/ 29 March 2024

College closures indefensible

Damelin is one of four colleges that has been deregistered by the department of education.

A riot is the language of the unheard. Martin Luther King Jr’s immortal words have often found a home in South Africa — a country that takes great pride in its history of protest.

In 2015, frustration and anger among young people could no longer be repressed and exploded into what we broadly call the #FeesMustFall movement. The media would throw column inches back and forth about the aggrieved students’ rights to disrupt university campuses. But, with all judgment reserved, there is no denying that the moment was not idle grumbling; it was the voice of the unheard.

We live in a grossly unequal society. As much as anywhere else, that fact is acutely evident in the education sector.

This is why news of the deregistration of four Educor group colleges is so disturbing. The department of higher education on Friday announced that it would deregister Damelin, CityVarsity, Intec and Lyceum College. It has since said that the institutions will have until October to both appeal and phase out their operations.

Any ostensible extension will bring scant comfort to the thousands of students whose education — and futures — are now in limbo.

Predictably, the situation has devolved into that most treasured of South African traditions: finger pointing. Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande this week delivered a catalogue of Educor’s supposed malfeasance and misconduct. Chief among the wrongdoing was an alleged practice of marks being assigned to students despite exam papers remaining unmarked.

“This is the worst sin that can be committed by an education institution — public or private,” he said.

There is every possibility that Nzimande’s castigation of the college’s practices is fully justified. But that would not absolve him of any responsibility in ensuring South Africa has a tertiary sector that is accessible, fair and competent.

Trade union federation Saftu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said the situation is a death knell to any remaining notion that the private sector is a “paragon of efficiency”. He called on the department to nationalise Educor. He, too, might be right; but once more the affected students are unlikely to give a damn about politics or who maintains the bureaucracy.

There are no easy answers — only a certainty that a failure to forge an adequate solution will have dire consequences.

Nzimande used the word “unconscionable” to describe what it would mean for the colleges to remain registered. There is no better term to describe what it would mean for tens of thousands of students to lose any hope of an education.