Beyond Engagement: Exploring Tensions between the Academic Core and Engagement Activities at NMMU


Beyond Engagement: Exploring Tensions between the Academic Core and Engagement Activities at NMMU

The contemporary South African university faces persistent pressure to transform in order to contribute to regional and national development. However, change (or transformation) is likely to be characterised by multiple and competing ideologies which may undermine attempts to position the university as a contributor to development. Using the notion of engagement as exemplified by development-related projects at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU), this paper seeks to establish whether there is evidence of multiple notions of engagement, whether these notions are in alignment across three system levels, and whether the development-related activities of academics are strengthening the core functions of the university. We find that there are three dominant notions of engagement at NMMU, that they are not in alignment and that, generally speaking, the developmentrelated activities of academics cannot be said to be strengthening core activities. Given these findings, we propose that competing ideologies in a transformative context make it both difficult and necessary for the emergence of a pact to ensure coherent and consistent change towards a common goal.

Published in 2013 as a chapter in Gideon de Wet (ed.), Beyond the Apartheid University? Critical voices on
transformation in the university sector, Alice: University of Fort Hare Press, pp. 153-174.