On higher education in South Africa


Students try to force their way in to the University of JohannesburgStudents waiting to register at the University of Johannesburg.                             Source: Reuters, at the Guardian

The mother of a prospective student was killed Tuesday in a stampede of student hopefuls rushing the gates of the University of Johannesburg.

According to the New York Times article, the crowd had been waiting since before dawn for the handful of last-minute seats in the university. The Guardian reports that students and parents camped outside the school gates at least a day in advance. Only 11,000 students could be chosen out of the 85,000 that applied.

That could certainly be a cause for tension.

But I couldn’t come close to justifying this unspeakable tragedy with its cause. Someone’s mother is dead for this? Sources differ on whether the student even made it inside to register.

Though this death couldn’t be justified, I am looking to understand where these people are coming from. I know they are coming out of decades of oppression under white minority rule. I know young, black adults were barely given a chance at higher education under apartheid. And I’m willing to bet that it’s still not easy to obtain any kind of post-secondary education, even after apartheid’s end in 1994.

The Guardian argues that the issue is still one of race, one of class. The grip apartheid held on higher education opportunities has not been fully released. This incident was one that drew some of South Africa’s poorest students—the reason they were racing for seats in the first place was because they missed the first application deadline, which was only available online.

In a statement from the ANC Youth League, the serious gap in seats available and seats demanded at  universities like University of Johannesburg is considered a crisis.

To alleviate the stress between the number of qualified students and spaces available at universities, South Africa’s education minister, Blade Nzimande, suggests more students look at technical school, called Further Education and Training (F.E.T) colleges.

But there are students who spoke to the New York Times who said that a diploma from an F.E.T. college is not enough. Companies are simply not hiring.

In a nation crippled by high unemployment rates and wracked by poverty, it is no wonder how a matter like registering for a spot in a university has escalated into such an uphill battle for many. To think how easily I obtained university admittance in comparison is astonishing. My home state of Florida wants students to attend public universities so badly that it is willing to pay most of the tuition for students who fulfill a few simple requirements like GPA and community service involvement. Sure, the application process is unnerving for many students. Students don’t always get accepted to their first-choice college. But I am persuaded that my state– my country– has made opportunities for these students to attend a wide variety of universities or community colleges.

This unfortunate incident in South Africa is really a problem of the system. The nation has come a long way under the African National Congress, but it still has much progress to make, namely in the education sector. It is my hope that the change will happen quickly.

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