An International Higher Education Symposium in honour of National Women’s Day was hosted at UKZN’s Innovation Centre.
The event was presented by the Doctoral and Post-Doctoral Network on Gender, Social Justice and Praxis; the Langalibalele Chair (UKZN) and the Australian Centre for Excellence and Equity in Higher Education.
Speaking at the Symposium, the DVC for Teaching and Learning, Professor Renuka Vithal, said the event provided an important forum to discuss issues around gender equity while at the same time providing a strengthened voice on shared issues.
‘We need to take this debate forward and conduct studies that speak to and shape policy in the Higher Education landscape,’ said Vithal.
The keynote address was made by Professor Penny Jane Burke of the University of Newcastle in Australia who spoke on: “The Right to Higher Education: Gender and the Politics of Mis/recognition”.
Burke drew on feminist post-structural theoretical perspectives with a focus on the insidious workings of power and inequality across different Higher Educational contexts, while considering the politics of mis/recognition at play in possibilities for widening participation (WP) policy and practice.
‘Higher Educational spaces are always sites of struggle in which shifting, complex, and discursively produced power relations are at play in the formation of gendered subjectivities and in the privileging of particular epistemological and ontological perspectives and frameworks,’ she said.
Burke believes that meritocratic discourses have largely shaped policy discourses of widening Higher Educational access and participation and the notion of an openness of the university to all who have the potential and ability to participate. She further explored issues of the right to Higher Education beyond neoliberal and meritocratic discourses of WP.
‘Gendered and classed subjectivities, as well as institutional status and location, have an important impact on the politics of representation of WP within Institutions of Higher Education. It is crucial to bring together critical theory, lived experience, and transformative practice. WP is a contested terrain of struggle over gendered positioning, representation, voice and authority as well as material resources,’ she said.
Burke acknowledged the passionate commitment of many of those who continue to work in the name of WP within and across Higher Education Institutions. She also lauded their dedication to fight for more equitable, inclusive and ethical Higher Education spaces and practices, drawing on the insights of critical and feminist theoretical perspectives to support their work.
‘The right to Higher Education requires multiple strategies including the redistribution of privileged resources and opportunities, reflexive attention to the politics of recognition and gendered subjective construction, and praxis that draws together the insights of critical, feminist and post-structural theories with embedded, transformative and participatory practices in Higher Education.’