Black and in the red

August 11, 2000

Karen MacGregor is right to suggest lack of clarity on funding is the greatest weakness of the report on the future of South African universities (International news, THES, July 28).

The present funding formula is tailor-made for white universities with large postgraduate, research and science expenditures. Its application to black universities with different profiles has resulted in reduced subsidies and has contributed to the situation where the rural black universities are all technically bankrupt.

The University of Transkei, where I have worked recently, had never been expected to adhere to a budget and had a minimum of financial controls. It was incapable of withstanding financial pressure. By the end of this year it will have an overdraft of R100 million (Pounds 9.6 million) and the prospect of a reduced subsidy payment in April 2001. None of the historically black and rural universities is significantly better off.

The report rejects the closure of institutions and proposes mergers. This may be a rational way forward, but it will cost money in the short run. It seems unlikely a viable institution such as Rhodes University would accept merger with its Eastern Cape sisters, the universities of Transkei and Fort Hare, without the prior liquidation of their substantial debts.

Hugh Macmillan Dorchester-on-Thames, Oxfordshire

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