Stampede victim’s family marks a year of mourning

2013-01-13 10:00

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It’s been a year since South Africans looked on, aghast, while thousands of prospective students stormed the gates of the University of Johannesburg (UJ) in Auckland Park.

During the stampede, Gloria Sekwena was trampled to death while 20 others were injured.

Sekwena (46) had accompanied her son Kgosie to register at the institution.

UJ has learned its lesson – and its registrar says the institution “pulled out all the stops to ensure that we don’t see a repeat of last year”.

While UJ celebrates the apparent success of its “no-queues” system, though, the Council on Higher Education has warned that long queues for hopeful students will remain a reality “until the public finds an alternative for universities”.

There were no queues at UJ this week, just small clusters of prospective students who had been turned away by strict security guards when they arrived to apply.

In an interview with City Press, the university’s registrar, Professor Marie Muller, said: “We placed adverts in 15 mediums, launched a social media campaign and printed and distributed 800 000 pamphlets about the new electronic application system.

“We even used buses and taxis to spread the message that nobody would be allowed to walk into any of our campuses to enquire or make an application.”

After last January’s stampede and Sekwena’s death, UJ introduced an online application system for new students.

Muller praised the electronic application system, saying it had improved efficiency and reduced the turnaround time for students who had applied.

“We received more than 89 000 applications for 2013 and all applicants were notified of the outcomes a day after the matric results were released.”

She explained how the new system had also helped with late applications: “We have received more than 34 000 late applications online and the call centre attended to almost 40 000 calls – all of them from Monday.

“Had we not introduced the electronic applications system we would have had thousands of students queuing at our campuses.”

There were only 10 500 guaranteed spaces available for undergraduates in UJ’s nine faculties.

But Muller said the institution always pushes up the number of spaces to at least 12 000, “as there are usually students who drop out during the course of the year”.

That still means about 90% of applications were unsuccessful.

It’s not just UJ that has limited spaces for thousands of hopeful students.

Ahmed Essop, chief executive officer of the Council on Higher Education, said: “Our universities are already stretched and, to increase the enrolment numbers will affect the quality of education.

“The physical structure of our universities makes it impossible for universities to increase their numbers,” said Essop.

“Even if we were to have bigger structures now it would still be impossible to take more students because we don’t have enough academics to teach at our institutions.”

One answer to this dilemma, he said, was “to improve the quality of education at the further education training colleges so that people have alternatives”.

He congratulated UJ for introducing the electronic application system for new students, but cautioned that not everybody had access to the internet.

Muller said prospective students without internet access could contact UJ’s call centre using a toll-free number.

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