UCT should ditch racial admissions - DASO

Amanda Ngwenya says effort to fix racial outcomes creates three sets of victims

DASO UCT rejects race-based admission policy and proposes fairer alternative

Note to editors: The following statement was distributed during a DASO press conference held at UCT this morning.

The Democratic Alliance Students Organisation (DASO) has made a submission to the Commission into UCT Student Admissions rejecting the current admissions policy, which seeks to achieve specific racial targets and uses race as the sole criterion for disadvantage.  

The aim of the Admissions Policy at the University of Cape Town (UCT) needs to shift from trying to artificially achieve predetermined racial outcomes and should aim instead at achieving equality of opportunity to in order to realise genuine redress.

Equality of opportunity can be achieved by selecting applicants who have either demonstrated their academic ability or who have demonstrated the potential to achieve excellent academic outcomes despite an inadequate primary and secondary education. 

Universities must play their part in achieving redress, and they do through programmes that work with schools to help improve learner pass rates and grades in key subjects as well as through intervention programmes that help to bridge the gap between potential and demonstrable ability. 

Universities cannot, however, be expected to compensate for twelve years of bad schooling. It is the responsibility of the primary and secondary school system to produce a fair distribution of academic ability. An attempt to fix racial outcomes results in three sets of victims: 1) the candidate who fails; 2) the candidate who might have succeeded but was not selected; and 3) South Africa, which needs to maximise knowledge and skills in order to succeed.

Ability and potential are widely distributed across the school-going population of South Africa. An equality of opportunity approach (instead of the simplistic race-based approach) that takes into account school background and select socio-economic criteria will achieve fairness, better academic outcomes and diversity.

There are a number of policy options that give expression to an approach based on equality of opportunity as opposed to equality of racial outcomes. DASO supports UCT's on-going research into a sophisticated model of applicant selection, using appropriately designed entrance assessments. It is unarguable that if we can become better at selecting the brightest and most talented students, despite their backgrounds, then we must. 

DASO differs from the UCT admissions policy in so far as it attributes disadvantage to race. The university should not place itself in a position where it decides for individuals that they are disadvantaged whether they like it or not. It detracts from the principles of non-racialism to label someone as disadvantaged merely on the basis of their race and irrespective of their own idea of themselves.

Disadvantage should rather be identified by assessing an applicant's school background together with select socio-economic indicators.

Students who have been afforded a good primary and secondary education and are of middle to high socio-economic status should be expected to adequately demonstrate their academic ability regardless of their race.

Excluding race from the criteria ensures that those whom society should reasonably expect to compete do so and learn to navigate the world on the basis of their skills, talents and hard work. We will never redress the legacy of apartheid unless we begin looking beyond the narrow and simplistic confines of racial classification. 

Statement issued by Amanda Ngwenya, DASO Representative, March 13 2012

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