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Transformation needed at universities: Habib

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Wits University vice-chancellor, Professor Adam Habib believes that transformation movements are gaining traction at universities across the country and that the topic has not been taken seriously at higher education institutions. Habib was speaking at the 8th Annual Imam Haron Memorial Lecture, around the topic ‘Transcending the Past and Reimagining the Future of the South African University’.

“The fact that so many students feel culturally alienated from their institutions, the fact that we have the kind of admissions problems that we have, and the fact that 21 years into our transition we have institutions where 63% of students are still white, those are serious problematic issues that have to be addressed,” he told VOC Drivetime.

The second part of his address was more critical of the movement however, questioning some the strategies adopted to protest there alleged ‘inequalities’. Habib said there could be no tolerance of violence, or infringement on the rights of those who shared opposing views.

“That is just unacceptable and not permissible in a democratic society. There needs to be a serious review within the movement on how to conduct this debate, and what the parameters thereof are,” he stressed.

While the need for urgent transformation has taken precedent at most universities, Habib was keen to stress that there has been some progress. With regards to Wit’s University itself, the vice-chancellor noted that at the onset of democracy the institution’s student body would have been compromised of 75% white, and 25% black (of colour) students. 21 years later, those percentages were now reversed.

“There has been some change, but in other areas there has clearly been little change. How is it that 75% of the students located here, who are black, feel culturally alienated. It is the way the environment works, it’s the naming processes, it’s the institutional culture, it’s the way the curriculum is configured and it is the way the residences are configured etc,” he suggested.

Although admitting blame on the part of university vice-chancellor at all institutions since the start of the transformation process, Habib also levelled criticism at government for not allocating sufficient funding towards scholarships, while further lamenting a lack of discussions and ‘thinking’ around solutions to the issue.

“All stakeholders in our system need to take collective responsibility for the failures of the last 21 years,” he declared. VOC (Mubeen Banderker)

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