University race quotas in spotlight

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UKZN feb 21 INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS Water cannon were used against protesting students at the University of KwaZulu-Natal's Westville campus. Photo: Jacques Naude

Durban - Some South African universities have indicated they could reconsider their race quota policies in future, the DA said on Thursday.

Annelie Lotriet, the party’s spokeswoman on higher education matters, said the issue of quotas was contentious, although race imbalances needed to be redressed.

She was commenting on the University of KwaZulu-Natal having offered, then withdrawn, an offer of a place at its Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine after learning the student was Indian.

The university on Thursday said the student could in fact be reinstated if she wanted to be.

Lotriet said it was of the “utmost importance” that the Department of Higher Education and Training investigate the matter.

“They have to determine in how many instances this has happened to students, and to what extent there are checks and balances to ensure that students are not exposed to this kind of disappointment,” she said. “I will ask parliamentary questions to the minister in this regard.”

In terms of UKZN’s quota system for the first year MBChB degree programme, the school allocated 69 percent of the 210 available spots to “black African” applicants, followed by 19 percent to Indians, 9 percent to coloured, 2 percent to white applicants and 1 percent to “other” race groups.

Human rights activist Mary de Haas, a retired academic who had taught medical students, said she agreed with the decision of the UKZN student not to fill in her race group when she had applied for the medical school place, saying “we are all Africans”.

“I think the whole thing is distasteful but I suppose they do have to strive to right the wrongs of the past and ensure that more indigenous African doctors are trained,” De Haas said.

Les Govender, the IFP’s spokesman on education, said it was “unfortunate” that the university adopted race quotas.

“It boils down to racist sidelining of people and it’s unacceptable. All races are protected under the constitution,” he said.

“We shouldn’t accept this stance where people are disadvantaged. They need to re-think their policies because if they continue to discriminate according to race then the Human Rights Commission must investigate.”

Mary Metcalfe, head of the education department at Wits University, said it seemed “harsh” to withdraw an offer once made.

“I understand the family’s reluctance to self-identify as a racial group if they reject the basis of this classification, so it is an example of the difficulties of implementing a quota system,” she said.

However, Metcalfe said: “We do need greater representation in our graduates.

“In medicine we need more places for training as so many committed and able young people are being turned away when the country needs them desperately.”

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