THERE is only one solution to ensure a positive future for the University of Cape Town: accountability.
Much written recently about “problems” at South African universities has focused on financial matters in general and student fees in particular. Eliminating fees for tertiary education will, if anything, exacerbate these “problems”.
What is needed is a system that makes wealthy students pay and is adapted to prevent any students from falling into a pit of debt. This is one way in which university executives can become accountable.
More funding for UCT in general, as has been suggested by its executive, is not going to solve the problem if the status quo is maintained.
Educational development at UCT needs to be adapted radically to solve immediate institutional and national economic problems and technological challenges.
In short, UCT MUST generate graduates who become socio-economic “drivers” (not just “passengers”) equipped with innovative ideas and real-world solutions.
The root cause of UCT’s educational “problem” is that, to take advantage of government subsidies, it admits large numbers of educationally “disabled” school-leavers.
Despite the “fact” that they meet national “requirements” for tertiary education and perform “adequately” on the UCT-admission-filter test to “correct” for this disability, given the current deployment and attitudes of academic staff and curricula, these kids simply cannot cope with the challenges of quality university education.
More than half fail to complete their undergraduate degree on time (often not at all) or do so with barely passing marks.
This diminishes or eliminates their “value” to UCT in terms of government subsidy and, in real terms, to South Africa in general.
These students can become bitter, unemployed, “collaterally” damaged adults who have wasted 3-5 years at UCT, paying thousands of rand for nothing, ending up carrying gigantic (generally unpaid) debt.
There is no “quick-fix” or panacea.
Admission of educationally “disabled” school-leavers should be limited to levels that can cope and be coped with. This is where the UCT executive must show fortitude and become accountable to students, parents, private donors and the government.
Think about education, not just rhetoric and money!
“Fledgling” students should be chosen carefully, using one-on-one interviews and background investigations – not just a written test – to maximise their chances for success. The primary criterion should be academic ability.
Depending on the students’ access to finance, flexibly support ALL their needs (not wants/demands – food, accommodation, books, laptops, internet access, multidiversity socialisation, and so on). Eliminating fees is not enough.
The key thing is to get these kids living, talking and working with contemporaries and their mentors in a nurturing environment. They need one-on-one counselling and, if necessary, mentoring from people who understand their backgrounds and needs.
Finally if they do not perform adequately, ALL students should be counselled as to how to improve. If they continue to fail comprehensively, they should be replaced by the equally deserving who will succeed. In short, ALL students should be assigned to a responsible academic adviser and both be held accountable for the investments made in them.
Undergraduate education MUST be done over four, not three years. Drop the honours degree.
At UCT, the foundational “problem” is in the failure to produce skilled and highly motivated basic educators. There is no longer an undergraduate programme at UCT dedicated to producing school teachers. Current three-year bachelors’ programmes do not produce well-rounded, competent teachers.
Many of its entrants are unemployed, “knowledge-imbalanced” MSc/PhD-educated specialists who regard teaching as career plan “B”.
Part of what is needed are balanced undergraduate curriculum streams that pre-adapt potential PGCE students to become first-class teachers.
Talk to Jansen (or head-hunt him or Dr Ramphele to be the new VC) or basic educational discipline specialists and provincial and independent educational authorities to identify what’s needed.
Think about one-year crash educational programmes to upgrade already employed teachers. Specialist academic educators, get cracking and be accountable!
All (not some) disciplinary undergraduate curricula should be reviewed by internationally respected peers to demonstrate the extent to which they equip bachelors graduates with the requisite skills to compete in the real world (get jobs). To achieve this, talk with potential employers. For example, in the event that the civil service is remodelled to demand competency, talk to bosses there as well. Indeed, one possible strategy is to require students who receive total financial support for their studies to fill civil service positions, at least for some fixed time.
Although all existing staff should be counselled to improve their ability to educate struggling students, key players in this exercise are staff who represent currently demographically under-represented sectors of the South African community.
Curricula should not be restricted to current politico/economic/socially relevant issues.
Where there are other “deficiencies” in existing curricula, regardless of their “centricity”, they need to be identified and remedied to benefit graduates’ ability to deliver on national and international platforms.
To achieve this, talk to leading educationalists and researchers and demand (not request) that “decolonists” deliver competitive curricula to ensure there is no compromise of educational excellence. Merely purging existing items on the basis of alleged “oppressive” connotations or “racial”, geographic and age-related criteria is tantamount to educational “cleansing”.
This requires ALL academics and students to be accountable.
Academics need to make the most major long-term transformations. Currently, UCT’s staff is disproportionately white, male and Eurocentrically educated. If a newly appointed lecturer survives a non-rigorous review after three years’ service (and nearly all do), he/she becomes “tenured” and effectively employed for life. This should cease and be replaced by a process similar to tenure review in the US.
l Crowe served as an academic in the biological sciences department of UCT for 40 years