Research Paradigms: Post-structuralism

post-structuralismPost-structuralism grew out of, and in response to, the philosophy of structuralism. It is a loose connection of authors and ideas, holding the general view that “structures” are not easily discovered and not discoverable as such. Post-structuralism is closely linked to with the postmodernist paradigm.

Post-structuralism is a critical point of view that questions the validity in structures, such as culture and language. Text as a construction of human beings is therefore fallible and the original meaning of the author cannot be determined. Post-structuralism is applied mainly in the field of languages and linguistics (a relative postmodernism). However, it also has an influence in other disciplines, for example art, culture, history and sociology.

For post-structuralism, disruption is often seen as a having a positive meaning because disruption can lead to renewal and change. The task is to continually “deconstruct” the text, which is a constant stream of interpretations rather than fixed meaning.

Post-structuralism should be adopted with great caution because it is interpreted and, therefore, used in many different ways by different people to support controversial points of view. Post-structuralists (if there is such a thing) can overturn assumptions about purity in morals, about essences in terms of race, gender and backgrounds, about values in art and politics and about truth in law and philosophy.

In closing, post-structuralism is often criticised and rejected because of the underlying structure or text that is slippery and deep; and authorial intentions hard to unravel. It argues about limits, but the limits are not defined or even explained. It presupposes a core, but the core is not defined, let alone explained, making it easy to bend arguments to fit personal preferences or points of view be labelling it post-structural. The end-results of this approach is that no link can be found between the core and the limits and the researcher can actually set her own limits and core without paying much attention to coherence or corroborated truth.

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The Importance of Leadership in Quality Assurance of Higher Education

soldier-9Written and presented by Dr J.P. Nel



Five leadership qualities are needed in quality assurance:

  1. Visionary thinking.
  2. Professional conduct.
  3. Ethical conduct.
  4. Regular and open communication.
  5. Innovation.
  6. Personal example.


Visionary thinking is the ability to foresee the implications of our actions and intentions. A leader in quality should, for example, understand that education and training should be oriented internationally. This is important to ensure that the education and training offered in South Africa is on par with, if not better than, education and training offered in countries with mature and advanced educational systems.

A leader in quality assurance should motivate and inspire quality assurance practitioners as well as role players in education and training, i.e. learning institutions.

A balanced approached to quality should be maintained. This stretches from micro issues, such as a library or training aids, to macro issues, such as infrastructure and financial planning.

As education and training, quality assurance should also be contextualised to the values and culture of learning institutions. It is a known fact that people learn better if they are familiar and comfortable with the culture, including language, in which learning content is offered.

Quality aims should be embedded in a vision, mission and strategic goals if long term growth is to be achieved.


Quality in higher education is not dependent on quality criteria only, but also on the situational context, i.e. cultural considerations as well as the nature of the learning offered.

Leaders in quality assurance should set the example and ensure that all quality assurance officials act in a professional manner. One should guard against a “one size fits all” approach to the evaluation of quality. Quality measuring instruments should be flexible enough to cater for different situational contexts, taking cultural considerations, learning content, historical issues, political issues and academic issues into consideration.


There is no room for dishonesty in quality assurance. Quality assurance should have as aims the enhancement of the learning experience, protection of the image of the educators and learning institution. However, most importantly, quality assurance should be done with the aim of protecting and promoting the interests of the students.


A leader in quality assurance will see to it that those who are on the receiving end of evaluation will not be kept in the dark. Guidance and support is a critical part of quality assurance and this should be communicated with learning institutions. Feedback should be honest, valid and properly motivated.

Establishing and sustaining a quality culture involves an on-going commitment, at all levels, to the underpinning believes, values and knowledge that drive quality in higher education.

Leadership in quality assurance means working with other people to set and achieve objectives, and to organise and co-ordinate the implementation of strategies.

It also entails delegation and control, doing evaluation and providing feedback.

It is the responsibility of the leader to establish a constructive quality culture and to replace resistance with a spirit of cooperation and trust. This requires an on-going commitment at all levels in the learning process.


Quality assurance and the development of higher education are fundamental instruments in supporting the transition to a knowledge-based society. Quality assurance is driven by values, believes and knowledge.

Negative quality assurance will lead to performitivity. How many of you have not witnessed learning institutions that generate stacks of paper because they know that the quality assuror confuses volume with quality? An emerging private provider whom we helped to build capacity once complained to me about a verifier that visited them. They did not offer much training yet, so they put all the exam papers and practical assignments in a box. The verifier came into the office, picked up the box, weighed it in his hands and said: “I cannot endorse your assessments – the box is not heavy enough” – then he left.

The same applies to huge buildings, libraries with thousands of books that are outdated or irrelevant. A professor from one of our universities did a site visit at Mentornet some five years ago. During the tea break he went outside to where a number of delegates who were attending a one-day workshop were having tea. He walked up to one of the delegates and asked him: “How often do you visit the library?” Fortunately the delegate clicked what was going on, so he replied: “At least one hour per week.” He has been one of our best facilitators ever since.

Leadership in quality assurance is strongly situational. Therefore, quality assurance always needs to be done in the right context, taking into consideration the size of the provider, the type and number of courses they offer, the profile of the students, etc. When I studies for a second doctoral degree I visited the university library three times. I could find only two books that were relevant to my studies in the entire library and I could not find more than one or two paragraphs that I could use in each of the books.


Keep in mind that, every time you evaluate a learning institution they also evaluate you.

Quality assurors and quality assurance will always be regarded with suspicion. People don’t always trust anybody who will judge them and we need to gain their trust by showing them that we are there to help them and not to persecute.

Quality assurance must always be done in a positive and supportive manner. Ruling by fear can never be acceptable. If learning institutions fear quality assurance they will resist it and perhaps even try to destroy the system.

Quality assurance should be conducted with the intention of enhancing the learning experience and to protect the image of the learning institution as well as the individuals involved in the institution. More importantly, though, is the protection and promotion of the interests of the students.

One of the primary responsibilities of a leader in quality assurance is to establish a constructive quality culture, i.e. to replace the resistance that people might have to quality assurance with a spirit of cooperation and trust.


The roles of leaders in quality assurance are crucial to improving mutual trust. Keep in mind that a leader always deals with people with their individual characteristics and capabilities, problems and individual perceptions. We cannot divorce people from leadership and leaders have a responsibility to serve.

Leadership in quality assurance requires a shared and supporting approach – it requires cooperation, the ability to manage quality, a well-structured organisation and the support of all stakeholders in higher education.

Leaders in quality assurance should always set the example. You cannot require learning institutions to maintain quality if you don’t.

Most importantly, remember that quality assurance is about protecting and promoting the interests of the students.

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Research Paradigms: Structuralism

paper-ballWritten by Dr J.P. Nel

Last week was absolutely hectic with the results that I could not post the next article on research paradigms. I wonder if anybody noticed? You might well wonder what significance research paradigms hold for doing research. The point is, you need to decide in advance with which paradigm (read ‘value system’) you will align the contents, especially your findings, of your dissertation or thesis. It is possible that you might favour elements from different paradigms. However, you need to know this, show it in the first part of your research paper and then consistently do so. Let’s discuss structuralism.

Structuralism is a form of critical research. It focuses on the systems (structures) within society and the power relations within and among the parts (subsystems) as a whole. In formalised structures, one can easily see the hierarchy of positions and levels of power. In utilising structuralism as a research method, the channels of power are laid bare as the researcher critically analyses and maps the relations and interplay among the parts. Structuralism does not emphasise the uniqueness of each of the parts, but rather seeks to reveal how some common aspects of the parts relate those parts to the larger whole. Structuralism posits that no part in a particular system has any significance in and of itself – its identity is defined in terms of its relationship between all the parts of the system.

In social research structures have the characteristic of dealing with transformation of power positions or the maintenance and reproduction thereof in society. As a structure can only sustain itself by perpetuating a continuous sameness of its parts, structures actively strive to preserve their position, thus extending the oppression and power of the system. In other words, positions of power in society give people control over others (e.g. adults over children, managers over workers). It is rather common practice for those in power to be unwilling to relinquish their power to others. That is how injustices are spread, as we in South Africa experience almost every day.

Within this approach education is criticised for its social reproduction function where traditional power relations are maintained and nourished. Any form of discrimination is an example of this. The aim of the structuralist endeavour is to expose these power relations through critique of the system.

According to structuralism, underlying “structures” or “essences” determine the meaning of an event or phenomenon. For example, unchanging structures of grammar underpin all language (linguistics); economic structures or organisation determine social beliefs and behaviours (economics); hidden structures of the unconscious mind control behaviour (psychology; psychoanalysis).

In closing, there are numerous interesting issues in the South African social environment that can and probably should be researched by following a structuralist approach. Examples that come to mind are the lack of political leadership, the #free-education drive, corruption and many more.

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