UCT Admission Policy: An open letter to the Vice Chancellor Dr Max Price

2014-05-28 10:12

Dear Dr Max Price?

From the onset, I would like to say that it is really unfortunate that UCT management has placed such an immerse focus on access to the institution rather than retention and success of its students. According to the universities reports, in 2013, 3361 students were on financial aid, of those; 58% were Black compared to 24% Coloured, 5% Indian and 10% White. Furthermore, about 7% of students on financial aid were academically excluded last year, which amounts to 235 students, the majority of them being Black.

The throughput rates of the incoming cohort of students being tracked from 2004 to 2008 reveal that on average, the exclusion rate for Black, Coloured, Indian and White students are 29.6%, 18.6%, 15.2%, and 5.2% respectively. This means that on average, 29.6% of each yearly intake of Black students can already count themselves academically excluded. In a sense, the majority of Black and Coloured students are coming to UCT to collect debt. It is indeed a vicious cycle of debt creation.

Since 2010, UCT has been allocating more than R90 million towards financial aid. It is often not relayed to the public, that if UCT admits more disadvantaged students; the amount of students needing financial aid will drastically increase, so fees will then have to be increased. When fees increase and as more Black and Coloured students get excluded, due to the increased cohort of disadvantaged students, the more debt they will have to repay.

It is stated that the reason UCT is modifying the admission policy is because of a long term ideological commitment to non-racialism, a cohort of “privileged” Black students and a failure of the current race-basket approach in selecting socio-economically and educationally disadvantaged students.

Dr Price, you have however failed to mention that another reason, which in truth is the sole reason, UCT is changing its admission policy; is from the number of unsolicited comments received from members of the public and media reports saying UCT must not use a race-based policy, many of these comments came from White parents and donors, their cry is that their children are not being admitted to UCT. You did mention in your article (Is there a place for “race” in a university selection policy?) that “I do not dispute that policies using race or disadvantage will reduce the number of white students gaining entry.”

I strongly disagree with your notion, that there is a pool of Black students at UCT who are no longer significantly disadvantaged and no longer need affirmative action. The so called “privileged” Blacks that you now want to punish have had to face institutional racism among other things at their former high schools, like we still experience at the so called “transformed” UCT, which hinders their academic excellence.

The institutional culture of those former model C schools is still such that it subjugates the talents, self-esteem and self-image of the Black and Coloured learners. More like UCT, having a statue of Cecil John Rhodes, how am I supposed to perceive myself and what is recorded in my subconscious mind each day passing a statue of someone whose modus operandi was cynical crass inhumane exploitation of Africans? He out-rightly and proudly believed that those of my pigmentation are not part of the human race and are not capable of thriving in academia.

I argue that only “race” can holistically capture the range of factors produced by the experience of racism and apartheid. After all, the ONLY criterion used by the apartheid regime was “race”. Was it not you Dr Price that wrote in a letter, "International research on affirmative action has provided solid reasons for continuing to rely on racial categorisation..."? Why the sudden change of heart?

I had often wondered why the struggles of the Black South African students were not sufficiently articulated at UCT, I then realised that UCT “imports” most of its Black lecturers. Those imported lecturers do not know of the struggles of the Black South African students and if by any chance they were to articulate the little they understand, their jobs or promotion might be in jeopardy. But in all honesty, most of the Black imported lecturers just sit in university committees and listen until the committee meetings ends; as if they are part of the walls. No wonder so many policies are passed that hinder the progress of Black people at UCT.

I put it to you Dr Price, that what is preventing access to disadvantaged students is not the current admission policy but inaccessibility of the National Benchmark Tests and the targets UCT sets in relation to Black and Coloured students.

Previously when UCT was a Whites only institution; it admitted students solely based on their matric exam results. Chapter 9 (2) of the South African constitution states that; “...To promote the achievement of equality, legislative and other measures designed to protect or advance persons, or categories of persons, disadvantaged by unfair discrimination may be taken.” The reason we have redress policies is to address past unfair discrimination. This new proposed admission policy includes persons not falling into the past unfair discrimination category (i.e. labelling a White student disadvantaged). This is unconstitutional. When in the near or far history was a White person unfairly discriminated against such that it would warrant the need for redress measures?

Warm regards

Ramabina Mahapa

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