Friday, September 08, 2006

UCT defends 'extreme' admissions policy

Sumayya Ismail | Johannesburg, South Africa
08 September 2006 11:47

through employment or education, transformation and affirmative action
strategies have become part of daily life in South Africa, and recent
media attention on the admissions policies of the University of Cape
Town (UCT) has raised some important questions.

are these measures vital to atone for the apartheid past or are they
just another form of discrimination, aimed at a different group of

Following a bout of letters published in Cape Town
newspapers last week, Democratic Alliance leader Tony Leon attacked the
university's policies in his column on SA Today, criticising its use of race as a primary admissions requirement to certain medical and law degrees.

assesses its undergraduate applicants based on a points system --
similar to that used by other South African tertiary institutions.
Unlike other institutions, however, UCT's 2007 admission requirements
clearly distinguish between different race groups in stipulating the
number of points required for specific degrees.

A BSc in
physiotherapy, for instance, requires that black and coloured
applicants obtain 34 points in order to be considered, while Indian
applicants need to obtain 41 points and "Open" applicants need to
obtain 43 points.

An almost 10-point advantage for black and
coloured applicants in some cases saw Leon chastising the university
for "cravenly enacting the ANC's [African National Congress's]
obsessive, race-based reclassification of South Africa".

"I think there is a lot of pressure from government," Leon told the Mail & Guardian Online. "UCT goes way beyond … these measures are very extreme."

are UCT's measures. We believe in them," UCT registrar Hugh Amoore
affirmed, "Whether they happen to tie in with the transformation and
affirmative action or agendas of the day is of secondary concern."

'Appropriate measures'
37 of the 1997 Higher Education Act states that in their admissions
policies, all South African universities are required to comply with
"appropriate measures for the redress of past inequalities", but they
"may not unfairly discriminate in any way".

"We believe that
they [the admission requirements] pass constitutional muster," said
Amoore, "[and] that the discrimination in them is fair and

Leon wrote, however, that through these
measures "the university is actually carrying out government's
programme with a zeal far in excess of the Act's section 37 (1)".

is the mandate of each individual institution to publish and implement
an admissions policy that is both fair and transparent," said Professor
Duma Malaza, CEO of Higher Education South Africa.

The M&G Online
looked at the admission requirements of medical faculties of similar
institutions and found that although previously disadvantaged race
groups are preferred in most instances, UCT is the only university with
such formal affirmative action measures written into the application

Like UCT, the universities of the Witwatersrand, Free
State and Pretoria also assess applicants based on a points system.
However, at these institutions the same number of points is required
for all applicants, regardless of race. They all maintain that
applicants are judged academically, and no differentiation is made
between racial groups.

The University of KwaZulu-Natal,
however, does work within a quota system. "But there is competition
within the race groups," said admissions officer Deliwe Ikalila, with
black students competing with each other, white students competing with
each other, and so on. Those who reach the highest percentage in their
matric results, in each of the four race groups, are accepted.

Selection methods
well as attaining the required number of points, applicants to UCT's
health sciences faculty are also expected to complete a questionnaire
and take a national placement test that assesses their suitability for
their chosen field of study.

"These selection methods are the
result of conscious policies to ensure, first, that those we admit are
able to succeed and, secondly, that the resulting class will have
significant numbers of African [black] and coloured students.

UCT admissions policy of the year 2007 is an attempt to ensure we move
to such a [equal opportunity] society," Amoore said, to which Leon
responded by saying he "disagree[s] absolutely, profoundly and

"Categorisations using racial difference are very bad news for non-racialism," the DA leader said.

the university's policies a "crude racial system", he questioned
whether children of Cabinet ministers who live in upmarket areas,
attend private schools and happen to be black should qualify for these
rewards. "There should be measures to help the best people who can
benefit from the education system."

Amoore said the university
weighs past educational adversity at the level of racial groups as
opposed to individuals, and its policies are based on this. Different
requirements are set for applicants of different backgrounds "to
compensate for generations of educational and socio-economic

"It is too easy in the constitutional state in
which we live to forget the ravages caused by the educational
provisions of native affairs, bantu education and the Department of
Education and care training, or of coloured affairs," Amoore said, "too
easy to forget that even today most township schools and many rural
schools still reflect this legacy in provision, in the qualifications
and experience of the teachers, and in the socio-economic conditions
[poverty] of their communities."

But Leon
was adamant in his weekly column that "not only does UCT's current
approach to admissions not recognise individual worth, it [also]
insults the gifted black student by negating her high marks and
insisting that her place is not dependent on her particular effort or

"Without these policies, the MBChB class, for
example, would be predominantly white and Indian; there would be very
few black men and women doctors in the graduating class," Amoore said.

these measures in place, black students accounted for 72% of UCT's
MBChB classes last year, but Amoore said that "institutionally we
believe we need to do more".

"It's not the job of a university to churn out exact proportions of the population," Leon told the M&G Online.
The university "reinforces the baleful notion that some race groups are
innately inferior to others, because they require special treatment",
he wrote on SA Today.

"Access to higher education is
invariably controversial and politically fraught in contexts such as
South Africa where parity in educational provision has not yet been
achieved," Higher Education South Africa's Malaza explained.
"Extraordinary measures are needed to achieve the kind of equity
targets that will reflect … the demographics of our society."

Numerous attempts to contact the Department of Education for comment on this matter failed.

Comment:  They might as well put up a big sign that reads: "Blacks only".