Practitioner and institutional perspectives on lifelong learning at a South African university

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

This research explores how the term 'lifelong learning' is understood at a higher education institution in South Africa. The study is built around a case study at the University of Cape Town (UCT). The research questions posed were: What are the different understandings of 'lifelong learning' at UCT? And secondly, what factors have shaped the development of these different understandings of 'lifelong learning'? The thesis approaches the research questions from two angles: What people working in the institution say about the topic and what can be read from the official University documentation on the topic. Continuing education work is used as a general proxy for lifelong learning as the term itself did not prove to be a useful identifier of specific educational activities at UCT. In analysing the data, two inter-related theoretical frameworks are employed - thematic analysis of the interviews and a critical discourse analysis of the texts. Some of the key pressures and issues facing institutions globally as well as specific local concerns are identified when setting the context. In the interviews, practitioners identified some of these contextual issues as factors influencing the development of continuing education: funding pressures, responding to socio-political demands for rapid student throughput while also widening access, and the particular character of the institution. The literature reveals some common approaches to lifelong learning - identified as economic, humanistic and social discourses - which were used to engage the perspectives of practitioners working on continuing education programmes. Based on an interpretation of the data, this thesis argues that in practice, the distinctions between the discourses tend to blend or transform. The economic and humanistic discourses begin to merge, as an individual's motivations cannot be neatly categorised as either learning for work or learning for personal development, pointing to the emergence of a new discourse. In the case of the social discourse, the more widely used definitions of social responsiveness embrace economic (and political) imperatives, while also maintaining a development and democracy agenda. Instead of seeing the data as only revealing what exists, the analysis argues that emerging discourses themselves help to create new realities.

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Includes bibliographical references (p. 127-131).