Posted on January 30, 2012

‘Whites Still Hold Sway at Tuks’

Mogomotsi Magome, IOL News, January 30, 2012

University of Pretoria (UP) vice-chancellor Professor Cheryl de la Rey has denied claims that the institution remains untransformed and still favours white students and staff.

Her comments came after a black alumni organisation, the Higher Education Transformation Network, accused De la Rey and her management of failing to address the plight of black students and staff at the institution.

The transformation network has made a submission to the Parliamentary portfolio committee on higher education, accusing Tuks of a lack of transformation even though the varsity started admitting black students in 1991.

The network said UP also favoured white students in the allocation of bursaries supported by the institution, resulting in more whites than blacks studying.

“It is the contention of the Higher Education Transformation Network that irrespective of the increase in the admission rate of black students into the university since 1994, the university remains at its core untransformed, resistant to change and at best giving cosmetic lip service to the ethos of higher education transformation.

“The presence of black faces on the council of the university — a black chairwoman of the university council (Ms Futhi Mthoba) and black chancellor (Prof Wiseman Nkuhlu) — has not led to the successful attainment of transformation of the institution at all.

“In the view of the transformation network, this at best amounts to high-level fronting and window dressing,” the body states in its submission.

“In 2009 alone the university disbursed bursaries and loans totalling R513 million. However, out of the university-funded bursaries, only R29m (in) bursaries were awarded to black students (comprising 70 percent of the student population). R56m in bursaries were awarded to white students (comprising 30 percent of the total student population).”

The network said it would be speaking to Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande about transformation at UP.

It was not enough that there were only three black executive directors at the university, it added.

But De La Rey, who became the first black head of the institution when she was appointed UP vice-chancellor more than 18 months ago, believes the institution has come a long way in terms of transforming from its white-dominated past.

“We have three black executives and that shows that it is not true that the institution is failing to transform.

“Yes, we could do more but transformation is a process and that it what we are going through at the moment.

“Transformation at UP cannot only be seen in numbers, as it also includes factors like the change of language policy and how the institution embraces diversity.

“If you compare us to other former Afrikaans universities, any objective person would see that indeed we have come a long way.”

De la Rey also dismissed the transformation network’s claims about the inequitable allocation of bursaries.

“There is no policy at the institution that favours white students in terms of the allocation of bursaries.

“In the last financial year we have disbursed more than R500m in student funding but there is absolutely no evidence to prove that white students have benefited more than black students,” De la Rey said.

Among some of the grievances lodged by the transformation network is the composition of the UP alumni board, which it claims is dominated by AfriForum and Freedom Front members.

De la Rey said she has encouraged all parties to negotiate a new constitution to further transform the alumni board. But the lack of participation by the broader alumni of the institution was challenging, she said.

She said she was willing to meet the transformation network and the alumni board about the way forward.