About this site

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

The State of Higher Education

Ø     In higher education institutions 60% of students are black, but only 15 percent pass their courses.

Ø     A preoccupation with racial quotas as an indicator of transformation in SA was the reason there are 40,000 vacancies in the public sector.

Ø      The number of research "outputs" - peer review-published research papers - has declined. Even Wits has seen a decline in the number of peer review-published research papers, 1100 papers published in 1988 to about 700.

Ø     Institutions are of lesser quality and re not contributing to global knowledge.

See below

Business Day

More black faces but has education really changed?

WITS DEBATE PROBES PROGRESS OF TRANSFORMATION IN INSTITUTIONS OF HIGHER LEARNING

Sue Blaine

Education Correspondent

THE education department and SA's 22 higher education institutions face some tough questions on whether the transformation that has been achieved in the sector is enough, and of the right kind, a panel discussion at the University of the Witwatersrand was told last week.

Molapo Qhobela, the department's acting deputy director-general of higher education, said government had worked hard to turn SA's fragmented apartheid-era higher education system into the single, co-ordinated system which, although established in 1997, was only becoming entrenched today.

The result was an 18% increase in black student enrolment in higher education, from 1994's 42% to 2005's 60%, and a 10% increase in female student enrolment from 1994's 45% to 2005's 55%, he said.

The department had also tried to ensure students had a better chance of success by limiting their numbers and by introducing "development funding" through the National Students Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) and cash injections to universities that had infrastructure backlogs, he said.

"What Dr Qhobela has said is that we have begun a systemic transformation ... the building blocks are in place," said panel chairwoman Prof Mary Metcalfe, dean of education at Wits.

Transformation should be more deep-seated than this, said Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) academic Adam Habib and South African Communist Party spokesman Francis Maleka.

While it was not disputed that there were now more "black bums on seats" in SA's lecture halls, the department and the institutions were criticised for hailing this as a triumph when much South African research was still focused on the US and Europe and while problems at home were not being addressed by SA's academic think-tanks.

"It is only South African corporates that have gone African, Nando's and Pick 'n Pay," said Habib.

South African corporate investment in the rest of Africa had increased rapidly since 1994, according to research by Who Owns Whom Inc's database.

Looking into 49 of the companies that have invested in greater Africa, it was shown that these companies last year had 537 investments in 27 countries and employed 92527 people, said MD Andrew McGregor in a separate interview.

Based on 366 of the 532 investments for which the research company had a date of first investment, in 1994 there were just over 100 individual investments and this number had increased to just over 350 by last year.

Habib repeated Maleka's entreaty that higher education institutions turn their research spotlights on the needs and interests of SA's most marginalised people.

"In research, everything speaks to the first economy, nothing speaks to the marginalised. What industrialisation strategy is there for the disadvantaged? How do we create the institutional constraints that allow us to delve into these areas?" Habib said.

South African institutions had to learn from Europe and the US and focus on their own context - the African continent - instead of what was done outside Africa, he said.

A preoccupation with racial quotas as an indicator of transformation in SA was the reason there were now 40000 vacancies in the public sector, Habib said.

The public service had to ensure it met transformation quotas and the easiest way to do this was to stop replacing white bureaucrats who left with other whites when a black replacement could not be found, he said. This meant the percentage of black employees would automatically increase.

"You fill your quota and get your bonus. We end up with service delivery in a bad state and now the public service minister is having to go to India to get public servants."

In a similar way the focus on quotas had become a stumbling block for SA's higher education institutions in their stated intention of becoming world-class institutions, Habib said.

The number of research "outputs" - peer review-published research papers - has also declined. Even as academically robust an institution as Wits has seen a decline in the number of peer review-published research papers, 1100 papers published in 1988 to 700 recently, and last year Mangosuthu Technikon (now the Durban Institute of Technology) had one, Habib said.

"Our institutions are of lesser quality and we are not contributing to global knowledge ... it is not politically correct, but we must face it," he said.

He said poor black students faced many hurdles in their daily lives and, while 60% of students were now black, only 14,9% of them actually passed their courses.

"We are spending a fortune on (poor black students), but they are not succeeding," he said.

This year, government's financial aid scheme for needy students is to spend R1,6bn on giving students loans, according to the scheme's CEO, Allan Taylor.

Maleka blamed the dropout rate on institutions' inability to properly address the broader social issues poor students faced - poverty, hunger and HIV/AIDS. A lot had changed in education, but the poor and marginalised were still not able to affect the way in which higher education institutions were managed, Maleka said.

"Education is a formal system (through which) the ideas of the dominant class are passed on from one generation to the next. Unfortunately, the capitalists are in power," he said.

Until the education system was freed from capitalism's dominance transformation was not complete, Maleka said.

Transformation in higher education had to be deepened by greater government investment in the sector. The education department needs to ensure black academics remained in the system long enough to reach professorial quality, and that white professors were not dismissed in the quest to meet racial quotas.

Maleka said government needed to stop "ducking" questions such as the negative effects of racial quotas.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.