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At the local level in South Africa the knowledge processes at the university can help to solve some of the many social problems facing the country. Universities can also assist in reconfiguring notions of culture, identity, and diversity in the postapartheid society (Cloete et al., 1997). In a knowledge-based global economy knowledge creation, innovation, and high skills formation at the university may help to position the country as a competitive global player. Although the new higher education policies emphasize the universities’ dual role in these processes of democratization and globalization, little research has been conducted on whether these universities have the research capacity to generate this knowledge, innovation, and skills.


The research methods consisted of an ethnographic multiple case study of research access and capacity conducted at three sites, namely, an HBU, a historically white Afrikaans university (HWU-A), and a historically white English university (HWU-E). Although the three cases were limited to one particular province in South Africa, their different social and historical contexts not only are similar to most other South African universities but also mirror the sociopolitical context of South Africa and the dilemmas it presents for the transformation of the society from an apartheid past to a democratic future. These cases have allowed me to examine any similarities and differences in research capacity between privileged HWUs and underprivileged HBUs in South Africa. Although the intention is not to generalize the findings of this research, as Miles and Huberman (1994, p. 29) evince, “Each setting has a few properties it shares with many others, and some properties it shares with some others, and some properties it shares with no others.”

A Likert scale and short answers and in-depth interviews have been the main data gathering techniques in the survey. Thirty participants consisting of academics, postgraduate students, librarians, university administrators, and policy makers were surveyed and/or interviewed. Participants were drawn from faculties across the disciplines, from sciences to humanities and social sciences. The sample included racial, gender, and language diversity.


Access to Scholarly Resources
Print Journals

Two of the three universities have experienced a sharp decline in library serial holdings (see Table 31.1). The HBU was most severely affected, with journal subscriptions across the disciplines having been cancelled due to financial constraints. Not a single new book had been acquired over the past five years. Although the academics and librarians at all three institutions place a premium on the value of research literature for teaching, supervising postgraduate students, conducting and publishing research, and providing counsel to public bodies, they have had to contend with this lack of access to scholarly resources. Interestingly, the HWU-E, an institution traditionally

TABLE 31.1 Serial Holdings





Print journal subscriptions






(45.6% decrease)

(32.2% decrease)





1300 (approx)a

Electronic database subscriptions 2002




aThis university could not provide accurate figures of print subscriptions over the five-year period.

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