I am not an academic nor do I profess to be, so everything I write will be based purely on experience. I grew up in a small town, raised by a middle class family; I went to an okay school and did fairly well. I applied into UCT, and well I got in. It was hard, and I struggled a lot in the beginning. At times I thought I wouldn’t make it; but because of my hard work and dedication; in the end I made it; even if it was “just”. Now imagine someone who went to a township school, raised by a poor family, but rose above the circumstances and produced matric results above average. This person enrolls into UCT, gets accepted, not based on merit, but race. Now what are the probabilities that this particular person will succeed at UCT?
In my 5 years at UCT, I had friends from all kinds of backgrounds. I had rich friends, who went to private schools. They partied really hard, studied very little and still performed well academically. Then I had middle class friends, who went to model C schools. They worked really hard and did okay, a little stumble here and there, but they still came through in the end. Then I had friends who went to rural schools, they did exceptionally well in high school. At varsity they were really nerdy and spent all their time studying. They managed to perform well above average. The second group of friends from rural schools that I had worked really hard, but the amount of effort they put into their work did not reflect in their output. They got terrible marks, they had to repeat a year or two, many got excluded and most of them still don’t have a degree. I have seen this play out over and over again, and it can’t purely be coincidental.
I am not entirely opposed to affirmative action, but using race as proxy for getting into varsity causes me a little discomfort. I mean yes, you were previously disadvantaged, and that will reflect in your matric results. Surely it wouldn’t be fair to write you off because of your previous circumstances. So now you get into UCT because your marks are good but not as good as everyone else that applied and didn’t get in. The problem with this scenario is that UCT is not going to suddenly lower the standards of their exams in order to accommodate people from previously disadvantaged background. You will still be expected to perform as someone with a strong academic background. I am not saying that people from previously disadvantaged backgrounds should not be admitted into varsity, the point I am trying to make is that race shouldn’t be a proxy in determining admission. Admission should be based strictly on merit, because there is no point in accepting someone into an institution when they have no chance of succeeding because effectively you are not doing them a favour. The person will probably benefit more from a college or a technikon. My argument might not be supported by hard facts but I think it’s plausible and it’s something to consider.