Inequality in Higher Education? Promises and Contradictions.

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 11:00
Oral Presentation
Shaheeda ESSACK, Higher Education and Training (DHET), Nat Dept Higher Education & Training, Pretoria, South Africa
Perhaps, the largest student protest movement since 1976 has been the #Fees Must Fall Movement at most public universities in South Africa. Characterised by student protests, and led by students, often depicted as violent on the media - the underlying message is clear. Inequalities continue to plague South African society finding its fullest expression in the unending student protests of 2015. Whilst the impetus was for "free-education", serious social and political issues became intertwined with the protest movement. For example, debates around access, social redress, quality, knowledge production, the corporatization of higher education and sustainability became key issues on debates on the private public funding of higher education.

Whilst the protest movement was seen to be driven by the increase in student fees, oppressive social forces that were covertly or overtly hidden emerged with greater passion as seen in the discourse on colonial symbols (the Rhodes statue), embedded racism, decolonization of the curriculum, transformation, oppression versus freedom, Africanising institutions of higher learning, changing the names of institution’s buildings, employment equity, indigenisation of knowledge, language, culture and bigotry.

Clearly, society and institutions that fail to address social challenges pose a risk to the well-being of the country. A common cry is that Black students continue to be treated as “the other” in their own land.

This paper then, seeks to examine the underlying historical and political factors that led to the fee protest, with a focus on whether free higher education is a possibility and in what contexts.

Critical to the above examination is the relationship between state and higher education, state and society, universities and the societies they serve and finally the student and society.