South Africa

September 17, 1999

(Photograph) - Frustrated post-apartheid expectations and stubborn unemployment levels among blacks are the bugbears of Thabo Mbeki's new government in South Africa.

The plunge in the international gold markets has further destabilised the country's efforts to shake off the isolation of apartheid and rebuild its economy as an engine for regeneration. While South Africa's universities have well-developed research programmes, the government sees the 15 technikons - corresponding approximately to the UK's pre-1992 polytechnics - as a potential solution. This week the National Research Foundation helped stage a presentation in London aimed at securing UK partnerships to develop postgraduate research programmes in key areas such as engineering, construction, biological science and healthcare.

David Robertson, professor of public policy and education at John Moores Liverpool University, a speaker at a conference attached to the event, said:

"The technikons have shown the greatest inclination to respond to the majority community. The drift away from the universities to the technikons among the black majority has been most noticeable.

"They guarantee students the best chance of getting jobs in a difficult labour market. They are also more responsive to the black community than the former liberal white universities, and to legislation designed to bring forward labour market skills for the African majority."

The National Research Foundation wants to foster bilateral links with universities overseas, particularly the former polytechnics in the UK, to encourage capacity-building.

Mr Robertson said: "High expectations have been raised, which the economic conditions do not allow the government to deliver. While the rhetoric of apartheid has been dismantled, many of the social and economic features remain, especially in post secondary education. Whites now tend to go to private colleges.

"The white universities, while they have made steps to encourage black students, still tend to be dominated by white staff."

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