Following is an abstract of the presentation made by Dr. Sujata Gamage to the Council on Higher Education in Pretoria, South Africa, on February 23, 2010.
Universities are increasingly called upon to contribute to the development needs of a country but the nature of the contribution can vary with the mission or the resource base of the institution. University systems in most countries, by design or otherwise, consist of a diverse range of institutions. An assessment of the contribution of a university requires some means of telling apples from the oranges.
To our knowledge, the 2005 Carnegie system of classification used in the US is the most comprehensive typology available. Typology has to fit the purpose. Reflecting this reality, the newest Carnegie classification is designed as a user-driven one, but it offers a basic classification scheme where universities are distinguished as Doctoral, Masters, Bachelors or Associates institutions depending on the distribution of degrees conferred. This simple classification has the advantage that it gives some information at a glance to a prospective student or policymaker. In contrast, university systems in other countries have nomenclature that has more to do with history that any objective criteria.
In our study, we applied the basic Carnegie classification to university systems in several countries to test the classification’s validity in other contexts. In the case of South Africa (SA), our preliminary work shows that there is some correlation between the ‘Traditional Universities’ according the SA Council of higher Education (CHE) and the set of universities we labeled as Doctoral according to Carnegie classification. Further there is some correlation between ‘Universities of Technology’ according ot CHE and Masters and Associates categories according to the Carnegie. The category identified as “Comprehensive Universities” by the CHE was harder to place.
More interestingly, the distribution of Doctoral to other institutions in SA is the reverse of the distribution found in the USA. For example, in USA there are about 10 bachelor or Associate level institutions for every doctoral institution; In SA the reverse is true. Is this something that is desirable for SA or should policymakers consider a reversal? What is the cost differential in producing an undergraduate at a doctoral university in SA as opposed to a university focused on Bachelors education? The Carnegie classification may not work wholesale for South Africa, but, it can provide a framework for discussion and debate.