The UCT study, involving Professor Nicoli Nattrass, featured in the SA Journal of Science. File picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)
The UCT study, involving Professor Nicoli Nattrass, featured in the SA Journal of Science. File picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)

UCT study on black students and biological sciences called 'racist, prejudicial'

By Okuhle Hlati Time of article published Jun 5, 2020

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Cape Town – A UCT study that suggests black students are indisposed to studying biological sciences because of their “materialism and culture” has been met with outrage.

The study, involving Professor Nicoli Nattrass, featured in the SA Journal of Science.

It was titled “Why are black South African students less likely to consider studying biological sciences?” and was conducted by researchers from the Institute for Communities and Wildlife in Africa.

Nattrass said conservation biology, zoology and the other biological sciences subjects “struggled to attract black South African students because persisting inequalities in the schooling system make it less likely that they (black students) will meet the entrance requirements for science courses.

“Yet there are likely to be other reasons too, notably materialist values and aspirations, as well as experience with pets and attitudes towards wildlife, all of which are likely also to be shaped by a student’s socio-economic background.

“Given the ‘Fallist’ protests of 2015/2016 (Rhodes Must Fall and Fees Must Fall movements) another possibility is that wildlife conservation itself might be regarded as colonial, and students might perceive a trade-off between social justice and conservation,” she said. 

The researchers interviewed 211 students last year, of whom 114 were black.

The Black Academic Caucus said in a statement that the quantitative data’s claims at objectivity were flawed and biased.

“At no point does the author consider the most structural and plausible reasons for low enrolment at UCT in particular. Such as the socio-economic inequalities that restrict black students from entering this field. 

"Later in the paper, the author suggests that a way to improve enrolment is to teach black students evolution. Instead, the author zeroes in one of the tropes that black people are materialistic in their pursuits and lack respect for wildlife or the environment.”

The caucus said one question only was relevant to the premise of the research; all the others were “racially problematic and prejudicial to black students”.

UCT spokesperson Elijah Moholola said the university took the matter “extremely seriously” and would investigate.

Cape Times

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