Transformation at UCT: A contribution from IFAA

The Institute for African Alternatives (IFAA) supports the call for transformation at UCT. It is clear that the university needs to embrace change and abandon a physical and academic infrastructure which does not reflect the aspirations of its students and broader society.  

RhodesAlthough we are delighted to hear of the Senate’s decision to remove the Rhodes Statue from its current location and appreciates the way in which the Vice-Chancellor has handled such a sensitive issue, we also recognize that the transformation agenda has by no means been fulfilled by this. Like many students and academic staff at UCT, IFAA supports a systematic review of the universities curriculum, physical architecture, and the like, in order to achieve genuine transformation. The university itself has recognized the need for this too, meaning that the floor has been cleared to discuss what needs to be done for UCT wear the label of an authentic African institution.

While we have read and understood the student’s demands, IFAA would like to make a humble contribution to this timely conversation by outlining several concrete steps the university might take to realize genuine transformation. In the democratic spirit in which the movement has taken place, we expect both agreement and disagreement with our proposals. However, we hope that our contribution will have a positive impact on the transformation debate.

The Power structure of the university

It is clear that the power structure of the university is in need of reform. To that end, IFAA proposes the creation of a Vice-Chancellor Executive Committee as the university’s supreme decision making body. Details of this body are outlined below:

  • The committee must have at least 50/50 representation of black and white members from both management and academia.
  • The members must be elected by all the staff and need not necessarily be heads of departments.
  • *The senate and council should have advisory powers to decide on broad policy and make recommendations for implementation by the Vice-Chancellor Executive Committee.

Transformation of Faculties: Black representation

  • As many commentators have recognized, there is an urgent need for a “fast-stream” promotion policy for black academics.
  • UCT must also actively recruit professors from rest of Africa on a large scale and offer high salaries to attract the best. We need to prevent top African talent moving to universities in North America and Europe.

Curriculum

Guidelines for a new curriculum must be developed that satisfy the fundamental aspiration of UCT namely, to be a world-class African institution. IFAA suggests the following:

  • A foundation year for all students that focuses in particular on the following:
    • South African and African Political Thought
    • South African and African Political History
    • South African Political Economy
    • Basic literacy in at least one African Language
    • Basic literacy in local and global social issues including but not limited to race, class, gender and the environment
  • Such a foundation year will ensure that the student body is sensitive to history and the social issues that confront the broader society outside of the university.
  • A foundation course in South African Political Economy would also ensure that all students are given the vocabulary to express themselves in the democratic processes that shape our country’s future. We need to produce a politically literate youth.
  • Every syllabus should be screened by academic body consisting of academics. This body can lay down the criteria for course content and should work in consultation with the student representatives.

Student Support 

  • Fast tracking black students who are not prepared does not work due to academic and money problems. Because of this, the university needs to strengthen its support structures for struggling students.
  • We suggest that the student-body actively encourages senior students to volunteer their time to assist newcomers. We call for the strengthening of mentoring programs in all faculties so as to create a greater sense of community and comradeship among the student population.
  • During the foundation year (mentioned above) students with poor education background who may still have issues need a special provision.
  • This provision should be designed by a team of high level education specialist to offer an affirmative action remedy that sets targets for success without drop outs.

Student representation

  • The SRC needs to be involved more actively in the daily lives of students on campus.
  • One way to ensure this is to see class reps become part of the SRC. This can creates more accountability as it provides an interface between the student body and there representative group

This list is not exhaustive and we hope to read further suggestions and recommendations from all interested parties. We hope that UCT management and the student body leading this movement open up the floor to organizations and individuals who, like us, wish to participate in the transformation agenda on campus.

To end, we applaud UCT students and management for taking the lead on what is surely our country’s most pressing issue namely, how to create and consolidate a more equitable, just and representative society that caters for the needs of all its peoples. We hope that other universities, and public institutions across the country, will join in on the conversation.

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