Education MEC Debbie Schäfer in Twitter row over pupil’s UCT ‘rejection’
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Cape Town - Education MEC Debbie Schäfer was caught up in a Twitter storm on the weekend as she tried to “expose” UCT after one of the Western Cape’s top matrics was allegedly denied a place at the university’s school of medicine.
Schäfer and her followers had implied that, because Michiel Kühn was white, he had been denied a place to study towards a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBChB) at the university’s Faculty of Health Sciences.
Kühn received an award during last week’s ceremony for the province’s top achievers at Leeuwenhof.
According to Schäfer’s tweet, Kühn was shocked to receive a letter from UCT stating that his application was not “competitive”.
Kühn, who did not want to talk to the media, obtained his matric results with flying colours: Afrikaans Home Language, 90%; English First Additional Language, 93%; Mathematics, 99%; Life Orientation, 94%; Accounting, 99%; Business Studies, 98%; Computer Applications Technology, 96%; IT, 97%; Physical Sciences, 96%; and Advanced Programme in Mathematics, 92%.
UCT spokesperson Elijah Moholola said UCT categorically stated that Kühn received an offer from the university on February 23, but did not accept it.
Moholola said Kühn first received a conditional offer on September 3, 2020 based on his Grade 11 (2019) performance. He neither accepted nor declined the offer of a place to study medicine.
“In the final national senior certificate examination at the end of 2020, the applicant obtained a faculty points score (FPS) of 582, and was made a guaranteed offer on February 23. Guaranteed offers require at least 560 FPS (equivalent to 93% aggregate),” said Moholola.
He said the applicant was contacted telephonically on February 24 as part of an effort to recruit talented applicants.
He said during their conversation, Kühn indicated verbally that he would not be taking up UCT’s offer to study medicine, as he had accepted an offer to study at another university.
He said the wording in the email was generic for all wait-listed applicants and included that the “application is not competitive”.
“The faculty will review its systems to look into using wording that is applicable to specific applicants and is not generic,” said Moholola.
After receiving screengrabs and the letter noting Kühn’s results as not “competitive”, Schäfer tweeted: “What exactly does it take to be ’competitive’???“.
Good Party general secretary Brett Herron said Schäfer was irresponsible in posting that Kühn was unsuccessful and in questioning what “competitive” means if a top white student could not get into the university.
Herron said she acted in bad faith, because, as the MEC responsible for education, she has a legitimate interest in the post-high school educational opportunities for matriculants, but, along with that, she has a duty to engage with the university leadership before making any public comment.
Kerry Mauchline, Schäfer's spokesperson, said at no point did Schäfer mention race. “She would have asked the same question for any learner who was told their application was ’not competitive’ despite excellent results.”
Mauchline said there was no need to clarify the letter with UCT, as it was by their own admission a letter they had sent.
However, Herron said Schäfer's conduct exposed that she has no relationship with the university leadership, and that was a massive failure of leadership on her part.
He said the issue raised questions about why the letter was in the public domain and why the MEC promoted it as part of a narrative that white students could not get into UCT.