De-coding or de-colonising the technocratic university? Rural students’ digital transitions to South African higher education.

Sue Timmis, Patricia Muhuro

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)
142 Downloads (Pure)


Despite wide-ranging policies and practices intended to address historical inequalities in South African higher education, and calls for decolonisation to include more local relevance, little attention has been paid to the experiences of rural students, especially their digital participation once at university. Previous research has highlighted limitations in technological access in rural areas and the importance of mobile phones for transitions. Whilst universities offer wide-ranging digital support, there remains a tendency towards universalist mechanisms. Drawing on a longitudinal study across three universities, and employing Holland’s theory of figured worlds, we highlight rural students’ experiences of digital transitions across different cultural worlds, prior to university and once they arrive, including the bewildering technocratic systems and practices and resulting conflicts and positionings encountered. We show how students improvise to decode the digital university and figure out new practices. Decolonisation of universities involves rethinking the ‘technocratic consciousness’ (both colonialist and neoliberal) and its apparatus including digital systems and structures. For rural students to become successful digital practitioners in higher education, universities should acknowledge prior digital experience and forms of knowledge and focus on expanding individual and collective agency in supporting transitions, as mechanisms for shaping a decolonised digital education.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)252 -266
Number of pages15
JournalLearning, Media and Technology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 10 Jun 2019

Structured keywords

  • SoE Centre for Knowledge, Culture, and Society
  • SoE Centre for Higher Education Transformations
  • SoE Language Literacies and Education Network


  • Decolonisation
  • Digital Literacies
  • inequalities
  • identities
  • Agency


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