TUT quality expert obtains her doctorate

by Gerrit Bester

31 October 2023

Emily Mabote, Director for Quality Promotion and Acting Executive Director: Institutional Effectiveness and Technology at the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT), obtained her Doctorate from Rhodes University on 13 October 2023. Speaking about the journey towards reaching this milestone in her career, she says if it gets tough, your passion should be able to sustain you.

Dr Emily Mabote.

YOU HAVE BEEN EMPLOYED AT THE UNIVERSITY FOR QUITE SOME TIME. TELL US MORE ABOUT YOUR CAREER SO FAR AND THE HIGHLIGHTS. Yes, I have been working at TUT for some time. My career has evolved over the years from being a Quality Advisor, to Deputy Director, then Director, and recently Acting Executive Director: Institutional Effectiveness and Technology. The acting position is the current highlight and the most challenging, as it has completely moved me out of my comfort zone. 

WHAT IS THE TITLE OF YOUR PhD THESIS? Mechanisms conditioning the implementation of an integrated quality assurance and enhancement approach at a South African University of Technology.

WHO WAS YOUR SUPERVISOR AND HOW IMPORTANT IS IT ON THIS JOURNEY TO SELECT THE RIGHT SUPERVISOR AND HAVE A GOOD RELATIONSHIP WITH HIM/HER? I was supervised by Prof Lynn Quinn, a well-established scholar in the fields of academic staff development, quality assurance, curriculum development and learning, teaching and assessment. 

Selecting the right supervisor and having a good relationship with him or her is crucial to the successful completion of PhD studies. The supervisor-student relationship is critical in doctoral studies because it encompasses not only academic mentoring and guidance but other roles as well, such as providing constructive feedback, providing emotional support, career development/pathing, networking opportunities, access to resources, opportunities for co-publishing and professional growth. 

HOW DID YOU DECIDE TO ENROLL FOR YOUR DOCTORATE AT RHODES UNIVERSITY? I initially enrolled at Rhodes in 2015 for a Postgraduate Diploma in Higher Education at the Centre for Higher Education Research, Teaching and Learning (CHERTL). Upon completion of the PGDip, I enrolled for the PhD in Education (Higher Education). In addition, CHERTL offers very dynamic and current topics on various aspects related to higher education, such as social justice, social inclusion, transformation, curriculum, higher education funding, quality assurance, institutional differentiation, etc. Also, CHERTL has a range of experts in various areas of higher education studies and has support mechanisms to ensure that scholars are part of a collaborative community. One of the support mechanisms is the three PhD weeks offered annually to support doctoral scholars with their research and specifically to provide them with exposure to seminars related to various aspects of higher education, including research-related topics. 

EXPLAIN THE MAJOR FINDINGS/DISCOVERIES MADE AS PART OF YOUR STUDY AND HOW THEY CONTRIBUTE TO THE CURRENT BODY OF KNOWLEDGE IN THIS FIELD. I conducted this study to identify mechanisms that can enable or constrain the implementation of an integrated approach in a single institutional Quality Assurance (QA) system. 

The findings indicate that the dominant discourses and structures globally put emphasis on QA rather than Quality Enhancement (QE). Similarly, my findings also showed that the institutional context at TUT is dominated by discourses and structures that encourage QA-related events and experiences much more than QE. The pervasive compliance discourse in the University’s cultural system has resulted in events that have constructed QA as being about unnecessary bureaucracy, many approval processes, and rigid and less agile processes. On the other hand, compliance was seen as necessary to protect the institutional reputation and take responsibility for the quality of provisioning. Accountability also emerged as an essential discourse to enable an integrated approach. However, some mechanisms constrain events associated with accountability. While leadership emerged as a critical structural mechanism to enable an integrated approach, its potential can be constrained by mechanisms such as the pervasive compliance discourse and insufficient empowerment opportunities for QE. 

The transformation discourse is crucial to TUT’s implementation of an integrated QA and QE approach. My findings have shown that transformation is constrained mainly by cultural mechanisms as the University has established necessary structures to drive transformation. For the University to implement an integrated approach successfully, it should move away from the compliance-driven monitoring to enhancement, thereby establishing a culture that is transformative and developmental, emphasising agility, continuous improvement and accountability. Too much focus on compliance tends to diminish the opportunity for enhancement.

My study has made a practical contribution to the current debates on the integrated quality approaches in higher education by identifying how the interplay of structural, cultural and agential mechanisms can contribute to making integrated QA and QE possible in a particular context. 

WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR FELLOW STAFF MEMBERS WHO ARE BUSY WITH THEIR DOCTORAL STUDIES OR ARE CONTEMPLATING SUCH STUDIES? A doctoral degree is an apex qualification at the NQF-10 level, and thus one is required to write and argue at the highest cognitive level to achieve personal and intellectual growth. It is not easy; thus, one needs a good supervisor that will enable the transformation of your knower status. Doctoral studies require good time management, dedication and commitment to your research, and time required to produce well-crafted arguments. Most important, one must have passion for the areas/topic of research. When the journey gets tough, your passion should be able to sustain you. There are no short cuts, and you need to have resilience and accept critical feedback/critique.

Take time to know and understand your supervisor. The supervisor must also try to understand you and your strengths and weaknesses.

Lastly, doctoral studies are about mental endurance – to sustain you from beginning to finish. Take care of your physical and mental health. Know the signs when you are not coping and learn to take a step back and rest. There is no one-size-fits all approach; identify what works for you.

WORKING IN THE QUALITY PROMOTION ENVIRONMENT OF THE UNIVERSITY FOR SEVERAL YEARS, JUST HOW IMPORTANT IS QUALITY PROMOTION IN THE CONTINUOUS IMPROVEMENT OF THE UNIVERSITY’S CORE FUNCTIONS AND THE SUPPORT THEREOF? Quality Promotion has always been a key structural enabler for continuous improvement at the University. In addition, Quality Promotion will continue to play a key role at the University for both support and core functions, especially considering the rollout of the new national Quality Assurance Framework (QAF) from 2024. 

My findings indicated that the Quality Unit is the main structure enabling the implementation of QA and QE at TUT. Without this structure, agents tend to struggle to implement QA and QE due to the various reasons outlined in the thesis. Therefore, for an integrated approach to be possible at TUT, the University’s Quality Unit should be staffed by agents with a strong corporate agency to lead and support an integrated approach. Quality practitioners should work collaboratively to become a group of corporate agents and share a set of values and beliefs that shape their approach to quality and related activities.

WHAT ARE YOUR CAREER AMBITIONS? To improve my scholarly profile by continuing writing and having a few publications to my name. I would also like to mentor promising students who wish to pursue postgraduate studies. The journey is not easy; thus, providing support structures is quite important.

Furthermore, I also aspire to advance within the University, contribute more and make an impact towards taking TUT from Good to Great.

ANYTHING ELSE THAT YOU WOULD LIKE TO ADD. Doctoral research provides a transformative experience that elevates your knower identity and status from that of a novice to that of a scholar who can make an invaluable contribution to your field, higher education and society at large. It is a journey that not only shapes your academic profile but also your personal and professional growth. I concluded my PhD thesis by reflecting on the transformation of my knower identity. Universities must, therefore, provide enabling structures and culture to facilitate the transformative experience of doctoral scholars.

For more information on the Tshwane University of Technology, please contact Phaphama Tshisikhawe, Corporate Affairs and Marketing.
Tel: +27 12 382 4711  Email: tshisikhawerpt@tut.ac.za