UNIVERSITY OF TECHNOLOGY, SOUTH AFRICA: CONTEXT OF CPUT

I teach communication skills at CPUT and my key responsibility I suppose, is to develop skills that can put CPUT graduates at a competitive advantage in the workplace and also prepare them for postgraduate studies. Essentially, the course is divided into two main sections: academic literacies and business communication. These sections cater for different genres of writing including inter-alia academic essays, term/research papers, business letters and technical reports. For the three years that I have lectured in this university I am always amazed by the extent to which students and academic staff disregard academic writing as a vital literacy practice in higher education. Here, several contesting narratives have attempted to articulate the role of Communication and the usefulness of academic writing in a university technology. These narratives have percolated into criticisms of the course contents and teaching strategies of academic development courses like Communication. Some of these criticisms are also rooted in the misconception that university of technology students do not really need academic writing to survive in the world of work.

But “the role of proficient writing in fostering the thinking process and academic success cannot be underestimated” (Bacha 2002:165). This is because the “language of academia is a very specialized discourse which presents a problem for all students whether they are first or second language speakers” of English (Archer 2010: 496). Student success in any university is inextricably about developing a ‘voice’, a culture of intellectual enquiry and “aspects of social integration which involve the affective dimensions of their engagement with higher education” (Beard, Clegg & Smith 2007: 236). To this end, effective academic writing provides an uncharacteristic space for students to negotiate and articulate these multiple discourses that shape higher education (Archer 2010; Adams, 2008, Lea, 1998). It is critical not only for socialising students into discipline-specific writing but also for the cognitive development of students. For a student to succeed in CPUT, they “need to develop their writing skills in order to cope with university course work” in different disciplines (Bacha 2002:161) and they should have a repertoire of other academic literacy skills (Lillis 2003, Lillis, 2001, Lea & Street, 1998).