Shake-up plans split SA opinion

February 22, 2002

Reactions to proposals to slash the number of South African universities from 36 to 21 through closures and mergers have ranged from positive to outright rebellion.

The proposals keep formerly white universities - historically South Africa's richest and best - largely intact while merging or closing almost all "black" institutions.

After apartheid, black universities shrank as white institutions attracted more students from a static pool of qualified school leavers.

Education minister Kader Asmal swiftly pointed out that the proposals were advisory.

"If I wanted to, I could have closed down all higher education institutions in the country with less than 8,000 students," Professor Asmal said. "That's what other democracies do."

The proposals envisage that six out of ten historically white universities stay as they are and the remaining four merge with formerly black institutions.

By contrast, two out of ten historically black universities are set to be dismantled, three are to be merged with formerly white institutions and three will merge to become "comprehensive".

The South African Universities Vice-Chancellors' Association described the proposals as "bold, decisive and far reaching". It is convening a special meeting to formulate a response.

But there has been an outcry among black institutions and intellectuals, and concerns are bound to grow as staff at merging institutions begin to fear for their jobs and positions.

Itumeleng Mosala, principal of Technikon North West, attacked the "declaration of war on African education". And political correspondent Vuyo Mvoko said it was ironic that institutions that depended on apartheid were now paraded as the most effective. They "would rather remain tenth-grade caricatures of Oxford, than attempt to be first-grade African universities", he said.



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