The National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences (NIHSS) was established on 5 December 2013 as an independent statutory body in terms of Gazette No. 37118 vol. 582 and in accordance with Section 69 read with sections 38A, 38B, and 38C of the Higher Education Act (Act No 101 of 1997). The scope or application of the NIHSS will be to advance and co-ordinate scholarship, research and ethical practice in the fields of Humanities and the Social Sciences (HSS) within and through the existing public universities and those to be established or declared in future as public Universities.
The work of the NIHSS will be guided by the following principles: The principle of co-operation between institutions and the establishment of communities of scholarship in South Africa, Africa and international; The principle of norm-driven internationalisation, (co-operation and collaboration will not be for its own sake but on the basis of mutual respect and development); The principle of social responsibility and equity as enshrined or implied in the Constitution, and; The principle of functional differentiation as opposed to resource differentiation.
The role of the NIHSS will be to broadly enhance and support the HSS in South Africa and beyond, as well as to advise government and civil society on HSS related matters. It will do so through its various programmes, including the Doctoral Schools, Catalytic Projects, African Pathways Programme, and through supporting the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) in the implementation of the proposed corrective interventions.
It is a cruel fact that in the last 15 years the Humanities and the Social Sciences have been severely affected by the dire need to respond to the obvious deficit in engineering, natural scientific, informational and managerial needs. This downscaling of the importance of the human and social forms of scholarship has had a serious effect on the quality of mind of our senior graduates, in the academic enterprise itself and on the quality of our research output.
The reduction of Heritage at worst to the market and at best to tourism has made for a lot of decoration but very little substance. This has impacted on the quality of leadership in government and non-governmental institutions, in the University system and in many key social responsibility areas. At a time when we are asked to play a leading conceptual and scientific role as Africans together with other developing societies in the south; and on our continent, and to solve our local challenges, the decline in these areas of scholarship is palpable, the depth of talent is too narrow and the nurturing of talent from disadvantaged communities a matter of exception rather than the rule; a matter of quantity rather than quality.
The alarm bells have been ringing for some time:
- All the professional associations and stake-holders in the broader Humanities have been voicing concerns through the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) and through their respective associations;
- Higher Education bodies have been raising the alarm both about the quality and quantity of our PhD endeavours;
- High profile cases about the quality of our degrees and alarming levels of plagiarism reported through the media have tarnished many Universities. Part of the pressure is also linked to irate degree holders whose integrity has been threatened by such tarnishing.
- The necessary work of creating post-Apartheid forms of thinking, of heritage and scholarship has been reduced to shocking and enduring cultural stereotypes.
It is in this context that a Humanities and Social Science (HSS) intervention was necessary and was turned into a Special Project by the Ministry of Higher Education and Training. The Special Project instituted processes that led to the June 2011 Charter for the Humanities and Social Sciences. In December 2013 the National Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences was formally constituted to take forward the vision of the Charter.