The minister of higher education and training, Hlengiwe Mkhize, said universities should begin to seriously confront the vexed issue of transformation and autonomy.
The minister said while she is seized with the Fees Commission report and engaging with vice-chancellors to ensure the academic year starts smoothly, she also flagged transformation as one of the areas that needs to be addressed earnestly.
Transformation was one of the students’ demands during the #FeesMustFall campaign. They called for the universities’ management to transform, among others, their institutional culture, staff demographics and composition, admission policies and curriculum.
“We have said to them that the #FeesMustFall campaign gave the country an opportunity to discuss funding of tertiary education but we know for a fact that, in some instances, universities alienate students. And as long as they don’t work hard on transformation issues, they subtly exclude students,” said Mkhize. She said a student who feels alienated is likely to fail first year and those who do not have support back home drop out because they feel the culture is alien.
“We feel, as the department, that whatever support we give to students, it will be a waste of resources if universities do not reposition themselves differently,” said Mkhize. She said they also highlighted the historical issue of the autonomy of universities; there is a historical context because universities didn’t want to be abused by the apartheid regime to implement the racist laws.
“But we have not really engaged them now in this democracy. We keep flagging these issues and say once they are addressed students must see fruits of their revolution on campuses,” Mkhize said.