CGHE Webinar 230

Affirmative action and transformation in South African Higher Education

Date: Thursday, 9 September 2021 2:00 pm - 3:00 pm
Location: Zoom webinar
Speaker(s):

Event Materials

This event is now archived and we are pleased to provide the following event media and assets, along with the original event overview.

In this webinar Crain Soudien reflects on the debates leading to the adoption of the University of Cape Town’s student admission policy in 2014. The policy remains in practice in 2021 largely as it was crafted at the time. Core to the policy is the principle of affirmative action. This principle has its foundation in the South African Constitution which makes deliberate provision for ‘fair discrimination’: “to promote the achievement of equality, legislative and other measures designed to protect or advance persons, or categories of persons, disadvantaged by unfair discrimination may be taken” (The Republic of South Africa). How ‘unfair discrimination’ – affirmative action – is to be interpreted and practised is not stipulated in the Constitution. There has been, as a result, regular controversy over its application. This has been particularly evident in higher education with UCT at the forefront of developments. Predictably, the question of ‘race’ has been the focus of most debates. A multiplicity of positions emerged in the discussions which took place from 2009 to 2014, a five-year period. In the contribution Soudien begins with a contextualisation of the admissions’ experience in South Africa. He shows how apartheid had produced, by 1994, a racially distorted landscape of high white and extremely low levels of black enrolments. This situation was intensified in historically white universities such as UCT. The paper proceeds to describe the approaches that were taken by UCT to address its historical legacy. It is particularly attentive to how the different positions and approaches engaged the issues of ‘race’ and racism. It concludes with a reflection on the implications of the debate for the wider discussion on ‘race’ and racism.

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This is the second webinar in CGHE’s special series, Racism and Coloniality in Global Higher Education. You can find out more about the full series here.

This CGHE webinar series explores what global racial equity would mean for the future of higher education, and addresses the challenges of decolonising research systems and pedagogic cultures. The aim is to promote knowledge of, and commitment to, anti-racism within universities, and amongst researchers and policymakers. Contributors will reflect on colonial institutional legacies, racialised institutional cultures, and the power of ‘whiteness’, drawing on empirical research in a range of higher education contexts. Questions to address include:

  • Why are the legacies of colonialism often overlooked, or erased, in favour of a ‘colour blind’ analysis of global higher education’s hierarchies and inequalities?
  • Is the institutional racism of today’s universities a historical legacy or a resurgent cultural dynamic, intersected by the geopolitics of internationalisation.
  • What can we learn about the structural inequalities of the global knowledge system from critical geographers and scholars in Science and Technology Studies?
  • What forms of profound and transformational change would be needed to create racial equity in global higher education and research?
  • How are universities, faculties and students, addressing these colonial legacies? Can owning ‘whiteness’ and acknowledging white privilege – along with the JEDI agenda (justice, equality, diversity and inclusion) – help move these debates forward?

CGHE webinars are fully open to participants. They are interactive, enabling attendees to speak directly in the webinar, ask questions of speakers when called in by the chair and see all other participants. At any time you can communicate directly with others, either all together or on a one-to-one basis, through the webinar Chat.

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