Current Work

Mellon Foundation Grant: Neoliberalism, Gender & Curriculum in Transformation

Professor Relebohile Moletsane, University of KwaZulu-Natal (Project Lead)
Dr Saajidha Sader, University of KwaZulu-Natal
Professor Ronnelle Carolissen, University of Stellenbosch

This project builds on the University of Newcastle Vice Chancellor - Supporting Research to Make a Difference Grant the team received in 2017.

In the context of neoliberalism, universities globally have adopted corporate strategies of competition, self-promotion and being enterprising. Neoliberalism often presents academics with competing performative expectations. Existing scholarship has argued that these expectations tend to impact more negatively on female academics than their male counterparts.  For example, in addition to fulfilling neoliberal expectations of performativity, women academics are often confronted with various competing gender-role expectations. Women are also faced with gendered inequalities, misrecognition, misrepresentation and marginalisation in the academic world, which intersect in complex ways with other differences. These challenges often limit and undermine their effective participation and potential leadership in research and curriculum development or decision-making in their institutions. This project seeks to deepen scholarship on some of these issues through collaborative participatory research with women academics in universities in South Africa and the US. While the US has made great strides in terms of promoting women to professorial positions in the academy, in South African universities, few women hold professorial and/or senior leadership positions, and are often excluded from key administrative positions and representation on strategic committees, where decision-making takes place. This means that in terms of research and curricular leadership and influence, particularly in the context of transformation and decolonisation debates, women’s voices tend to be muted.

The aim of this project is therefore, three-fold: 1) to create a community of practice (CoP) that will involve a network of women academics from public universities across the two countries in collaboratively developing scholarship on the nature and influence of gender and neoliberalism on their research and teaching capacities; 2) to examine the ways in which the women understand and contribute to scholarly debate about the competing discourses of neoliberalism and gender inequality one hand, and debates around decoloniality, decolonization and transformation in higher education on the other; and 3) to explore the ways in which the women understand, respond to and resist the gendered and neoliberal policies, structures and processes in universities, particularly the ways in which this is reflected in their scholarship, curriculum development and decision-making, and community engagement.

The project is a collaboration between the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) in South Africa, and the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign in the US.  The project will draw on feminist participatory methods to open up spaces for women in higher education to collectively engage in research and in particular, draw on a pedagogical methodology pioneered by feminist scholar Penny Jane Burke (see Burke, Crozier and Misiaszek, 2017). The methodology involves a series of participatory research and praxis-based workshops, which will facilitate the women’s engagement with a range of gender and feminist analytical and methodological tools to understand and respond to the ways in which social, cultural and symbolic inequalities play out in relation to their academic capacities in the university. The workshops are aimed at developing and nurturing women’s research capacity, and in so doing, enhancing their confidence in contributing to debates around transformation and leadership in curriculum decision-making and development.

The project has been awarded R9, 558, 524 over 4 Years


University of Newcastle Vice Chancellor Grants: Supporting Research to Make a Difference

All members

A key focus of the Network is to draw on the intellectual capital of the network members to ensure that collective research endeavours are translated into practice that makes a difference.  In 2017 the UON Vice-Chancellor made funds available to the Founding Members to develop and pilot innovative methods that share knowledge in a way that has an impact on communities.

The supported projects are focused on the development of strategies and practices for gender equity both within but also beyond higher education. All of the projects have a focus on building sustainable relationships and producing resources that can be implemented beyond the life of the funding.

The following projects are in final stages of implementation. The Founding Members are now in the process of developing an open access, online resource to share the methodologies that were developed through these grants. It is expected that resource will be available in December 2019.


Neoliberalism, Gender and Higher Education: Developing leadership capacity for women in higher education

Dr Gifty Oforiwaa Gyamera, Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration
Dr Saajidha Sader, University of KwaZulu-Natal
Professor Ronnelle Carolissen, University of Stellenbosch
Professor Relebohile Moletsane, University of KwaZulu-Natal
Dr Nonhlanhla Mthiyane, University of KwaZulu-Natal

In the context of neoliberalism, which has become the new common sense, universities globally have adopted corporate strategies of competition, self-promotion and being enterprising. In this regard, academics are presented with tremendous and demanding tasks for which there is little escape. These demands of neoliberalism, many have argued, impact more negatively on female academics than their male counterparts and this plays out differently in different local, institutional and national contexts.  This project seeks to explore some of these issues in both Ghana and South Africa.

This project opens up spaces for women in higher education to collectively explore the ways that social, cultural and symbolic inequalities play out in relation to the education and career opportunities for female academics and staff in Ghana. Drawing on a pedagogical methodology (Burke, Crozier and Misiaszek, 2017), the project will involve the women in participating in praxis-based workshops. The workshops will facilitate the women’s engagement with a range of critical, conceptual and methodological tools to (re)consider their experiences in light of structural and discursive inequalities both inside and outside of higher education. The aim will be to promote women’s capacity for leadership in higher education, both in term of individual and collective forms of leadership.

Gender-Health-Education Council (GHEC): a global manual for practitioners

Associate Professor Lauren Ila Misiaszek, Beijing Normal University
Dr LIU Jing, PhD, UNESCO International Research and Training Centre for Rural Education (INRULED)
Professor Yvette Taylor, University of Strathclyde

The project is focused on global inequalities at the intersection of gender, health, and education and the translation of research around this theme into practice through the traditional practice of council.

In many contexts, inequalities at the intersection of gender, health, and education persist because there are not spaces for dialogical praxis around potentially ‘sensitive’ themes. Council practice provides a way forward around these themes.

This project aims to develop the first virtual global council manual for practitioners around gender, health, and education. Proposed characteristics of the manual include:

  • Directed at a global audience with annotations on/examples of how to adapt contextually
  • Multilingual (potentially French, Mandarin, Swahili, English
  • Inter-level examples (for use with children, youth, adults)
  • Interdisciplinary (sociology, gender studies, education, psychology, development studies)
  • Inter-organization (NGO/community groups, universities, schools)
  • Rooted in South-South and South-North knowledge production

This project builds on a pilot that was funded by the ZiGen Educational Foundation (a highly-regarded non-profit in China) and a grant from the Chinese government in collaboration with BNU and UNESCO IRULED. The initial project was focused on training teachers in rural schools on the implication of curriculum on girls’ sexual health and security. The pilot was based in three largely Minority Ethnic provinces in China.