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
Professor Penny Jane Burke, University of Newcastle
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

Lauren Ila Misiaszek, Beijing Normal University Principal Investigator  
Joe Provisor, Circle Ways (circleways.org) Consultant
Sheree Wilson, Beijing Normal University Project Manager
Jim Chatambalala, Beijing Normal University Team Member
Rassidy Oyenira, Beijing Normal University Team Member
Paul John Edrada Alegado, Beijing Normal University Team Member
Marvon Nyarai Karidza, Beijing Normal University Team Member      
Mjege Kinyota, Beijing Normal University

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.

The project takes place in five countries with unique cultural contexts. The countries are China, Tanzania, Malawi, Cote D’Ivoire and the Philippines.

Through the use of council, facilitators are working to create safe spaces for discussions with community members, sex education teachers, women university students, and primary school teachers on topics ranging from menstruation, reproductive health and its relationship with/to race and culture, teen and pre-teen pregnancy and sex education. Using the experiences of the facilitators and feedback from consultants, the project aims to develop cross-cultural pedagogies on how to use the traditional practice of council to cultivate spaces of dialogue around gender, health, and education inequalities.

In many contexts, inequalities at the intersection of gender, health, and education persist because there are not enough spaces for dialogical praxis around potentially ‘sensitive’ themes. Council practice provides a way forward around these themes, but it requires sustained formation (a term intentionally used in place of training) and engagement, which is not always possible in unpredictably the least-resourced contexts. Thus, an initial effort to create a manual around this topic that can be adapted cross-culturally is one response, albeit incomplete, to these persisting inequalities.

The overarching methodology is an iterative critical and feminist approach to council development and practice, supporting the following general outline of methods:

Team Members will:

  1. Identify projects in home country contexts around the project themes.
  2. Engage in an initial training in council practice.
  3. Engage in development of initial council circle prompts/activities to use in home country contexts.
  4. Focus on development of iterative council practice in home country contexts and evaluation of these initial prompts.
  5. From this home country work, prepare a full draft of the final outputs, in a form to be determined by the entire team with guidance from the Consultant.
  6. Following collective evaluation of this draft, produce and disseminate the pedagogies and results of the project, participating in ongoing team meetings to sustain this approach. The overarching analytical approach is iterative community-led/-based feedback to equally iteratively developed council practices, resulting in final council pedagogies.