Youth alliance marches against UCT plan to change definition of ‘previously disadvantaged’

2013-10-18 08:50

The University of Cape Town’s Progressive Youth Alliance will today stage a march to vent their anger over and rejection of the institution’s proposed admission policy.

The current admission policy uses race, as declared by the student in the application form, as the only tool to determine if somebody was previously disadvantaged, and should therefore be admitted to study at UCT.

The proposed policy, which UCT hopes to implement from 2015, will replace race with other criteria which will be used to determine if a prospective student was previously disadvantaged.

The criteria include: the education level of an applicant’s parents or caregivers; the applicant’s high school and the facilities available there (such as a library or computer lab); language spoken at home; and financial indicators, such as whether the applicant’s family receives social grants.

Speaking on behalf of the UCT Progressive Youth Alliance Special Task Team on the Admission Policy, Insaaf Isaacs rejected the proposed policy.

“We reject the alternative proposal, the university is not ready for that. Should it be implemented, there will be a significant reduction in the non-white population in the university. The current policy should remain,” she said.

In 2011, UCT’s vice chancellor Dr Max Price established a commission to probe if alternative admission policies could be found to replace the use of race as the sole determinant of whether a potential student was previously disadvantaged or not.

Among others, the commission had found UCT’s admission policies were consistent with the Constitution and the institution’s goals of diversity and redress for the previously disadvantaged should remain in place.

It had also found that at this stage in South Africa, admissions cannot be based purely on high school achievement as measured by mark.

“To do so would deny the reality of the legacy of disparity in educational provision in the country,” said members of the commission.

However, it recommended “the basis for affirmative action in admissions should be disadvantage, rather than reliance on race as a proxy for disadvantage.”

Early this year, Price wrote to students and staff explaining to them why he had appointed the commission in the first placed.

He said there had been debates on whether the current admission policy was constitutional and that the use of self-declared race was problematic as it was not consistent with the university’s values of non-racialism.

Race was also problematic, he said, in that not all black people are necessarily disadvantaged and not all whites were privileged.

“Students may choose to classify themselves in ways that unfairly benefit them in the admissions process – yet the university has few mechanisms to verify a particular classification and we would find it distasteful to do so. An increasing number of students believe it is appropriate not to declare their race,” Price was quoted as saying.

Isaacs said the new proposal will represent a regression rather than a redress. The changes, she said, were informed by flawed logic that the emergence of a few middle class families has led to the ability of black people as a whole to buy their way out of being “disadvantaged”.

The UCT Progressive Youth Alliance incorporates the ANC Youth League, the Young Communist League of South Africa and the SA Student Congress.

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