Academic Development (AD) is an important component of the South African higher education system. For several years this area has attracted significant interest, and rightly so, from researchers and academics across the sector. AD has been defined and redefined many times based on developments in international and local education contexts. To this extent the origins of AD in South Africa has strong and traceable roots to historical attempts to undo the segregationist system of apartheid which created barriers and boundaries for access to higher education by the marginalised sectors of the South African population. Support interventions in the South African higher education system started out as Academic Support (AS) in the 1980s and later evolved into Academic Development (AD) with the exclusive purpose of redressing inequalities caused by apartheid racial policies in higher education. The subsequent relaxation of admissions into formerly segregated institutions and the desire to achieve equity of access necessitated that academic support be provided to students to ensure they succeed in these environments. The underperformance of the higher education system is raising important questions around the reasons why this is the case despite the considerable resourcing of the sector. Further questions point to the effectiveness and efficiency of the academic development project as a means of supporting higher education in order to achieve and enhance student success.
Recent decades have witnessed significant shifts in higher education globally. Pressures relating to globalisation, internationalisation, rankings, competition and competitiveness have brought themselves to bear on higher education systems. These developments have, at the same time, focused and raised the spotlight on Academic Development as a way of assisting and supporting the performance of higher education. Sugrue, et al (2018, p.2336) provide a summation and review of “trends and practices…” in academic development over a period of two decades. The review generated a summary of significant findings which significantly flag the absence of a link between student success and academic development. This Focus Conference creates the space for AD specialists, practictitioners, academics, university leaders, educational experts etc. to advance the course of AD by broaching important conversations around the way forward on AD and how interventions can be focussed to achieve student success in higher education. Student success is, arguably, a matter of social justice and higher education must be seen to advance this course without fail. The conference theme also seeks to explore how theory can be used to rethink the role of academic development in higher education in the interest of student success. We are looking forward to paper submissions along the themes as outlined in the call for abstracts.