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An inquiry into the emergence of transformative leadership in higher education in South Africa: A phenomenographic study

David Ian Bell, University of Massachusetts Amherst


During the colonial and apartheid eras, higher education played an historically strategic role in shaping South African society. As higher education continues to play a significant role as an agent of the state in shaping the social transformation process toward a new democracy, the leadership of higher education in the form of university Vice-Chancellors, continue to play a critical role in this process. The new democratic government policy relating to education reform and institutional restructuring highlights the social accountability of institutions and emphasizes transformation. In political and social spheres, transformation has become a rhetorical term for all change and democracy. Transformation has emerged as the mantra of all change in preference to the term reform. Understanding the phenomena of transformation and the role of leadership in higher education is critical to understanding higher educations' future role in the national, social change process. This study applies phenomenological phenomenographic methodology and in-depth interviews to explore the conceptions of the Vice-Chancellors of Historically Black Universities in South Africa. The research focuses on the phenomena of transformation, leadership and social change. The assumption is that synergistically, Vice-Chancellors' tacit conceptions will frame an African notion of Transformative Leadership in higher education. The research findings are that although Vice-Chancellors shared an interesting and diverse range of conceptions of leadership and transformation, the conceptions were not sufficiently congruent to define a singular, homogeneous African mode of Transformative Leadership. A further finding was that although higher education is conceptually located within a process of social transformation, the research proceeded from a skewed assumption that the common mode of leadership of transformation would be transformational. Lastly, it emerged that conceptions of a single, explicit mode of African leadership was not possible, or desirable to define. The role of VC in HBU's is enormously complex and challenging and the new Ministry may need to re-conceptualize the role and function of the Vice-chancellor in Higher Education in South Africa.

Subject Area

Higher education|School administration

Recommended Citation

Bell, David Ian, "An inquiry into the emergence of transformative leadership in higher education in South Africa: A phenomenographic study" (2001). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3012113.