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Students’ insight and understanding of the notion ‘decolonisation of the curriculum in higher education’ at the University of Kwazulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg.

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The #FeesMustFall protest in South African Universities in 2015 and 2016 saw students raise, amongst their concerns regarding the nature of the higher education curriculum and the inability of some students to afford higher education. In terms of the former, students called for a decolonised higher education curriculum. In spite of the growing calls for decolonisation, there are contestations about what decolonisation is and how it can best be implemented in the country’s higher education institutions. In addition, cumulative evidence affirms that some students have little or no knowledge of what decolonisation means and are rather absorbing populace or rhetorical stances (Oelofsen, 2015). This study investigates students’ understanding of the meaning of a ‘decolonised curriculum’. This qualitative study employed in-depth face-to-face interviews with fifteen students across different Colleges at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg campus. The sample of participants included two student organisations leaders and thirteen student members of these organisations. Thematic analysis was used to report key findings. Paulo Freire’s concept of critical consciousness and Steve Biko’s black consciousness has been used to understand the factors that shape students’ ideas and notions of the decolonised curriculum. The study shows that students acknowledge the challenges in the implementation of the decolonised curriculum in universities. Using more African based authors rather than western authors in the curriculum is one of the ways it can be transformed. The language was also identified as critical to debate on the curriculum. Students believe that if the curriculum is taught in South African indigenous languages, academic performance would improve. Renaming the university infrastructures and facilities also becomes the main proposal from students who claim that they do not identify with individuals whose names are used to label university buildings. Students recommended that the renaming of the buildings be taken into consideration because it is highly associated with decolonisation of the curriculum and university. Participants recommended that more formal dialogues should be conducted between academics and students. Students also need to do more research on decolonising the curriculum so that they can avoid rhetorical arguments and stances.


Masters Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg.