Universities must support poor students, says minister

Friday, September 4, 2009

Bloemfontein - Minister for Higher Education and Training Dr Blade Nzimande has called on universities to give poor students from rural communities extra support when they start at tertiary institutions.

"Poor students from rural communities are particularly vulnerable when they enter universities and feel alienated in an environment they often find to be quite different to anything in their previous experience," said the minister.

Speaking on Thursday at the J N Boshoff Commemorative Lect ure at the University of Free State, Minister Nzimande said it was essential that these students receive support so that their inherent talent is not lost for reasons that have nothing to do with their ability to learn.

Commenting on the lecture topic "What is Transformation in Higher Education?" Dr Nzimande said transformation means higher institutions must ensure that neither black nor any other group of students feel socially alienated or are discriminated against at these institutions.

"The same transformation must take place with regard to gender and to ensuring that women of all racial groups and especially black women who have been the most oppressed section of society are equitably represented in all aspects of university life," he said.

He added that transformation must be about the whole process of democratisation, national development, poverty alleviation and about creating a caring and equitable society which benefits all its citizens.

Any university transformation process must go beyond demographics and discrimination and begin to change every aspect of university life as well as contribute meaningfully to the transformation of society as a whole, the minister said.

He noted that despite the fact that all universities have policies in place to combat racism and discrimination, a Soudien report shows that there is a disjuncture between policy and actual discriminatory practice as experienced by many thousands of students at universities, especially blacks, women and other affected groups.

The Soudien report, which focuses on discrimination at higher education institutes, was compiled by University of Cape Town's Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Professor Crain Soudien.

"According to the report this is a serious problem because this disjuncture is not only because of the actions of maverick individuals on the ground, but includes the universities leaderships even University Councils, which are guilty of making policy in order to comply with legislation but expect that policy to be ignored in practice," he said.

Dr Nzimande further congratulated Professor Jonathan Jansen on his appointment as the first black Vice Chancellor of the University of the Free State.

He also encouraged the new Student Representative Council and its new President Moses Masitha to make every effort to represent the entire student body and unite it under it leadership with energy, vision and courage.

"I hope you will also play a constructive leadership role in the national structures of the South African Student Union," the minister said.