So this week is Maties Diversity Week at Stellenbosch University. While racial diversity is only one element of diversity, given that it was the primary mechanism for discrimination during apartheid, I thought it would be a good one to check. So I went looking for the racial composition of Stellenbosch University and thought I’d chuck in UCT for good measure. (UCT stats from here, SU stats from here). Obviously the major difference between UCT and SU is that SU is primarily an Afrikaans-medium university while UCT is an English-medium university*. Given the correlations between race and language, it is clearly more difficult to attract Black students to SU than it is to UCT (we could also talk about institutional culture and threshold effects but let’s not go there :). What was surprising to me is that there is a lot of talk about transformation at SU, but the numbers suggest very little transformation. In 2009 14% of the SU student population was Black, in 2012 that figure was only 16%. For UCT the figures are only slightly better growing from 26% in 2009 to 30% in 2012. As an aside, it’s helpful to remember that 80% of South Africa’s population is Black (according to the 2011 census). I was especially surprised by the nonexistent growth in the proportion of coloured students at SU (16% in 2009 and 16% in 2012). Given that most coloured students speak Afrikaans as a first language, recruiting the best and brightest coloured students seems like a no-brainer?
I do think that Stellenbosch is moving in the right direction. Recently the SU Council passed a motion that 30% of all first year residence places are reserved for previously disadvantaged students (see Res Placement Policy here), a move that was vehemently opposed by some former SU students.
The links between race, class, language and culture mean that transformation at SU was never going to be easy. Thankfully it looks like those in power at the University have their heads screwed on straight and realize that increased transformation is sorely needed. Given the tortured past that we have in South Africa, it is going to be a difficult task to balance the linguistic rights of Afrikaners with the rights to higher education of a previously disadvantaged and heavily exploited majority. One thing is crystal clear – the status quo is unsustainable and even more than that, it is undesirable.
Also see SU’s 2013 Transformation Strategy here.
*(That being said, there is a push to offer more and more courses in English as well as Afrikaans. for example, if you enrolled to do a BComm in 2013 you could do your entire course from start to finish in English).