Fri. Apr 12th, 2024

As South Africa commemorates 30 years of democracy, amidst the jubilant celebrations, there arises a pertinent question: Are tertiary institutions truly reflecting the transformative spirit envisaged post-apartheid?

Amidst the festivities surrounding Human Rights Day, an occasion to honor the memory of the Sharpeville massacre, it is imperative to gauge tangible progress, ensuring that the sacrifices made during apartheid were not in vain.

Transformation within higher education transcends mere demographic shifts in leadership. According to the South African Human Rights Commission, genuine transformation must permeate all facets of tertiary institutions, encompassing governance, management, student environments, staffing equity, institutional cultures, teaching methodologies, research paradigms, and the political economy of funding.

Yet, amidst the clamor for change, a glaring absence of comprehensive data to assess progress prevails. Instead, institutions boast of their achievements, sidestepping discussions on shortcomings that could guide future trajectories. While apartheid shoulders much of the blame for systemic educational challenges, who should be held accountable for the sluggish pace of transformation three decades post-apartheid?

While politicians bask in the glory of democracy, allegations of government corruption have tainted the tertiary sector. Professor Jonathan Jansen’s exposé sheds light on pervasive corruption within universities, underscoring a dire need for systemic reform.

The dawn of the 2024 academic year is shrouded in uncertainty, with looming state subsidy cuts and a cloud of skepticism enveloping the National Students Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), imperiling the future viability of universities.

Although various actors influence the university ecosystem, the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) plays a pivotal role in data collection, monitoring, and performance assessment. Despite commendable initiatives like the University Capacity Development Programme and Staffing South Africa’s Universities Framework, questions linger over their efficacy.

As the nation grapples with persistent governance scandals, violence against women, and dismal student throughput rates, the core question remains: Are tertiary institutions evolving in a manner reflective of diversity and human rights principles enshrined in the constitution? Who shall hold them accountable?

While Minister of Higher Education, Science, and Innovation, Dr. Blade Nzimande, faces constraints, notably academic freedom, critics argue for more decisive action to enforce change and prevent business as usual.

Undoubtedly, strides have been made; however, they fall short of the transformative imperative necessitated by apartheid’s enduring legacy. The onus lies on the minister to wield the transformative whip, steering the tertiary sector towards meaningful change.

The journey toward educational equity traces back to the apartheid era, where institutionalized segregation perpetuated racial divisions. The subsequent dismantling of this inequitable system heralded a new era, marked by mergers and reconfigurations aimed at fostering inclusivity.

Yet, challenges persist. Professor Jairam Reddy advocates for a new commission to assess the state of higher education, delving into the efficacy of mergers, the quality of education, racial dynamics, funding adequacy, and the scourge of corruption.

With vested interests at stake, the question looms: Has transformation faltered on its journey? In the pursuit of true democracy, South Africa’s tertiary institutions stand at a crossroads, beckoning a concerted effort towards genuine transformation.

Naidu, a seasoned communications professional and education editor, initiates a two-part series exploring the transformational landscape within the tertiary sector.

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