Don't be so quick to toyi-toyi at UCT

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IOL  NEW oped UCT done INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS The new admissions policy will improve transformation at UCT, says the writer. Picture: Tracey Adams

Ramabina Mahapa has some ideas about UCT’s new admissions policy that are simply wrong, writes Crain Soudien.

Cape Town - The criticisms of the new admissions policy expressed by Ramabina Mahapa (“Coloureds should toyi-toyi at UCT” - see Related Articles above) contain a number of inaccuracies that need to be set straight.

First, he says: “I have seen UCT’s top management coerce various faculty boards and Senate members into accepting the proposed policy.” This is false. The process that has led to the adoption of the new admissions policy has been transparent and well-documented in the media.

If academics had felt they were being coerced, they would have raised their own very vocal complaints. UCT has a strong respect for academic freedom, and all the different views on the admissions policy have been considered.

Mahapa says that “no data has been presented to support” the assertion that the new policy will bring in more disadvantaged students. On the contrary, UCT vice-chancellor Max Price presented the new policy proposal to students and staff, including examples of how the new model would improve transformation at UCT. Videos of these talks can be viewed, along with other information on the new admissions policy, at www.uct.ac.za.

In discussing the admissions policy, the UCT council and other university leaders have emphasised repeatedly our commitment to two non-negotiable principles:

* We remain committed to redress and affirmative action (including the consideration of race as an indicator of historic disadvantage).

* We remain committed to attracting the best students to UCT from all communities in South Africa.

These two principles are the foundation of the new admissions policy, which will take effect next year for applications for the 2016 intake of first-year students.

Price and other university leaders have explained in detail why we felt it was important to reconsider how we measure disadvantage in a South Africa that has progressed through 20 years of democracy.

We are now admitting first-year students who have not had first-hand experience of apartheid and the indignities that system incurred, based solely on race. Since 1994, UCT has kept in mind the importance of helping to build a non-racial society.

At the same time, we recognise that the country still has a long way to go in transforming itself and in reducing the inequality that apartheid enforced. The new admissions policy reflects these considerations.

Mahapa asks about the weighting methodology to be used in developing the new admissions policy. That information will be available after we complete the next step in implementing the new policy. This will involve consultation with the faculties about setting the admissions targets for their various programmes.

Mahapa has some ideas about the new admissions policy that are simply wrong. It is not true, as he says, that UCT is classifying previously privileged high schools as “disadvantaged”, or vice versa.

Similarly, he accuses UCT of being “in such a rush to phase out race” – but race remains an indicator of disadvantage in the new, hybrid admissions policy.

Our intention is to encourage racial transformation while also assisting applicants with other types of disadvantage to enter UCT. These additional indicators will include the applicant’s home language, the education of his or her parents and grandparents, the applicant’s school, and whether the applicant’s family depends on social grants.

For the past two years, UCT has been asking applicants to voluntarily answer questions in the application form on these indicators.

This information (which did not affect the admission of the students who filled in these forms) helped us to formulate the model for the new admissions policy.

We are confident that measuring these additional factors will give UCT an understanding of disadvantage that is wider than simple racial identity. With this information we will work with faculties to discuss how to implement the new policy to come closer to achieving our transformation targets.

By considering race among these other indicators, we believe UCT will be able to identify a wider range of students who have overcome forms of disadvantage while still displaying the academic excellence to qualify as UCT students.

The new policy will allow for offers to be made to three different bands of applicants – all of whom must meet a minimum academic requirement to be considered for an offer. Applicants with the highest academic scores will receive offers to UCT based on merit alone.

Applicants whose marks have been weighted by disadvantage are expected to receive the largest block of offers. And a third band of applicants will receive offers based on their race, to assist faculties in meeting transformation targets. We will re-evaluate the need for this last band over time and we expect it to become unnecessary eventually, as diversity increases in the student body. We believe most of the disadvantaged students in the second band will be African and coloured.

But we have also observed that many black and coloured applicants are eligible to be admitted on academic merit alone. These students will not need to have any additional points allocated for disadvantage, as they will be admitted on the basis of their scores.

Finally, Mahapa accuses UCT of overlooking the possible “effects of the proposed policy on the load of financial aid, student housing, and academic development programmes”.

It is true that every university in South Africa is dealing with the needs of its students for academic development, housing and financial assistance.

UCT spends R500 million a year out of its own coffers to provide financial assistance to students who need it. We have made the promise that if a student has been accepted on academic grounds and does not have the financial resources to study at UCT, we will provide the necessary financial assistance.

Similarly, UCT faculties offer academic development to every student who is willing to put in the necessary work to earn a degree.

These programmes include tutoring by more advanced student volunteers; classes with a higher teacher-to-student ratio and more discussion and team-learning time, to allow students to review and absorb the necessary foundational subjects; and even, in some programmes, holiday “boot camps”.

UCT has just introduced the First-Year Experience programme to help new students adjust to the many different aspects of becoming a university student. We are developing as many ways as we can to assist students towards the goal of earning a degree.

The path to developing UCT’s hybrid admissions policy has been long and painstaking; it has involved years of consultation, research and discussion between the university and government, alumni, academics, students, parents, high-school principals and many others.

Different models and options have been considered. As we now set out to implement the new policy, we will continue to be transparent about our progress and we welcome well-informed input from all interested parties.

* Professor Crain Soudien is the deputy vice-chancellor with the portfolio for transformation and student affairs at UCT.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.

Cape Argus



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