Rise in Black enrollments overwhelm South African universities

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Even as figures show huge leaps in the percentage of Black South Africans graduating from universities (a 334% increase compared to 14% for whites), most schools of higher education cannot accommodate even 25% of a growing amount of applicants.

The South African Institute for Race Relations (SAIRR) released a report Tuesday detailing the country’s racial comparison in the educational sector. The research covered Black, White, Indian and Colored graduates.

“In 1991 some 8,514 Africans had been awarded degrees by South African public universities, going up to 2008, an increase of 334%,” according to the research institute.

This compares with the 2,347 degrees conferred on colored graduates in 1991 and the 5,286 in 2008 — an increase of 125%.

On Indians, the institute said that in 1991, 2,333 Indians received degrees, and in 2008, this went up to 6,857, bringing about an increase of 194%.

But in the same period of 1991, a total of 27,619 whites received degrees and the figure shot up to 31,527 by 2008. The research notes that most of the whites are from private schools which mainly cater for the elite-mostly whites.

Despite the high number of Black graduates, SAIRR says that the bulk of degrees awarded in South Africa were being conferred by formerly white institutions, which remain highly inaccessible to Blacks in the southern African country.

A different model

In recent years, labor unions in South Africa have been lobbying for the closure of private schools.

Unions say that there is an urgent need to “eliminate the three-tiered education system which features private institutions, model-C schools and ordinary public schools and to redistribute resources toward ordinary public schools in working-class and poor communities.”

On a positive note, however, the institute stated, “It is clear from this data that the racial profile of graduates is changing,” especially as the quest for university education is expected to increase this year after nearly a quarter of graduates who passed the national exams and qualified for university rose to over 126,000.

After the announcement of these results last week, universities in South Africa were reeling from a flood of applications by students, with film footage showing would-be students sleeping in queues outside the University of Johannesburg. The school said some 63,400 students had applied for just 13,000 first-year places.

Reports further said that the University of KwaZulu-Natal, which has the capacity for 40,000 students across all years, reported that it received nearly 60,000 applications, while the University of the Witwatersrand said nearly 30,000 students were competing for 5,500 first-year places.

On January 8, the ruling African National Congress (ANC) promised free education for final-year graduating students claiming it is part of government’s commitment “to progressively introduce free education up to undergraduate level.”

“If these students graduate at the end of the year, the loan for the final year will be converted to a full bursary. They will not have to repay the amount,” said the ANC in its 99th birthday message.

The scheme is said to cost between R2.4 and R2.7 billion in 2011 and will benefit around 47,000 students

Still, observers say, “The vast majority of these qualified students applying to South African universities won’t be admitted, not because they’re not smart enough to handle the work, but because the schools have no room. It’s a tragic situation.”

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