Laura Pereira – Transforming The Higher Education Sector In South Africa: Are We Even Asking The Right Questions?

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The transformation agenda has been of central importance to the higher education system in South Africa since the end of apartheid in 1994. However, the slow progress that has been made in achieving equity in access to a tertiary education for all South Africans, especially groups that were disadvantaged by the apartheid regime, continues to be of great concern to the country. In the quest for an ‘objective’ measure of transformation, a controversial Equity Index has once again sparked debate over how to achieve racial and gender equality in the country’s universities.

Wherever a group of South Africans gather, there will be debate. If this is not already an aphorism, then it should be, especially if those South Africans are academics. On a long car journey with some colleagues, I became embroiled in one such debate on transformation in South Africa’s universities. The discussion started when mention was made of the recent passing of Stellenbosch University’s Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Botman. His death had sparked discussion amongst staff given his ‘torrid final week’ following continued failed attempts to effect transformation at the historically white university. This included tension with the University’s Council by his establishing a ‘Centre for Inclusivity’. The discussion quickly ran to the University of Cape Town’s new Admissions Policy that now differentiates students based not on race alone, but first takes into account their school and home background, as well as disabilities.

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