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Address at the launch of the University of Johannesburg, 5 May 2005, Minister Naledi Pandor speeches


Address by the Minister of Education, Ms Naledi Pandor, MP, at the launch of the University of Johannesburg, Auckland Park

05 May 2005

“We have come a long way”

Chairperson of the Interim Council, Dr Ihron Rensburg
Interim Vice-Chancellor, Prof Rue Botha
Interim pro-Vice-Chancellor, Prof Connie Mokadi
Members of the Interim Council and the Interim Management
Staff and students of the University
Distinguished Guests

It is with great pleasure that I join you this evening to celebrate the launch of the University of Johannesburg.

This launch is of great symbolic significance as it represents the birth of a new institution, rooted in the pre-eminent city of democratic South Africa, and one of the great cities of the African continent, Johannesburg.

We have come a long way in higher education. Few academics writing on higher education in 1975 predicted the current impact and size of the sector. At that time we had ethnic universities, racially defined universities, higher education subsidies formed a small proportion of the overall education budget, and institutions were similar to gated monastic enclaves.

Few black students had access to universities and thus for black (mainly male) students the options were limited to UNIN, UFH, UNISA, UNITRA, UWC, and UDW. These institutions offered limited opportunities to become lawyers, teachers, priests, and for the really fortunate doctors.

Most academics did not have much of a public face, possibly due to the role they had to play in providing intellectual support to the apartheid state.

Ten years later, by 1985, higher education had been dramatically changed by the student activism that the uprising of 1976 brought in its wake. On many campuses it became clear that it would no longer be business as usual.

In dramatic fashion, vice chancellors were often forced to make choices; to join the protests, or to keep retreating to their closeted offices and remain outside the moving process of change.

Protest politics shaped student responses, student academic performance and the research focus of professors.

We noted distinctions beginning to emerge, students and academics for change actively against apartheid, sometimes supported by institutional leadership.

On the other hand, university communities, which defined themselves in close collaboration with the apartheid state and carried out state research, denied black students access and enthusiastically embraced the state and its laws and prohibitions in higher education.

The successful promotion of an international response against apartheid led to the increased marginalisation of South Africa and its universities from the international stage.

Mass arrests, shootings, continued detention of political leaders and a firm state adherence to apartheid had led by 1987 to increased isolation in the form of an international academic boycott.

This marginalisation led universities to begin to focus on the wrongs of the apartheid state. At this time, the most radical views on apartheid began to emerge from universities, from student leaders and progressive academics, like Rick Turner and David Webster.

In the excitement of the time the critical issues of access, equity and redress began to be addressed in the process of developing a new vision for higher education.

The early nineties were consumed with developing the policy and legislative frameworks that were to inform subsequent reforms.

The origin of the policies that shape our government’s approach to the transformation of higher education lies in a process that started with the National Education Policy Initiative (NEPI), the ANC’s ‘Yellow Book’ and the National Commission on Higher Education.

The 1997 Education White Paper 3: A Programme for the Transformation of Higher Education, set out the case for the restructuring of the higher education system and provided the policy basis for legislation, which came to pass only at the end of 1997.

While this inclusive process was critically important, the delay created a policy vacuum in this period that resulted in an unco-ordinated development of the higher education terrain, including an intensified competition between public institutions, further exacerbating the existing inequalities within the system.

Our point of departure for the transformation of higher education, and in particular public higher education, is that it should play a central role in the social, cultural and economic development of society.

In particular, it has to respond to the dual challenges of equity and development.

In order to achieve success in terms of both challenges, there is consensus that higher education has to be planned, governed, and funded as a single national system.

The 2001 National Plan for Higher Education, provides the implementation framework for the five major transformation goals of the system: access, equity, diversity, building high-level research capacity, and establishing new institutional and organizational forms.

The promotion of greater diversity in the system is being driven through institutional and national planning processes.

Not unexpectedly for a system that was in ‘free fall’, some stakeholders viewed and view these steps towards the more efficient and effective use of limited resources as being over-regulatory.

Yet the planning process has also played an important part in identifying areas for the rationalization of academic programmes in order to reduce costly duplication and to enhance excellence and innovation.

One example of rationalization was the establishment of a single national faculty of veterinary science from two existing faculties in close geographical proximity. This positive step generated startling transformation challenges that we continue to confront today.

Similar approaches are being used to ensure that areas such as music and indigenous and foreign languages, which do not attract large numbers of students, are preserved and indeed nurtured.

How does this brief historical synopsis relate to tonight’s celebrations?

This university illustrates the restructuring of the institutional landscape of higher education through mergers as part of our continuing effort to eradicate the last vestiges of Verwoerd’s pernicious ideology of “separate but equal development” in the educational arena.

However, to merge institutions for narrow political and symbolic purposes, irrespective of its impact on the national reconstruction and development agenda would be as dangerous as Verwoed’s philosophies.

The main rationale was, simply put, that the previous institutional structure of higher education was not sustainable and was unable to respond and contribute to our development agenda.

By this year the number of higher education institutions will have been reduced from 36 to 22, with no loss of overall institutional capacity and student places.

The merger and incorporation processes are intended to give rise to new, stronger, and more sustainable institutions that will be truly reflective of the society.

We are not naive about the complexity of the undertaking and do not see mergers as the solution to all the ills in the system.

However, we believe that the institutional restructuring will lead to a more rational landscape for pursuit of excellence and equity.

The problem, as government saw it in Gauteng, was that in 2000 there were 8 institutions with a combined enrolment total of 178 000 students of whom 48 000 were enrolled in distance education programmes largely at the University of Pretoria, Rand Afrikaans University and Technikon Pretoria. This comprised nearly 30% of the national enrolment total in 2000.

Despite the relatively large enrolment of African students, most African students enrolled in distance education programmes, and in contact education programmes tended not to be in science, engineering and technology programmes. The success rate of African students in contact undergraduate programmes was lower than that of white students.

The province as a whole was under-performing with all eight institutions producing far fewer graduates than they should, given their enrolment levels. Student failure and dropout rates were also unacceptably high in most of the eight institutions.

It was against this background, that government decided to form the University of Johannesburg as a comprehensive, multi-campus institution, which would offer both university and technikon type programmes.

Our hope is that the merger will contribute to meeting South Africa’s human resource needs and those of the region. The existing programme strengths of the two merging contact institutions are complementary, resulting in a well-balanced programme profile in line with the requirements of the National Plan.

The incorporation of the East Rand and Soweto campuses of Vista University will help to integrate students from different backgrounds and to create a new organisational identity.

The new institution will also benefit from its presence in Soweto and the East Rand, both of which have high levels of student demand for access to higher education.

Students and staff from these campuses will also benefit by having access to the facilities and resources of the main campuses.

The geographical proximity of the campuses to one another provides considerable opportunities for realising academic, administrative and infrastructural economies of scale.

Despite some initial opposition, the merger has been embraced, and this is evidence of the commitment and dedication of the university community to look bravely towards a new future.

In this regard, I want to acknowledge the role and leadership of the interim council and the interim management in ensuring a smooth transition to the merger.

Thus, the University of Johannesburg is presented with the opportunity to define its vision and mission in the context of the rejuvenation of the city, and together with the city, to contribute to the development of South Africa and the Southern African region.

I would urge the university to grow with the city and to seize the opportunities that this offers. I am confident that you will do so.

The key challenge that confronts the University of Johannesburg is to define what constitutes a comprehensive institution, combining as it does under one umbrella, a university (Rand Afrikaans) and a technikon (Witwatersrand) and a distance education component (east Rand and Soweto campuses of Vista university).

It is a new institutional type in the higher education landscape in South Africa designed to widen access, expand opportunity and enhance capacity.

In short, the University of Johannesburg has been given the opportunity and the challenge to bridge the great divide between university and technical training, between basic and applied knowledge, and between theory and practice.

This is especially important given the impact of globalisation on knowledge production and the world of work.

The challenge of defining the role and function of the University of Johannesburg as comprehensive institution cannot be pursued in isolation from the broader challenges of transformation.

There are four aspects that I would like to highlight.

First, there is the challenge of equity. We need vigorously to address the legacy of racial and gender inequalities that continue to persist. This is especially so in the case of the staff composition of the higher education system.

It goes without saying that the challenge of equity cannot be pursued at the expense of quality. Indeed, the poor throughput and graduation rates suggests that quality is the key aspect by which to measure the success of equity, if the “revolving door” syndrome is to become a relic of the past.

Second, there is the challenge of efficiency and effectiveness, in particular, the need to ensure that scarce resources are not wasted.

Universities have a special role to play in development; but that role runs right through the education system from schools to the tertiary institutions. I support differentiation and the promotion of growth in selected areas.

Some institutions do not want to differentiate – they all want to offer the same things and when I disagree I am accused of infringing on institutional autonomy.

Third, there is the challenge of creating new institutional cultures that cut across our social, cultural, ethnic and language differences.

We must create institutions in which all our people feel welcome and valued as members of the university community.

This does not mean uniformity. We must mine the rich seams of diversity in our people; but diversity must not become an excuse for social exclusion and social injustice.

In this regard, it is especially important for the University of Johannesburg to approach the issue of language, in particular, the language of communication with scrupulous attention to inclusivity.

We need to promote and strengthen the academic study of indigenous languages. This objective needs to be supported by the promotion of the study of the indigenous languages in schools.

The fourth and final challenge is that of partnership and co-operation. I have indicated the importance of the location of the University within the city of Johannesburg.

This provides, in my view, an exciting opportunity for the University to enter into a partnership with the city to facilitate the wide-ranging renewal and revitalisation project of the city.

It requires both enhancing the skills base of the city, as well as developing its knowledge base through research. The University of Johannesburg is well-placed to contribute to this process.

And more significantly, this role would be enhanced if the University of Johannesburg and the University of the Witwatersrand could enter into a joint partnership with the city.

I am aware of the discussions that are taking place in this regard and watch with positive anticipation the emergence of a higher education institutions-city partnership.

The challenge you signal through this celebration is that you have decided to take on the task of making Johannesburg the intellectual capital of South Africa.

I thank you.

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Written By: Administrator Account
Date Posted: 6/30/2008
Number of Views: 728

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