Some students are so far behind by the time they reach university that there is little point accepting them to study as they are unlikely to succeed, according to UCT philosophy professor David Benatar.
“We need to recognise that admitting those students who are so unprepared that they are unlikely to succeed even with academic support is both a disservice to those students and a negligent use of public funds,” he argued in his contribution to the debate on UCT’s admissions policy.
This follows the university’s call for comments on its admissions policy to be submitted to its Commission into Student Admissions.
The policy, which uses race as a proxy for classifying students as disadvantaged, is presently under review.
Benatar said it was entirely appropriate in an admissions decision to favour to some extent those who had been educationally disadvantaged.
But he argued that because of the low standards of primary and secondary education, some students might already be too disadvantaged.
“In addition to all the other research that is being undertaken in connection with admissions, we need to know whether admission standards could be altered to ensure that those who are admitted are more likely to succeed.”
He said in this way UCT’s admissions policy would favour only the disadvantaged people who could succeed with reasonable support.
In his letter to the commission, Benatar said that instead of rehashing his arguments, he would enclose two pieces he had recently written – one in the SA Journal of Higher Education and a shorter one from the Politicsweb website.
He did add a few points to the letter.
The first was that he hoped the university was truly seeking a proxy for disadvantage and not a proxy for race.
“The latter would just be racialism in disguise. Given the history of South Africa, we should expect that most of those who are disadvantaged are those who (or whose parents) were previously classified as ‘black’.”
Benatar said the test of UCT’s commitment to non-racialism would be its use of race in other policies – including staff appointments and scholarships.
“Will some of these continue to be restricted to people of some racial groups, irrespective of the financial or educational level of individuals in those groups?”
The DA Students Organisation has called for race criteria to be scrapped and replaced with criteria such as a student’s school background and socio-economic status.
It said students with similar backgrounds and education should compete on the same terms for admission.
But the SA Students Congress has said it did not want a change to the university’s admission policy.
These submissions are just some of the 85 under review by the UCT commission.
A number of individuals, who have not made submissions, contacted the Cape Times with their thoughts on the admissions policy.
AfriForum Youth chairman Charl Oberholzer said students should not be categorised by race.
He said that the top 5 percent of matrics, irrespective of race, should be allowed entrance to a faculty without being submitted to racial categorisation to ensure that top talent remained in SA.
Glen Snyman, the founder and co-ordinator of People Against Race Classification, called for the race-based policy to be discontinued immediately.
He said that every applicant to UCT should tick the “black African” block on the admission application.