'Radical' intervention needed at Maties - portfolio committee

2015-09-01 21:09
Stellenbosch University

Stellenbosch University

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Cape Town - Urgent and radical intervention was required to deal with the discrimination at Stellenbosch University, Higher Education and Training Portfolio Committee chairperson Pinky Phosa said on Tuesday.

The university’s management briefed Parliament on its progress in implementing its transformation plan and language policy.

The move was prompted by the widely-circulated documentary, Luister (Listen), in which students and lecturers tell of discrimination on and off campus.

Dr Blade Nzimande, minister of higher education and training, said the issue of language was at the heart of the discussion.

"I welcome the innovation and initiative by those who produced Luister. The issue of racism in higher education is a matter that we must continue to confront," he said.

"The specific history of this institution and the under-representation of blacks and women academics could all combine to reintroduce institutional cultures as alienating."

English was the dominant language of instruction across all institutions, Nzimande pointed out.

"I had to write all my exams in English, which is my second language. Many students fail, not because they are stupid but because of the language issue."

Nzimande said while Afrikaans must be "protected as a language, it can’t act as a barrier to education".

In his report, rector and vice chancellor Professor Wim de Villiers said the university saw itself as "inclusive, multi-lingual and a diverse community".

"We have irrevocably moved from a predominantly white, Afrikaans university towards a multi-cultural institution that serves all," he said.

The current demographic of the university was 62% white and 38% black, coloured and Indian. The university’s projected numbers by 2019 was 56% white and 44% black, coloured and Indian.

'Issues must be fixed'

De Villiers said the university’s biggest challenge was in the make-up of its academic staff.

"Only 17% is made up of black, coloured and Indian staff members," he admitted.

Luister, De Villiers said, talked about very real issues which "must be fixed".

"I watched it with my wife and we found it extremely uncomfortable. It contains valued lived experiences," he said.

"Hearing these narratives of racism is painful to me. I’m not going to defend the indefensible. These things are wrong, end of story."

Professor Nico Koopman, the university's vice rector of social impact, transformation and personnel said the university aimed to have at least 50-50 demographics in the student body by 2020.

"We want to not only diversify staff, but make sure there is transformation competence," he said.

The university was also in the process of establishing a fully-staffed office of transformation.

"This will be a researched-based journey. We will employ two full professors for transformation, reconciliation and justice."

Professor Arnold Schoonwinkel, vice-rector of learning and teaching at SU, said language is "for engagement with knowledge".

"It has nothing to do with any cultural preferences," he said.

Phosa said further engagements will take place in coming months to monitor progress made at the university.

Read more on:    blade nzimande  |  cape town  |  education

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