South Africa Announces Details of Major Higher-Education Reform Plan

The Chronicle of Higher Education

Tuesday, March 6, 2001

South Africa Announces Details of Major Higher-Education Reform Plan

 

By LINDA VERGNANI

 

(Pretoria) South Africa announced a plan on Monday to end the fragmentation, duplication, and racial inequities left over from apartheid in its higher-education system. The plan calls for merging some public institutions, encouraging cooperation between colleges, and setting targets for racial balance.

 

"I can offer you many reasons to motivate the need for change," said Kader Asmal, the minister of education, in announcing the plan. "But the most compelling is that reform of the higher-education system is the surest way to abolish the dual nationhood that apartheid has left us with."

 

To increase the number of black and female faculty members, institutions will be encouraged to recruit from other African countries.

 

The plan also aims to increase the participation rate of 20- to 24- year-olds in higher education to 20 percent, from the current

15 percent. Over the next five years, institutions will be asked to increase their graduation rates without lowering quality, so that at least 10,000 additional students will graduate annually.

 

The restructuring of the higher education system has been approved by President Thabo Mbeki's cabinet and was released here today by Mr. Asmal. He said he would "relentlessly" push to enforce the plan, which is the culmination of an effort that began even before the official end of apartheid in 1994.

 

The plan notes striking changes in the racial composition of the student body since the end of apartheid, with the enrollment of black students -- which is a generic term here meaning African, mixed race, and Asian -- increasing to 71 percent of the total in 1999, from 53 percent in 1993. But the graduation rate of white students has been more than double that of black students.

 

The plan points out that the racial composition of the professoriate has changed very little. Between 1993 and 1999, the proportion of black faculty members at universities grew to just 20 percent, from 13 percent. Among the reasons cited for the small increase was a limited pool of black and female academics and competition from the public and private sectors. Under the reform plan, institutions would have to develop and follow plans with clear targets for rectifying race and gender inequities.

 

Mr. Asmal said several mergers were under way, including one in KwaZulu-Natal Province involving two technikons, or technical institutes. The governing councils of the Natal Technikon and M.L. Sultan Technikon in Durban agreed in principle last month to combine the institutions.

 

According to Mr. Asmal, a national working group will be established to investigate the feasibility of reducing the number of institutions in different regions without reducing the number of places where higher education is delivered to students. The group will report to him by December.

 

Mr. Asmal said he did not know how many new institutions would result once the restructuring was complete. But he announced that a single distance-education institution would be created by combining the University of South Africa, Technikon South Africa, and the distance-education center of Vista University.

 

Copyright 2001 by The Chronicle of Higher Education