Mamokgethi Phakeng Picture: African News Agency (ANA)
Mamokgethi Phakeng Picture: African News Agency (ANA)

UCT's Phakeng under fire over 'nasty' social media response to potential student

By Lisa Isaacs Time of article published Jan 14, 2020

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Cape Town – UCT Vice-Chancellor Mamokgethi Phakeng has come under fire for a remark on social media that a prospective student should go to another university which would accept her “level of results”.

The normally social media savvy Phakeng was interacting with prospective UCT students and parents leading up to a scheduled question and answer session on her personal Instagram page on Sunday.

In the process, she also received questions from matriculants regarding criteria for university admission, particularly UCT’s processes.

Instagram user Leedlaminii asked: “Can you improve the chances of being accepted into UCT with your Grade 12 March, June, September and final report if your Grade 11 final report isn’t so great.”

Phakeng replied: “My suggestion is that you go to another university that will accept your level of results. Don’t stress yourself.”

Her comment, which was later deleted, elicited a backlash on social media.

User Dali Maseko asked: “In what world is this response appropriate? Many potential students only meet their provisional requirements later during their matric year - I don’t think you should be discouraging potential students so freely. 

"This is just nasty and inaccurate. UCT represents a way out of difficulty for many people and a promise for a better future - just because you have made it doesn’t mean you should discourage others from coming to UCT.”

Phakeng later tweeted: “Never glorify any varsity. Getting a diploma pass or not being admitted to UCT is not the end of the world. There’s many successful people who, like me, didn’t study at UCT and have done very well in their careers. If you don’t get accepted don’t think it's the end, try something else.”

UCT spokesperson Nombuso Shabalala said yesterday that Phakeng had “advised applicants to explore other options for tertiary education as entry to UCT is not the only determining factor for academic success, and entry to UCT is limited to only 4 200 first-year students.”

UCT received 73 000 undergraduate applications to study in 2020 from around 37 700 applicants, and could not admit them all, she added.

“The VC received many Twitter messages supporting the value of studying at other institutions. It is also worth noting that Prof Phakeng obtained her degrees at institutions outside UCT.

“She subsequently deleted the Instagram response in question because it was taking focus away from the important messages she wanted to get across in assisting prospective students,” Shabalala said.

Fees Must Fall Western Cape said they were disappointed by Phakeng’s response.

“We think this response is unbecoming of someone who is a VC of any educational institution,” the movement said in a statement.

“We are highly disappointed by the arrogant tone of this response. This response suggests that she (Phakeng) thinks that students are not good enough to be at UCT and that they should try out other universities. 

"This is a snide remark at other universities. We demand that she must apologise to the student and reach out to her as an extension of that apology.”

University of KwaZulu-Natal Education Studies Professor Labby Ramrathan called Phakeng’s response “unacceptable”.

“The way in which that response has come out is unacceptable. This would be discouraging to a number of people,” he said. 

“Increasingly we are seeing students from disadvantaged backgrounds trying their hardest to aspire to get into the top institutions, and we have seen students who have succeeded."

Cape Times

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