‘It would be criminal to deny them access’

At the centre of the University of Johannesburg crisis is its vice-chancellor, Professor Ihron Rensburg. He spoke to Bongani Nkosi.

Why was it the university’s policy to accept late applications?
The philosophy of the University of Johannesburg (UJ) is that we should open the window for access to the university as much as we can. South Africa is very much a society in transition, which means there are significant information gaps — particularly among the working class and the poor. Our motivation is that we are a national asset and one which opens the door between those who are marginalised in our society and those in the mainstream.

Was it still necessary to open for late applications when they were clearly causing a burden and that other universities stick to application deadlines?
Other universities have positioned themselves as institutions providing training for the elite. That is okay, but we have positioned ourselves differently. We could have taken an elite position to say we wash our hands of those who have been extremely successful in matric, but failed to apply on time. When one looks at students who arrived at the doorstep of the university, one may well conclude that this is simply poor planning on their part. Our approach is that that may be so, but among them there may be about 6 00 who have done so well that it would be criminal to deny them access to university.

What is your response to allegations that the university did not plan properly for the late applications?
The organisation was outstanding on campus. It is the off-campus arrangements that will need to be put under the microscope. When we complete the investigation I am certain it will point a finger firmly at the arrangements off campus. The university’s role ends at the gate. The liaison with the public protection services was there, but the capacity was missing. We must take some responsibility to look at the nature of liaison between the public protection services and us. If that investigation is going to finger UJ then let it do so.

How will you do it differently next year?
Assuming we will have late applications in 2013, we will give consideration to a process that does not see people coming physically to the university. We will introduce online applications as well as a toll-free number for those who do not have access to the internet to bring these long queues outside our ­university to an end. I am confident we will find solutions.


To what extent is the schooling system to blame for your predicament?
My approach is not to point fingers. From the evidence we have received from the applications it is fair to conclude that there is a problem that the school system is not addressing adequately. Again, let us be clear we cannot generalise because there are some schools that are doing well. But are schools serving the working class and the poor doing as well as schools serving the middle class and the elite? That should be the focal point.

How will the university deal with a centralised process for university applications when it is introduced by Minister Blade Nzimande?
If we do centralise, do we have capacity? Let us say 100 000 applications go into the centralised system, officials then send the applications to universities. Universities still need to manage their own application systems, so we must ask what value it will have if it adds a new layer to an existing system.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

A small number of students can return to university, but some choose not to

They stayed away because they feared getting Covid-19, had comorbidities, were in quarantine, had become infected and the safety measures such as curfews were too limiting

South African universities record 22 deaths from Covid-19

A Universities South Africa survey shows that 20 people — 19 staff members and one student — at local universities have died after contracting the coronavirus

Leading others in a time of crisis

Like other sectors, higher education should continue to respond optimally to the coronavirus and map out a new path

What universities are doing in the fight against Covid-19

While teaching students during lockdown, institutions of higher learning are also using their expertise to make masks, develop vaccines and research labour abuses

Develop the Advanced Manufacturing Institute to increase SA’s competitiveness

The institute should develop products that are applicable to different industries, such as 3D-imaging and self-driving cars

Habib leaves with no regrets about the decisions he made at Wits

The vice-chancellor announced he will be heading to SOAS next year
Advertising

Subscribers only

SAA bailout raises more questions

As the government continues to grapple with the troubles facing the airline, it would do well to keep on eye on the impending Denel implosion

ANC’s rogue deployees revealed

Despite 6 300 ANC cadres working in government, the party’s integrity committee has done little to deal with its accused members

More top stories

Eastern Cape universities concerned by rising Covid cases

Fort Hare says 26 more students have tested positive while Walter Sisulu University says some of its students have been admitted to hospital.

SAA in talks to recoup R350-million in blocked funds...

The cash-strapped national carrier is in the process of recouping its blocked funds from Zimbabwe, which could go towards financing the airline’s business rescue plan

NSFAS’s woes do not help its mandate

Nehawu wants the scheme’s administrator, Randall Carolissen, to be removed

Unions cry foul over SABC dismissal costs and retrenchments

Broadcaster bodies say claims that a recent skills audit is unrelated to retrenchments are ‘irrational’
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday