Consequently, the study focuses on organisational indicators for space at a higher education institution that underpin the development of a conceptual framework. The aim is to produce knowledge that draws attention to broader socio-spatial concerns that ground and refer the study to the mandated role of higher education institutions, as social institutions, to support development in society. In this study, the implications of organisational indicators for space at a higher education institution for transformation in higher education are investigated through the case study of the Bloemfontein campus of the University of the Free State. The investigation draws data from multiple sources, including first-person accounts, desktop reviews, and socio-spatial mapping of the Bloemfontein campus in its entirety and in relation to its context – the city of Bloemfontein. The data is analysed using qualitative techniques located in a social constructivist framework that allows for a reiterative and process-oriented research approach. The context-dependent knowledge produced in this manner and tested in the conceptual framework allows for inferences to be made about the socially constructed nature of space at a higher education institution and to gain insights into how this, in turn, constructs the social in the everyday reality of an individual in higher education. The study provides an empirical perspective from which to assess how the organisation of space at a higher education institution and the implications this has for the reality of the everyday in higher education impacts on individuals’ understanding of transformation. The purpose of this assessment is to move beyond a descriptive institutionalisation of transformation in higher education towards producing knowledge for transformation in South Africa.