High level clouds. Mild.
Max du Preez
should stop practicing identity politics at tertiary education institutions and
rather fight against the deterioration of our universities.
If we don’t do
that, we will soon not have any internationally reputable universities and
won’t be able to deliver properly qualified students to our society and
Then South Africa
will become just another sad, struggling third world country. We dare not allow
Some things should
happen quickly. Firstly, we should protect the autonomy of our universities and
keep them away from the politicians’ sweaty paws.
There are enough
lessons to be learnt from Africa about what happens when ruling parties mess
with tertiary education institutions.
Secondly, we as
civil society should insist on proper funding for tertiary education. The
state’s contribution has declined over the last 15 years and most universities
are in crisis.
Not only should
universities have enough funds to afford sufficient infrastructure, the best
academic staff available and proper research, there should not be a single
student with merit excluded because his or her parents don’t earn enough money.
And there should
be enough money for bridging courses for young people from weak schools or
students who are not fluent in English.
Yes, the state
purse is indeed rather empty, but we will have to reprioritise and squeeze
money from elsewhere before our universities decline to a point of no return.
But it is equally
important that South Africans of all groups and persuasions realise that
universities aren’t the place where group politics are practiced or where
ideological factions wage their battles.
move on from angry rhetoric
With that I don’t
mean that students shouldn’t have the right to agitate for “decolonisation” or
“Africanisation” or fight for LGBT rights.
Surely it is
legitimate to insist on an open, welcoming culture on campus and to struggle
against an outdated Eurocentricity, especially regarding the social sciences.
But is time to
move on from angry, racially charged rhetoric to results and progression. What exactly
has been stopping departments of sociology, history, anthropology, religious
studies and political science, for instance, from adjusting syllabi to reflect
the country and continent where we live?
I do believe
strongly that universities should now put an end to the disruptions and
violations of student rights by a small group of hard-core ideologues and
by political organisations such as AfriForum, the EFF and the ANC Youth League
has caused much harm to our universities.
A step forward
All South African universities
except the University of Northwest’s Potchefstroom campus now offer English as
a language of instruction to all who want it.
This is a great
step forward. The Afrikaner nationalists resisting this because English was
the “language of imperialism” are just wrong. English is simply the language we
have commandeered to communicate with each other, with our neighbouring states
and the rest of the world.
language has had to sacrifice some at the universities of the Free State,
Stellenbosch and Pretoria. There was no other way. It was about access to all
administrations of these universities, their councils and the cultural and
linguistic communities that supported them simply didn’t do nearly enough over
the last two decades to ensure accessibility to all students. They played
But Afrikaans has
also benefited from losing its status as primary language of instruction. At
these three universities Afrikaans is no longer the focus of struggle and
symbol of exclusion. Afrikaans needed that liberation.
cultural activists should now make sure that indigenous languages continue to
be nurtured at tertiary education level.
students should also acknowledge that this was real progress and shouldn’t
shift the goal posts.
I spent a few days
on the campus of the University of the Free State recently. I attended a
graduation ceremony for masters and doctoral students and witnessed that more
than half these were black and about a quarter of them black women.
I spent time
talking to students, academics and parents of graduates from all quarters,
cultures and classes.
Jansen and his team have really achieved something remarkable. Jansen will be
sorely missed, not least by his old enemies.
I have no doubt
that the university still has many challenges and fault lines, but I
experienced a broad sense of positive inclusivity and indeed excitement that I
have never felt at any other campus.
The University of
the Free State, flawed as it is, gives us a glimpse that we can actually have
progressive, open, multi-cultural South African universities if we work hard
enough at it.
- Follow Max on Twitter.Disclaimer:News24
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