Whiteness of South African universities questioned

A leading academic has criticized a lack of reform at South Africa’s institutions of higher education.

In a lecture entitled: “Transcending the past and re-imagining the future of the South African University”, vice chancellor and Principal of the University of the Witwatersrand, Professor Adam Habib, said that government has lacked the will or the imagination to develop historically black universities.

Habib highlighted troubled institutions Stellenbosch University, and the University of the North West in particular.

“The multicultural approach is best reflected at the University of Stellenbosch and North West University, this approach has spawned universities in South Africa today, 21 years after the transition where 63% of its student enrollment is white.

“North West University by contrast has a much better demographic profile at a macro level, but it essentially has established a federal university, comprising what are effectively distinct campuses of radicalised ethnic groups,” Habib said.

The VC noted that students with wealthy parents inevitably still attended institutions including Wits, University of Cape Town and Stellenbosch University. Those from poorer backgrounds attended the likes of Walter Sisulu University, and the University of Zululand, Fort Hare University.

“Until now government has lacked the will or the imagination despite all of its political rhetoric to develop these historically black universities and until it’s done, these historic black universities will be mired in a sub optimal educational trajectory,” Habib said.

Habib also questioned why universities receive R22 billion in subsidies, while government’s own task team said that at the global average they should be funded at is R37 billion, SABC reported.

StatsSA’s General Household Survey (GHS), conducted in 2013, and published in mid 2014, found that 740,893 students were enrolled at higher education institutions in 2013.

Of this, almost two-thirds (66.4%) of these students were black African while 22.3% were white; 6.7% were coloured and 4.7% were Indian (Asian).

“Even though most students were black African, the student participation rate of this population group remained proportionally low in comparison with the Indian (Asian) and white population,” the survey said.

Approximately 84.8% of students paid R4,000 or more per year in tuition fees and 7% reportedly did not pay fees. Only 18% off students benefited from bursaries or fee reductions.

The report found that the percentage of people aged 18 to 29 attending university by population group was at 3.2% in 2013 compared to 2.8% in 2002, while 3.1% of coloureds attended university. Additionally 18.7% of whites were attending university in 2013 while 9.2% of Indians (Asians) were attending university.

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Whiteness of South African universities questioned