Challenges and Curriculum Transformation in the Higher Education Sector in South Africa: A Case Study in WASH to Improve the Training of Pharmacists

Roman Tandlich 1 , Nosiphiwe P. Ngqwala 2 , Aileen Boshoff 3 , Phindile Madikizela 4 , C. Sunitha Srinivas 5 , Desmond M. Pyle 6 ,  and Rene Oosthuizen 7
  • 1 Rhodes University, Faculty of Pharmacy, Grahamstown, South Africa
  • 2 Rhodes University, Faculty of Pharmacy, Grahamstown, South Africa
  • 3 Rhodes University Biotechnology Innovation Centre, , Grahamstown, South Africa
  • 4 Rhodes University, Faculty of Pharmacy, Grahamstown, South Africa
  • 5 Rhodes University, Faculty of Pharmacy, Grahamstown, South Africa
  • 6 School of Disaster Management, Stenden South Africa, , Port Alfred, South Africa
  • 7 School of Disaster Management, Stenden South Africa, , Port Alfred, South Africa


Introduction: South Africa is a member state of the “BRICS” bloc () and the G20 group of the 20 nations/economic blocs, which between them account for the majority of the world’s trade and economic activity. It faces many developmental challenges which are mirrored in its higher education sector. In this article, the authors seek to provide an overview of the challenges that South African higher education faces in the achievement of the developmental goals of the country. The focus of this paper is a case study in WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) to improve context-specific responses that trains pharmacists on knowledge and skills.

Methods: The study was performed as a combination of calculations and a literature review to obtain the background or current status of the higher education sector and developmental planning in South Africa. For this, data were extracted from the Statistics South Africa reports, relevant professional articles on South African higher education sector and results of postgraduate research. Workshop results which were obtained as a collaboration between a public and a private higher education institution and results of postgraduate research were used as the paradigm for transformation and decolonisation of the curriculum for a professional degree in South Africa.

Results and discussion: Challenges exist in the South African tertiary education sector and the graduation rate currently stands at 65.1% of the target set by the National Development Plan. Around 58.1% of all students do not complete their university/post-secondary education, which could provide a partial explanation for the skills shortage in South Africa. Decolonisation and transformation of the tertiary education curriculum are major topics in the discourse on higher education in South Africa. The authors propose that one way to achieve this would be inclusion of research results and group activities in the area of water, sanitation and hygiene as a topic for possible and partial transformation of the Bachelor of Pharmacy curriculum.

Conclusions: The current article summarises some of topics and challenges that drive the current discourse, developmental and curriculum debate in higher education in South Africa. Student access and through put at tertiary institutions need to be improved and the curriculum needs to be transformed.

If the inline PDF is not rendering correctly, you can download the PDF file here.

  • Amulya, A. (2003-2011). What is reflective practice? (Reflection: the foundation of purposeful learning). Retrieved from

  • Badat, S. (2015). Deciphering the Meanings and Explaining the South African Higher Education Student Protests of 2015-16. Pax Academica, 1&2, 71-106.

  • Biggs, J. B. (2005). Aligning teaching for constructing learning. Higher Education Academy Discussion Paper. Retrieved from

  • Biggs, J., & Tang, C. (1999). Teaching for quality learning at university (4th ed.). Buckingham, United Kingdom: Society for Research Into Higher Education and Open University Press.

  • Blankley, W., & Booyens, I. (2010). Building a knowledge economy in South Africa (Commentary). South African Journal of Science, 106(11/12), Article #373.

  • Boud, D. (1990). Assessment and the promotion of academic values. Studies in Higher Education, 15(1), 101-111.

  • BRICS 2017 China (, 2017). What is BRICS? Retrieved from

  • Carnoy, M., Loyalka, P., & Froumin, I. (2013). University expansion in BRIC countries and the global information economy. Change, July/August, 36-43. Retrieved from

  • Chen, D. H. C., & Dahlman, C. J. (2005). The knowledge economy, the KAM methodology and World Bank operations. Washington, DC, USA: The World Bank. Retrieved from

  • Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR-Health, 2018). Technology for better healthcare. Retrieved from

  • Delors, J., Al Mufti, I., Amagi, I., Carneiro, R., Chung, F., Geremek, B., Gorham, W., Kornhauser, A., Manley, M., Padron Quero, M., Savane, M.-A., Singh, K., Stavenhagen, R., Suhr, M. W., & Nanzhao, Z. (1996). Learning: the treasure within. Education throughout life. International commission on education for the twenty-first century. Report to UNESCO (Paris, UNESCO). Paris, France: UNESCO Publishing. Retrieved from

  • Demirel, M. (2009). Lifelong learning and schools in the twenty-first century. Procedia Social and Behavioral Sciences, 1, 1709-1716.

  • Edwards, R., Ranson, S., & Strain, M. (2002) Reflexivity: towards a theory of lifelong learning. International Journal of Lifelong Education, 21(6), 525-536.

  • G20-Turkish Presidency (G20, 2015). G20 Members. Retrieved from

  • Genthe, B., & Jagals, P. (2003). Application of an H2S Strip as a field test kit for microbial water quality assesmnet. Pretoria, South Africa: Water Research Commission. Retrieved from

  • Gibbs, G. (1999). Using assessment strategically to change the way students learn. In S. Brown & A. Glasner (Eds.), Assessment Matters in Higher Education. Buckingham: SRHE and Open University Press.

  • Hager, P. (2012). Concepts and Definitions of Lifelong Learning. Oxford Handbook of Lifelong Learning. Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press.

  • Health Systems Trust (HST, 2017). Health Indicators/Child Health/Child Health: Diarrhoea incidence under 5 years. Retrieved from

  • Heleta, S. (2016). Decolonisation of higher education: Dismantling epistemic violence and Eurocentrism in South Africa. Transformation in Higher Education, 1(1). Retrieved from

  • Hoossein, S., Tandlich, R., Whittington-Jones, K., Laubscher, R. K., Madikizela, P., & Zuma, B. M. (2016). Disaster Management policy options to address the sanitation challenges in South Africa. Journal of Environmental Health, 78(7), E1-E7.

  • Human Science Research Council (HSRC, 2018). What we do. Retrieved from

  • Hužovičová, M., & Jakúbek, P. (2014). The lifelong learning in the field of employment policy in Slovakia. Acta Technologica Dubnicae, 4(2), 27-35. doi: 10.1515/atd-2015-0003

  • Iowa State University (ISU, 1995-2018). Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy. Retrieved from

  • Ižová, K. (2011). The Safety and hygiene at work in a school curriculum. Acta Technologica Dubnicae, 1(2), 61-65. doi: 10.1515/atd-2015-0047

  • Janeček, V. (2006). Military education and science. Science and Military, 1, 5-6.

  • Jůvová, A. (2017). The Guerrilla literacy learners’ project: development of literacies through informal learning. Acta Technologica Dubnicae, 7(1), 83-92. doi: 10.1515/atd-2017-0005

  • Keeton, G. (2014). Inequality in South Africa. The Journal of the Helene Suzman Foundation, 74(November), 26-31.

  • Knight, P. (2001). A briefing on key concepts: Formative and summative, criterion and norm-referenced assessment. Assessment Series Learning and Teaching Support Network [LTSN] Generic Centre.

  • Luescher, T., Loader, L., & Mugume, T. (2017). #FeesMustFall: An Internet-Age Student Movement in South Africa and the Case of the University of the Free State. South African Journal of Political Studies, 44(2), 231-245.

  • Luyt, C. D., Tandlich, R., Muller, W. J., & Wilhelmi, B. S. (2012). Microbial monitoring of surface water in South Africa. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 9(8), 2669-2693.

  • Manja, K. S., Maurya, M. S., & Rao, K. M. (1982). A simple field test for the detection of faecal pollution in drinking water. Bulletin World Health Organisation, 60, 797-801.

  • McAlpine, M. (2002). Principles of assessment. Robert Clark Centre for Technological Education, University of Glasgow. Edited by CAA Centre, University of Luton. Bluepaper 1. Retrieved from

  • Mosley, L. M., & Sharp, D. S. (2005). The hydrogen sulphide paper strip test. SOPAC Technical Report 373.

  • National Planning Commission (NPC, 2013). National Development Plan 2030: Our future – make it work. Pretoria, South Africa: National Planning Commission, Presidency of the Republic of South Africa/Sherino Printers.

  • National Research Foundation of South Africa (NRF, 2018). Mandate. Retrieved from

  • Newman, J., & Darling, I. (1998-2009). Educating as Inquiry: teaching as critical reflection reflective practitioner paper #8. Action evaluation and action theory: an assessment of the process and its connection to conflict resolution. Retrieved from

  • (2017). Student fee protests flare up at three universities. Retrieved from

  • Nhokodi, T., Nqowana, T., Collings, D., Tandlich, R., & Köhly, N. (2016). Civic engagement and environmental sustainability in teaching and learning at a higher education institution in South Africa. Acta Technologica Dubnicae, 6(3), 66-82. doi: 10.1515/atd-2016-0020

  • Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD, 2008-2017). Tertiary education for the knowledge society: pointers for policy development. Retrieved from and

  • Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD, 2015). Education indicators in focus. Retrieved from

  • Schon, D. A. (1996). Educating the reflective practitioner: Toward a new design for teaching and learning in the professions. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, Inc.

  • Shay, S. (2008). Beyond social constructivist perspectives on assessment: the centering of knowledge. Learning and Teaching in Higher Education, 13(5), 595-605.

  • Snowman, J., & Biehler, R. (1997). Psychology applied to teaching (8e - extracts). Geneva, IL, USA. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Co. Retrieved from

  • South African National Department of the Health (SADOH, 2015). National Health Insurance for South Africa: Towards universal health coverage. Pretoria, South Africa: South African National Department of Health.

  • South African Pharmacy Council (SAPC, 2017a). Education. Retrieved from

  • South African Pharmacy Council (SAPC, 2017b). Registrations. Retrieved from

  • South African Pharmacy Council (SAPC, 2017c). Accreditation of Courses. Retrieved from

  • South African Department of Science and Technology (DST, 2018). Overview. Retrieved from

  • South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA, 2014). South African Qualifications Authority Act no. 58 of 1995. Retrieved from

  • South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA, 2015-2018). Retrieved from

  • South African Government (1997). Water Services Act no. 108 of 1997. Retrieved from

  • Statistics South Africa (Stats SA, 2016a). Mid-year population estimates 2016. Pretoria, South Africa: Statistics South Africa. Retrieved from

  • Statistics South Africa (Stats SA, 2016b). General Household Survey (GHS) Series Volume VIII: Water and sanitation (In-depth analysis of the GHS 2002-2015 and CS 2016). Report No. 03-18-07 (2002–2015). Pretoria, South Africa: Statistics South Africa.

  • Statistics South Africa (Stats SA, 2017a). Education Series Volume III. Educational Enrolment and Achievement, 2016 (Report No. 92-01-03). Pretoria, South Africa: Statistics South Africa. Available at:

  • Statistics South Africa (Stats SA, 2017b). General Household survey 2016 (Statistical release P0318). Pretoria, South Africa: Statistics South Africa. Retrieved from

  • Steffens, K. (2015). Competences, learning theories and MOOCs: recent developments in lifelong learning. European Journal of Education, 50(1), 41-59.

  • Talati, J. J. (2014). Lifelong learning: established concepts and evolving values. Arab Journal of Urology, 12(1), 86-95.

  • Tandlich, R., Beukes, D. R., Naidoo, M. J., & Tandlichová, E. (2013). Developing a pharmaceutical biotechnology course at a South African University. Published in the peer-reviewed proceedings from 5th International Scientific and Expert Conference of the International TEAM Society, held in Prešov from 4th until 6th November 2013, 104-107.

  • Tandlich, R., Luyt, C. D., Irwin, B., Thinyane, H., & Köhly, N. (2015). Non-governmental information sources about microbial drinking water quality in South Africa. Forest, Marine and Ocean Ecosystems, Volume 2: ecology, economics, education and legislation conference proceedings – ecology and environmental protection environmental legislation, multilateral relations and funding opportunities (pp. 761-768). Published in the peer-reviewed conference proceedings from the 15th SGEM GeoConference on Water Resources from 18th until 24th June 2015. Albena, Bulgaria, published by STEF92 technology.

  • Tandlich, R., & Moyo, F. (2016). Instruction of Pharmaceutical Chemistry to the second-year students at a South African University. Published in the peer-reviewed proceedings from the 7th MAC conference held in Prague, Czech Republic from 27th until 29th May 2016, 110-129.

  • Technology Innovation Agency of South Africa (TIA, 2008-2018). Strategic roles. Retrieved from

  • The South African (2018). Cape Town water restrictions: Residents now told to use just 50 litres a day. Retrieved from

  • United Nations Human Development Index (UNHDI, 2016). Table 2: Trends in the Human Development Index, 1990-2014. Retrieved from

  • United Nations (UN, 2014). Water scarcity. Retrieved from

  • Vadra, R. (2017). Knowledge economy in BRICS: a case of South Africa. Journal of Knowledge Economy, 8, 1229-1240.

  • van Broekhuizen, H., van der Berg, S., & Hofmeyr, H. (2016). Higher Education Access and Outcomes for the 2008 National Matric Cohort. Stellenbosch economic working papers, WP16/2016. Stellenbosch, South Africa: Department of Economics, University of Stellenbosch. Retrieved from

  • Visser, J., & Berg, D. (1999). Learning without frontiers: building integrated responses to diverse learning needs. Educational Technology Research and Development, 47(3), 101-114.

  • Water research Commission of South Africa (WRC, 2016). Technical Brief: Investigating the sustainability of desalination and water reuse. Retrieved from

  • Water Research Commission of South Africa (WRC, 2018). Mandate. Retrieved from

  • World Bank (WB, 2016). Life expectancy at birth, total (years). Retrieved from

  • World Bank (WB, 2017a). Gini index (World Bank Estimate). Retrieved from

  • World Bank. (WB, 2017b). Renewable internal freshwater resources per capita (cubic meters). Retrieved from

  • World Bank. (WB, 2017c). Average precipitation in depth (mm per year). Retrieved from

  • World Health Organisation (WHO, 2011). The Abuja Declaration: ten years on. Retrieved from

  • World Health Organisation (WHO, 2016). WHO country cooperation strategy 2016-2020: South Africa. Brazzaville, Republic of Congo: WHO Regional Office for Africa. Retrieved from


Journal + Issues