Clinical Sociologist and UKZN academic Dr Mariam Seedat-Khan presented two research papers at the 3rd International Sociological Association (ISA) Forum of Sociology in Vienna, Austria.
Her first paper titled: “Learning to Learn in Large Classes”, addressed the challenges academics and students face when there is an increase in student numbers in Social Sciences at universities across South Africa.
‘While student numbers continue to increase, the number of academics that service these students remains constant and in some cases are reduced. Little evidence of infrastructure improvement or its prioritisation is forthcoming,’ said Seedat-Khan, who is the Vice President for Programs for the International Sociological Association Research Committee on Clinical Sociology.
The results of her joint study with Ms Belinda Johnson is based on participant observation through teaching and interacting with first year students at UKZN and the University of Johannesburg. The results indicate that the increasing number of students does not correlate with the number of graduates after a three-year period.
‘Large classes in the Social Sciences are not an uncommon feature in any institution of higher learning in South Africa,’ she said. ‘What was once a comfortable class of 100 to 200 students has now increased to classes in excess of 1 200 students. The changing learning environment affects students, academics, the process of learning and a series of other critical factors that are transferred into our communities and society at large,’ she explained.
Seedat-Khan proposed a move away from traditional curricula towards that which promotes interdisciplinary methodologies which are more relevant to the demands of the job market and responsive to local needs within the context of South Africa.
She also presented “Academia Unplugged: An Intersectional Analysis of the Comparative Career Experiences of Black Women Academics in South Africa”, which is co-authored with PhD candidate, Mrs Raakhee Mansingh.
This mixed-method project examines how gendered, racial experiences play out in the careers of Black women academics, how these lived experiences compare, and what successful strategies enable the advancement of Black women in Higher Education (HE).
The experiences of Black women were analysed against the backdrop of HE policies and through interviews and focus groups with Black women and HE stakeholders in South Africa.
Some of the emerging themes were Adherence to Employment Equity Policy, Institutional Culture, the ‘Old Boys’ Network, Role Overload, Support Structures and The Queen Bee Syndrome, Academic Bullying and Coping Mechanisms.
The ongoing project will contribute new scholarship and facilitate knowledge exchange on creating inclusive university cultures, co-produced with stakeholders in distinctive socio-historical contexts, thus promoting socio-economic development through enhanced HE performance.