Sunday, 16 July 2017

Equity and Excellence in Higher Education at the University of Cape Town

Penultimate draft. Final version published in Bowen, W., Kurzweil, M., and Tobin, E. (eds) (2005) Equity and Excellence in American Higher Education. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press.
Equity and Excellence in Higher Education: the Case of the University of Cape Town
Ian Scott, Nan Yeld, Janice McMillan and Martin Hall

In the apartheid period, South Africa’s higher education sector was highly fragmented. In addition to a distinction between universities and technikons (vocationally-orientated higher education institutions), the institutions were divided by race. Among the universities intended only for white students, there was an unofficial but firm division between the English-medium and Afrikaans-medium institutions. The English-medium universities followed a broadly liberal tradition, and preferred to be known as the ‘open’ universities because of their own commitment (constrained in practice by apartheid legislation) to admitting students on academic merit, regardless of race.

As one of the English-medium, ‘open’ universities, the University of Cape Town (UCT) resisted the 1959 legislation that imposed racial segregation on the higher education sector. Subsequently, and particularly under the leadership of Dr Stuart Saunders as Vice-Chancellor through the 1980s and the first half of the 1990s, UCT had a strong anti-apartheid record, including stretching the bounds of apartheid law in admitting black students in increasing numbers when opportunities to do this started to arise in the late 1970s, and opening residences to students of all races in 1981 (Saunders 2000). Financial aid was made available to support talented but indigent black students and a range of initiatives were put in place to assist these students academically. While focusing on equity through means such as these, UCT retained a central commitment to academic excellence in its teaching and research. Consequently, the university’s equity-related initiatives have often been controversial, resulting in both tensions within UCT’s academic community, and the need to balance, and where possible reconcile, the tensions between equity and excellence.

This tension is widely characteristic of contemporary South Africa. The idea of ‘transformation’ – involving breaking decisively with the inequalities and divisions of the apartheid past and fostering a social and economic dispensation in which all sections of the population can share – is a dominant one. The essence of transformation is changing the distribution benefits to include historically excluded groups. For higher education, this means widening participation, but also that this is not in itself sufficient. Unless the quality and the relevance of higher education are maintained and improved, the ‘benefits’ it provides will lose value. Moreover, the benefits obtainable from higher education extend well beyond the interests of those directly involved in it. Thus the nature, forms and intent of  knowledge production in the higher education sector, which have a material effect on the society at large, represent as much a transformation issue as who participates, and raise important questions about different forms of excellence.

One of the key implications of this is the importance of examining traditional structures – in the case of higher education, particularly the structures of provision – inherited from the exclusionary past, and being willing to change them. In relation to access to higher education, this raises the key question of the extent to which the institution should adapt to meet the needs of the students as opposed to the students simply being required to meet the traditional demands of the institution.

The apartheid legacy

In the late 1950s and early 1960s universities in South Africa had faced many restrictions in terms of whom they could admit.  In 1953 the notorious ‘Bantu Education Act’ was passed, which restructured schooling along racial and ethnic lines, and in 1959 the ironically named ‘Extension of University Education Act’ extended this restructuring to higher education.  This ensured that there was a mechanism for excluding students on racial grounds, in line with the increasingly pervasive system of apartheid.

By its nature, apartheid ideology produced compartmentalisation of all structures in the socio-political order, not least in education. The evolution of ‘grand apartheid’ required there to be separate education authorities and institutions for each race or ‘population group’, the main categories being White, Coloured, Indian and Black (African). When ‘homeland’ territories were established for the black ethnic groups, each had its own education structure as well (though the central government’s black education authority, which became known as the Department of Education and Training, remained dominant).[1] Higher education did not escape these divisions, and institutions fell under one or other of the race-based departments. The apartheid legislation and structures, and the inequalities they entrenched, profoundly affected all the higher education institutions, not least with regard to access, as outlined below.

In the wake of the Extension of University Education Act, from 1959 to the late 1960s, there was a considerable decrease in the numbers of black (particularly African) students at residential universities. These numbers, however, had never been high. By 1969 there were only 4 886 African students in ‘white’ universities, compared to 68 559 white students in these institutions (Christie 1986).

In the 1970s, however, black enrolments began to increase at the English-medium universities, whose administrations went to great lengths to obtain permits for prospective students. Permits were usually only granted if students registered for certain courses (such as Italian, or Biochemistry) which were not available at the few institutions set aside for black students.  This permit system, while inimical to academic planning, was fairly easily manipulated by institutions and students, as once they had been admitted, students could transfer to other courses (usually in their second year) and then continue studying while the institution embarked on a series of lengthy appeals.

In the 1980s the State established several new universities in the so-called independent ‘homeland’ areas, such as Bophuthatswana, Transkei, and Venda.  These new institutions were intended to accommodate the needs and aspirations of the great majority of black students, of whom only a very small number would be allowed to register at the white institutions.  This small number would be admitted via a proposed new regulatory mechanism of quotas, which would replace the old permit system.  In essence, this would force the white institutions themselves to assume responsibility for excluding black students. UCT led concerted resistance to the ‘quota bill’, and a key battle against apartheid in higher education was won in that the quota system was never implemented (Saunders 2000), though it remained, somewhat threateningly, on the statute books until 1994.

During the early 1980s, then, institutions could, to some extent, manipulate the permit system and admit students on merit.  However, the Committee of University Principals, comprising the vice-chancellors of the historically white universities, became increasingly alarmed at high and escalating failure rates and very low throughput rates at all levels of the system, and in 1985 recommended that universities raise the level of their admissions criteria. Coupled with the already very low levels of performance of black students in the school-leaving examinations of the Department of Education and Training (which was responsible for the public education system reserved for Africans and by far the largest and most poorly resourced education department in the segregated system), as well as the growing crisis in black schools, this meant that the great majority of places at white universities continued to be filled by white applicants.[2]

In addition to the problem of the very small numbers of black students meeting the open universities’ entry criteria, there were major obstacles to accurately identifying black students who would be likely to succeed. A key obstacle was the unreliability of the school-leaving examinations of the Department of Education and Training (DET) as a measure of achieved performance or academic capacity.[3]  The consequence of this lack of predictive validity, and the ensuing difficulty of selecting on any principled basis, was that many black students who might have had the potential to succeed were denied access, and the universities were thus the poorer. Conversely, many students were admitted who did not have the ability to succeed, with obvious negative consequences for the institutions and for the students themselves.

The combined effect of these circumstances was expressed in the concept of ‘educational disadvantage’.  Hofmeyr and Spence (1989) argue that this concept developed from deficit-based views prevalent in the 1980s, when students were characterised as cognitively deficient in some way. However, while the issue is still sensitive, educational disadvantage is now generally accepted as referring to the outcomes of the long-term under-resourcing, mismanagement, and deliberate oppression of the education system designed in the years of apartheid for black learners.[4] Thus, rather than being due to some lack of capacity within the individual, educational disadvantage is clearly attributable to the environment in which the individual has been forced to undergo her or his educational experiences. As Ndebele (1995) states, failure to specify this leads to a conflation of black with disadvantage, falsely implying that black people are innately disadvantaged.

Findings on the impact of educational disadvantage on future academic performance are somewhat difficult to interpret. However, what is generally accepted is that in poor communities, with illiterate or poorly educated adults, the quality of the school has a greater influence on the life chances of a learner than it has in more privileged communities (Crouch & Mabogoane 1998, Muller & Roberts 2000). In such a context, if schools are of poor quality, learners are further disadvantaged. Since it can be considered a general truth that school quality closely reflects a community’s access to and ownership of wealth, it is obvious that precisely where school quality could make the greatest positive difference to the lives of learners, it is likely to be poor. In South Africa, where ‘race’ and resource allocation were inextricably linked, this was starkly obvious.

The consequences of prolonged exposure to poor and chaotic learning conditions have been widely researched. As might be expected, they are not different in kind in South Africa than they are in the United States. They do, however, differ in severity, as can be seen by South Africa’s very poor performance on international benchmark tests. Some of the characteristics of educationally disadvantaged students can be seen in a tendency to apply surface learning approaches to learning tasks (Marton and Saljo 1976) and to view the essentially ‘ill-structured problems’ typical of higher education as ‘puzzles’ with a  pre-determined outcome that can be reached by using a specific procedure or approach. Additional characteristics are the application of tacit (often incorrect or misleading) rules which tend to override the appropriate rules needed to approach and analyse ill-structured problems, and a tendency to accept text as ‘given’, not to be criticised.

In addition to these ‘contentless processes’, students from educationally disadvantaged backgrounds have severely limited content mastery. Among the factors contributing to these poor general conditions are the preponderance of poorly qualified teachers, the high reliance on rote learning and consequent passivity of learners, the unavailability of appropriate learning materials such as textbooks, and the widespread, ongoing chaos in the school system (Kapp 2000a&b, Pl├╝ddemann et al 1999, Vinjevold 1999, Macdonald 1990).

Given these circumstances, the challenge for admissions and selection into higher education was clearly to increase the numbers of black students while minimising risk in terms of academic performance. The need to increase numbers is clearly illustrated in Table 1, which gives the number of students in 1988, classified by ‘population group’ (the current formal South African measure of equity in terms of race), at all residential universities in South Africa.  This shows the very low numbers of black students in the system as a whole, particularly at the historically white universities, and that the only real opportunities for black students to gain access to historically-white institutions were in the four English-medium, ‘open’ institutions.

Enrolment at English-medium historically white universities
% of enrolment at English-medium historically white universities
Enrolment at Afrikaans-medium historically white universities
% of enrolment at Afrikaans-medium historically white universities
Enrolment at all other universities
% of enrolment at all other universities
Enrolment at all
% of enrolment at all universities
4 759
10 %
1 %
84 913
51 %
90 345
32 %
2 384
5 %
1 497
2 %
14 285
8 %
18 166
6 %
3 969
8 %
0 %
14 988
9 %
19 048
7 %
36 655
77 %
65 844
97 %
53 265
32 %
155 764
55 %
47 767
100 %
68 105
100 %
167 405
100 %
283 277
100 %

Table 1: Student Headcount Enrolments by Race at South African Historically White Universities: 1988 (Adapted from Cooper & Subotzky 2001)

The way in which this challenge was taken up at UCT is discussed below.

Widening access at UCT: Facilitating equity in selection and admissions

In 1986, only 350 students out of a total of 12 500 registered at the University of Cape Town were black. Several approaches could have been adopted at this stage to address the situation and increase black student numbers. One approach, for example, could have been to increase the size of the student body as a whole, but the limited capacity of the campus prevented this. Another possible response would have been to lower admissions requirements. However, in addition to the high probability that this could have led to the admission of an increased number of white students with mediocre Senior Certificate (SC) results (Cloete and Pillay 1987), moving the ‘bar’ for admissions could not deal with the central selection problem: namely that the SC results of the great majority of DET students who succeeded in obtaining a matriculation exemption fell within a very restricted range of results. This made selection extremely difficult, as there was little to distinguish between applicants using aggregate scores alone.

A further policy could have been a try-out period of admission. In such ‘fail-first’ approaches, selection is delayed.[5] However, delaying selection does not lessen the impact of rejection and may make it more difficult (for example, students will have accumulated fee debt). The use of expensive Higher Education resources in the form of places in programmes is an inefficient approach to selection. Teaching students with little chance of success does not make economic or educational sense.

None of these options, then, met the requirement that access be widened without undermining quality. It was thus important for innovative strategies to be developed that could go some way towards balancing the demands of equity and excellence. Consequently, UCT’s policies came to be based on the early successes of the Academic Support Programme, which had been established in 1980 and was beginning to achieve results in developing educational interventions for educationally disadvantaged students. These successes indicated that special admissions procedures were necessary to make possible the admission of students who did not meet the standard entrance requirements, and approximately 155 places were initially set aside for this purpose (University of Cape Town 1986). At this stage, the criteria used in the selection of students for special admission included the position of applicants in their last year at school, school reports on their performance in the last three years of schooling, and subject-by-subject analysis of their examination results. However, it rapidly became obvious that the conditions in the DET made any reliance on school-based results problematic, and the university concluded that alternative selection criteria and procedures that did not depend on the dysfunctional school system needed to be developed.

The objectives of this alternative selection system were twofold. First, accurate assessment of the achieved level of skill and performance of applicants with less than a C aggregate in the Senior Certificate was required. Since 95% of DET students obtained results below a C, this meant that virtually all black students would be assessed in this way. Second, it was necessary to gauge the extent to which applicants could benefit from the kinds of academic support that could be offered at the university. Implicitly, this represented a move towards attempting to test potential rather than manifest achievement. This system of assessment and evaluation came to be known as the Alternative Admissions Research Project (AARP). It proved to be a viable means of enabling UCT to admit not only students whose results indicated that they had achieved the required level of performance but also students who, despite not meeting regular entry criteria, had the potential to succeed provided they were given appropriate support (Barsby et al 1994).[6]

With the demise of apartheid came hopes that conditions in South African schools would rapidly improve and the need for alternative admissions procedures and educational development programmes would steadily diminish.  Despite considerable efforts, however, it was clear that no quick fix would suffice to undo the educational destruction wrought by apartheid. Indeed, the very low proficiency levels revealed by South Africa’s participation in the 1999 Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) tests attested to the fact that schooling in South Africa remained very troubled.  Of the 38 countries that participated in TIMSS 1999, South Africa obtained the lowest scores (Mullis 2000).[7]

Under these conditions, the validation of the Alternative Admissions testing system became even more important. Figure 1 shows the number and distribution by race of all students who wrote the AARP tests and subsequently registered at UCT (AARP started offering testing to non-DET students only in 1997).

Figure 1: Total numbers of AARP Test writers who registered at UCT 1988 - 2003

Figure 2: Survival of ex-DET students by school achievement or AARP Test

‘Survival analysis’ research adapted from actuarial techniques has shown AARP to be a better predictor of the academic performance of DET students than the school-leaving results alone. Figure 2 depicts the successful ‘survival’ over time (in semesters) of categories of ex-DET students at UCT. ‘Non AARP’ refers to those ex-DET students who did not write AARP tests for admission to UCT. ‘PTEEP Top 30%’ refers to those ex-DET students who wrote the AARP ‘PTEEP’ test and obtained a score in decile 1 – 3 for the cohort. ‘PTEEP Bottom 30%’ refers to those ex-DET students who obtained a PTEEP score in decile 8 – 10 for the cohort. Figure 2 shows statistically significant differences in progression for ex-DET students who have written the AARP tests and done well versus those who have not done well, and also for those who have written the AARP tests and done well versus those who have been admitted on the basis of school-leaving results alone. Good performance on an AARP test is clearly related to better progression through the curriculum than is poor performance, and good AARP test performance is better related to progression than is conventional school achievement. AARP tests thus seem to be better at identifying talented but educationally disadvantaged students than conventional measures.

As its validity and effectiveness have become known, AARP has been contracted to undertake selection and placement[8] testing for an increasing number of other South African institutions, including a consortium of leading medical schools. AARP staff have also led a major USAID-funded project[9] that has established placement testing in historically black institutions. Testing venues have been established across South Africa and in several other African countries to allow the recruitment net to be spread wide. The now extensive AARP database on student assessment and performance provides material for research that can make an important contribution to national policy on entry-level assessment and access.

It is evident that the Alternative Admissions project has made an important contribution to enabling UCT to widen access without compromising its exit standards. Innovative selection would not have been successful, however, without complementary initiatives in curriculum reform, as discussed below.

Who succeeds in higher education?  The tension between equity and excellence in the curriculum

An essential condition for promoting equity is ensuring that talented students, irrespective of their background, should have a fair chance of succeeding in their studies, as access without success is largely a hollow concept. In the current South African context, providing conditions in which students from different backgrounds can succeed may be a key means of promoting excellence as well as equity, through developing the talents of all communities.

As outlined earlier, apartheid legislation had excluded black students (and staff) from the white universities, and thus from the established centres of excellence, throughout the 1960s and much of the 1970s. During the 1970s, then, when opportunities arose to exploit the anomalies of the ‘separate but equal’ ideology, the challenge for the ‘open’ universities like UCT was seen as being principally to provide access, in the sense of places in the university and the material support needed to give disadvantaged students equal opportunity to compete academically with their peers. The poor learning conditions in black schools were also acknowledged, and provided the justification for the establishment of the Academic Support Programme (ASP) at UCT in 1980, with the brief of gaining an understanding of the obstacles faced by black students, organising study-skills and additional tutorial support, offering language classes for those black students (the great majority) for whom English was a second language, and co-ordinating material support systems. A similar unit was established at the University of the Witwatersrand at the same time, and the other two open universities, Natal and Rhodes, soon followed suit, albeit with somewhat different emphases.

The ASP was influenced by affirmative action and minority access programmes at a range of leading universities in the USA (Saunders 2000: 76, 85). The early initiatives of the ASP were modelled partly on such programmes and were funded primarily by US charitable foundations and multinational corporations. They took the form mainly of what came to be known as ‘concurrent’ or ‘add-on’ activities: supplementary tutorial support systems that were designed to help disadvantaged students within the regular first year courses in key subjects.  The central aim was to enable talented-but-disadvantaged students to meet the demands of excellence as embodied in the traditional ethos, approaches and structures of provision of the university.

The university placed great store on its quality and the international comparability of its standards, and was sensitive to any developments that might, or might be seen to, erode these. The admission of ‘non-traditional’ students, particularly via the affirmative-action special admissions policy implemented in 1987, and the introduction of intensive tutorial programmes, which were vulnerable to being negatively construed as ‘coaching’ or ‘spoon-feeding’, were seen by a range of faculty and staff as a threat to excellence. Even among staff who were strongly supportive of broadening access, there was unease about the implications of affirmative action. The customary tension between excellence and equity that these developments aroused was deepened and complicated by the political and racial conflict that came to a head in South Africa during the 1980s, and the Academic Support Programme became a lightning conductor across the political spectrum.

A key feature of the policies of the early 1980s was that the university’s traditional approaches and curriculum structures were taken as a given. Maintaining the status quo was generally equated with maintaining standards. Policies of the time determined that there should be clear limits on how long students would be given support, and that support tutorials and coursework outside the established curriculum – classified formally as ‘preparatory and remedial instruction’ – could not be counted as credits towards a  qualification and had to be externally funded. The ideal around which the Academic Support Programme was originally designed envisaged exceptionally talented students who, with material and some initial academic support, would be able in a short time to overcome the disadvantaging effects of their educational and social backgrounds and ‘come up to speed’ with the traditional student body. While there certainly were, and have continued to be, students like this, the ideal model was to prove inadequate.

By the mid-1980s, criticism of the original ASP approach had emerged from various quarters, and notably from ASP practitioners themselves. Although the use of supplementary tutorials had grown in sophistication, it had become apparent that this system was effective only for those students who were marginally underprepared (such as black students from the small number of independent non-racial schools). For the majority of the students from the black sectors of the public high-school system, particularly the DET, the progress they achieved was not enough to overcome the severely disadvantaging effects of their educational background, which included inappropriate approaches to learning (such as over-reliance on rote-learning) as well as flawed conceptual knowledge (see for example Hunter 1989). The key problem was that the concurrent system was bound by the parameters of traditional university courses – particularly the assumptions about students’ prior learning on which traditional university curricula were based – which were substantially out of alignment with the black students’ educational experience. Particularly in the natural and economic sciences, it was evident that first-year supplementary tutoring, even when the students’ standard course workload was reduced, was not sufficient to provide equal opportunities for students from such disparate backgrounds.

The fact that the problem was affecting the majority of the black student intake, even though this was still very small and was drawn from the top-performing echelons of the black school system, indicated the extent of the racial disparities in primary and secondary provision. More radical responses were needed to address inequalities, not only to enable the current black student intake to realise its potential but also to facilitate growth in successful black student participation, the key equity goal (Scott 1986). It was equally important, however, that appropriate quality and standards should not be sacrificed in the process: it would be a sad irony if, just as higher education was becoming more accessible to black communities, the currency were to be devalued.

At the same time as these educational issues were coming to the fore, political critique of the higher education system was intensified by anti-apartheid organisations and individuals. Criticism of the open universities focused on the continuing lack of representivity in their student and staff structures (despite their public commitment to non-racism), their institutional culture (which was experienced by black people as exclusionary), and the relevance of their curricula and research to the majority of the South African population (see for example Khanyile 1986, Mboya 1986, Perceptions of Wits 1986). Such criticism included challenges to the traditional concept of excellence that the open universities were seen to espouse, with direct and indirect allegations that it, too, was unfairly exclusionary.

This starkly highlighted the central point that, in South Africa, inequality in access to higher education is not a minority problem. This in turn raised the key tension between making the students fit the university and making the university fit the students. Vilakazi and Tema (1985:3) captured the essence of the critique of the status quo in this way: “to gain insight from the study of the experiences of black students in white universities, we have to turn the matter around … The correct starting point should be the realisation that the problem is, first and foremost, not the black student, but the whiteness of the university itself”. Leaders of the open universities recognised the pressures and some of the broad implications. For example, as early as 1980 the University of the Witwatersrand’s  Academic Plan had acknowledged that ‘we have historically served predominantly the white middle-class community …’ (Nabarro 1980), and the 1985 UCT vice-chancellor’s mission statement encouraged the university to ‘plan forward … so that the University of Cape Town of the future will not merely be a projection of its past but will be in tune with and reflect the changing environment in which it functions’. In practice, however, the pressures on the institution were widely seen as a contest between equity and excellence, involving deeply-held views on the identity of the university.

The challenge for those who accepted the need for change was how to extend participation without compromising, or being seen to compromise, traditional standards. It had become apparent by the mid-1980s that no significant progress with equity could be made without changes in the structures of provision – that is, without finding alternative routes to reaching the required standards. ASP staff  identified the structure of standard South African undergraduate curricula as a central obstacle to access and success for students from the mass black school system (Scott 1986: 21-22). This carried significant implications and raised sensitive questions concerning policy, practice and values in the university.

There were (and still remain) two broad and interlinked areas of contestation. First, given the university’s faith in the quality of its provision, there were major concerns about the effects on excellence of any substantial modification of traditional core structures. Second, there was deep-rooted dispute about whether redressing educational inequalities is the responsibility of higher education. A point of view commonly held among academic staff was that, as the root of the problem lay in inequalities and dysfunction in the school system, it was neither productive nor cost-efficient for redress to be attempted at the level of higher education. The argument was applied particularly to leading universities like UCT, which, it was said, should concentrate unequivocally on maintaining internationally-recognised excellence. Equity initiatives were seen as bringing a low return on investment and, by drawing away scarce resources, detracting from excellence.

These issues crystallized in what became known as the ‘articulation gap’ – the gap between students’ prior learning and the assumptions underlying the university’s traditional undergraduate curricula (Scott 1995).  The articulation gap was complex, involving approaches to learning and academic skills as well as conceptual development and content knowledge. It was manifested in students’ underpreparedness for their courses and consequent resorting to surface learning, which undermined their ability ever to gain mastery of their studies. It principally affected black students, and was a key obstacle to equity. The case was made that, while the articulation gap resulted largely from the deficiencies of the school system, it was also attributable to higher education curriculum structures inherited from the colonial past, and was thus essentially a systemic problem for which the higher education sector had to share responsibility.[10]

Most informed parties accepted that in the medium term the school system would not improve sufficiently to ensure a reasonable supply of traditionally well-prepared black students. While there were debates and some isolated initiatives concerning the possibility of establishing an intermediate or community college-style layer that could serve as a partial corrective to the deficiencies of the school system (Fisher and Scott 1993), lack of resources and political will indicated that this was not a realistic prospect, at least in the medium term. The open universities were thus faced with the choice of no progress with equity or implementing more substantial and systemic educational development initiatives. The UCT leadership’s anti-apartheid commitment meant that the former was not an acceptable option. It did not mean that the university was willing at that stage to consider any significant change in its mainstream educational structures, but there was high-level support for programmes designed to substantively address the articulation gap through curriculum development.

The main curriculum-related initiative developed at UCT in the 1980s was the ‘foundation programme’ model that came to be introduced in various forms in all the faculties that had large undergraduate enrolments. These programmes had their origins in non-credit introductory courses, of half- or full-year duration, that were devised by ASP Science staff in core subjects where black students experienced particular difficulties, including mathematics, physics and chemistry. These courses were pragmatic responses to the inadequacy of supplementary support, designed by skilled educators who were familiar with the demands and assumptions of the regular first-year courses but based their own courses on a realistic understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of their students. They thus, wittingly or not, engaged directly with key structural challenges.

In the mid-1980s, because of promising outcomes of these initiatives and growing recognition of the need for more systemic responses, the ASP focused its work on developing the early foundation courses into comprehensive foundation programmes, designed for talented but disadvantaged students who were considered to have the academic potential to complete a degree but were not formally qualified, or sufficiently prepared, for direct entry to the regular undergraduate programmes. The pioneering programme in Science was followed over three or four years by like developments in Engineering, Commerce and Medicine, with less comprehensive variants in Law, Arts and Social Sciences. Broadly similar programmes were introduced at other open universities and one or two technikons at this time, mainly in Science and Engineering. In most cases, their central components continued to be innovative foundational or ‘bridging’ courses in core subjects, but these were complemented by integrated approaches to developing what have come to be known as key ‘literacies’, particularly academic literacy related to language. Such elements were essential; not only were most black students not mother-tongue speakers of English but the greatest deficiencies of black schooling were in mathematics and language development, key building blocks for the majority of UCT’s most sought-after programmes.

The main foundation programmes were strongly contextualised within their ‘home’ faculties in both the design of the curriculum and the academic level at which they were pitched, reflecting the importance of linking them as effectively as possible with the regular curricula, and they were incorporated into the university’s administrative structures (see for example Sass 1988). What they all had in common was that they represented an embryonic but purposeful effort to address the structural problems and inequalities of the education system that were most clearly manifested in the articulation gap. In this way, they were intended to meet the two interlinked challenges of access and success. They enabled talented but underprepared students to be responsibly admitted to the university, in contrast with the ‘revolving door’ approach of admitting such students to rigid traditional programmes from which they were soon excluded through failure; and they were designed to give the students the academic foundations and confidence they needed to realise their potential.

While the foundation programmes and the ‘special admissions’ project had a key role in enabling a fourfold increase in African student enrolment in the latter stage of the apartheid period, numbers were not then the main concern. The central aim was rather to demonstrate, to sceptical faculty, the university community, sponsors, and the students themselves, that the theory was valid - that academic potential was distinguishable from ‘achieved performance’ (Shochet 1986). Given foundational provision that articulated appropriately with their educational background, talented students from disadvantaged backgrounds could succeed in the full range of degree programmes at a selective university like UCT.

The aim was realised in that the small but growing number of graduates who had come through the foundation programmes would not have qualified for admission on the regular criteria but had met the traditional exit standards. The students’ achievements certainly did not convince the academic community as a whole of the validity of the equity agenda – there were, and still continue to be, strong criticisms of affirmative action – but were effective in opening up new perspectives on the issues, especially among the university’s leaders. The most effective contributions to changing attitudes arguably came from the performance of particular individuals or classes, as when a rural Science Foundation student, whose school grades were too poor for regular admission, became the first African student to gain an Honours degree in mathematics, or when the Engineering Foundation mathematics class outperformed the regular first-year class in two consecutive years.

There was, however, a considerable price to be paid, particularly by the students. As there was no fast track to overcoming their prior disadvantage, the students had to contend with extended academic programmes, high levels of stress and the risk of stigma, and many failed or dropped out. The ironies inherent in high achievers from the majority school system being the disadvantaged minority in the university took their toll. It became clear to the ASP that the performance of many talented black students would be severely constrained by various forms of alienation (see for example Badenhorst, Foster and Lea 1990) until such time as the institutional culture and practices came much closer to reflecting the diversity of the population as a whole. In the absence of substantive political change, a key means of progressing towards ‘normalisation’ was ensuring that there was a growing number of black students at the university who would be able to hold their own academically and who might in themselves be the most effective agents of positive change (Scott 1986: 22).

Post apartheid: The challenges of transformation

In the early 1990s, the end of apartheid introduced major change in the significance of equity and the redress of historical inequalities. Those involved in educational development, having previously experienced only opposition from government, were invigorated by the prospect of equity-related work gaining recognition from the state and hence greater support from the institutions. The public discourse, in and outside the institutions, rapidly appropriated concepts and terms related to ‘transformation’ that had formerly been frowned on in many universities. It was clear that the opportunity for influencing developments and relating to the state in a new way should not be missed, so a number of educational development specialists needed, for the first time, to divide their time between the institutional and national levels.

In the latter half of the 1980s, the term ‘Academic Development’ (AD) had come to be used in most South African higher education institutions in preference to ‘Academic Support’ as it better indicated the purpose and compass of the field and because ‘support’ had negative connotations. AD became broadly accepted as comprising four inter-related areas of focus: student, staff, curriculum and institutional development. There was a common aim of improving the effectiveness of the educational process in higher education, to the benefit of all students but with special reference to promoting equity and redress.

The changing political dispensation added new dimensions to AD work. The analysis of what had to be done to achieve acceptable levels of equity in higher education, and how equity could be balanced with other imperatives like excellence, now had to be undertaken at national rather than only institutional level, and carried added significance for two inter-related sets of reasons. First, South Africa had to come to terms with its position as an independent developing country responsible for its own future. Solutions had to be comprehensive, long-term and sustainable, in comparison with the severely constrained compromises that often had to suffice under apartheid. Second, while equity had been a dominant demand of the anti-apartheid movements, the same movements, coming into government, now had to consider equity in relation to other, potentially competing requirements of national development.

In AD analysis, a point of departure was the recognition that social and economic inequalities of the kind that were the source of the major educational problems of the apartheid period would persist. This was of course due to the embeddedness of the apartheid legacy, but it had also to be acknowledged that South Africa was a ‘less-industrialised country’ and would have to contend for the foreseeable future with characteristic developing-country features, including very limited availability of good-quality educational provision and an overarching need to develop latent talent in all communities.

The structural faults in the education system that had been identified in the 1980s, particularly the discontinuity between the secondary and tertiary sectors, remained a key obstacle to inclusiveness and increasing participation in higher education. Ample evidence of the articulation gap was identified, including severe shortages of qualified candidates for key programmes, high first-year failure rates, low throughput and graduation rates resulting from inadequate foundations for learning, and a proliferation of (often ad hoc) foundation and bridging programmes introduced in response to the mismatch between traditional programme demands and the students’ prior learning (SAAAD 1995). The problems and inefficiencies were most marked in subject areas where there was most need for improved output, that is Science, Engineering and Technology (SET) and high-level management and economics, which were and have continued to be identified by Government as key requirements for national development. The waste of resources and talent resulting from the poor performance of the system carried a high cost, estimated by the Ministry of Education at well in excess of ten per cent of the state higher education budget (MoE 2001: 2.1.3).

The new dispensation enabled the arguments about sectoral responsibilities that had begun tentatively in the 1980s to be reviewed and strengthened, on pragmatic and principled grounds. In the first instance it was increasingly evident that, despite the political transition, the school sector would not be in a position to produce the required numbers of traditionally well-prepared students for years or decades to come. The school sector was justifiably pre-occupied with addressing the gross inequalities of the old segregated system and with expansion aimed at achieving universal primary education, and could not reasonably be expected to deliver substantial improvement in output quality at the same time. Since it was evident that improving equity in higher education would be a major policy driver, it was in the higher education sector’s own interests to take action to address the structural problems that were undermining its performance.

Aside from the pragmatic considerations, it was argued that it was unrealistic to expect a mass school system in a developing country to articulate effectively with a higher education sector that had been designed for completely different conditions. The origins of the higher education framework in South Africa’s colonial and apartheid past reinforced the argument that it was important for the sector to be prepared to review its own mainstream structures and assumptions in relation to the country’s changing needs. Educational inequalities were not a minority issue nor a short-term phenomenon, and ‘normalising’ the system called for productive alignment with the realities of the students that the sector should be expected to accommodate. However, greater responsiveness of the institutions to the students must not mean erosion of essential standards. On the contrary, it had to be expected to improve student responsibility and performance. In summary, it was argued that ‘… it is incumbent on the HE sector to take its full share of responsibility for deracialising and normalising the access pathways from lower educational levels’ as a key element of its contribution to transformation (Scott 1995:11).

At UCT, the ASP evolved into the Academic Development Programme (ADP) in the early 1990s to take up the broader post-apartheid challenges. As had been the case since the mid-1980s, the ADP saw the educational process, and the curriculum in particular, as the key factor in fostering access and success for talented students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Ensuring productive continuity between secondary and higher education – that is, ensuring that entry-level demands were strongly intellectually challenging but not out of reach – remained a prerequisite, both for enabling disadvantaged students to be admitted to higher education in a responsible manner and for ensuring that they could establish the academic foundations for mastering their disciplines. The continuing inequalities in primary and secondary provision meant that the students who needed and deserved to be given access would be highly diverse in terms of their preparation for higher education, and this in turn called for curricular flexibility, particularly the provision of differential entry levels to match different but legitimate learning needs.

The decade of experience with foundation programmes had also shown, however, that the curriculum had to be seen as a whole, that foundational intervention had to be reinforced by sound educational practice at higher levels. For this reason, the concept of the ‘extended curriculum’, in which essential foundational provision was integrated into the mainstream curriculum and influenced its structure, was developed and successfully implemented in various settings, notably in the ASPECT Engineering programme at UCT.

While there had been no prospect of the calls for equity-related curriculum reform being heeded in the 1980s, the importance attached to equity in the post-apartheid dispensation encouraged AD staff to take the argument to the National Commission on Higher Education (NCHE) in the mid-1990s, through submissions, commissioned papers and participation in task groups. The case was presented that key equity goals relating to access and success depended, in the medium term, on comprehensive review and redesign of the higher education curriculum framework in relation to required participation rates and representivity targets, and, in the interim, on state recognition and funding of the provision of extended curricula in selected subject areas (SAAAD 1995, Scott 1995, NCHE 1995). The NCHE accepted the main line of the argument and included some appropriate recommendations in its final report (NCHE 1996). Some two years later, after various setbacks and revivals, the Ministry of Education’s 1997 White Paper on Higher Education (MoE 1997), the first major higher education policy statement of the new era, supported the AD position in broad terms. The White Paper was historic for AD as it represented the first ever state recognition of equity-orientated developmental work and, as importantly, included a commitment to funding equity-orientated provision.[11]

A further challenge for educational development at national level in the new dispensation has been the challenge of balancing equity with other imperatives such as excellence. In the early 1990s, when the political transition was in train, there was an exponential increase in the numbers of black youth seeking, and often demanding, access to higher education. The demand for ‘equality’ was at times aggressive, as a result of pent-up need and new expectations, and a number of institutions had effectively no option but to grow exceptionally rapidly. With little or no additional resourcing available from the state and with the students being largely from disadvantaged socio-economic and educational backgrounds, quality and standards at many institutions were severely at risk. It was in this context that a major contribution to the debate on competing imperatives was made by Harold Wolpe, Saleem Badat et al. In various contributions, Wolpe and Badat juxtaposed ‘equality’ and ‘development’ (rather than equity and excellence), and analysed the relationship between them in an effort to foster understanding of the need to balance individual and collective interests and to recognise the importance of quality for the emerging democracy (see for example Wolpe, Badat and Barends 1993). While excellence and ‘development’ in this sense – referring to social development and international competitiveness – are closely linked, it is ‘development’ that has turned out in recent years to be arguably the better concept to juxtapose with equity.

Finally, a key question that has been debated is whether all higher education institutions should share in the responsibility for achieving equity, or whether a system of institutional differentiation should be introduced that would make equity the responsibility of some and excellence that of a select few. The American system is commonly used as an example of institutional differentiation. In 2000 a task team of the statutory Council on Higher Education made formal recommendations for the establishment of a three-tiered system that would effectively remove research funding from the bottom tier and restrict both research and postgraduate studies in the middle one (CHE 2000). The proposal was strongly opposed by a number of groupings and not accepted by the Ministry. However, the idea of differentiation remains attractive to various parties as a solution to the equity-excellence tension.

There is already considerable informal differentiation in South African higher education resulting from the varied origins, missions and resources of the institutions. While mission differentiation is enriching, statutory differentiation by tier runs the major risk of entrenching social and racial stratification, with the great majority of school-leavers and adult learners from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds (most of whom are black) having access only to under-resourced bottom-tier institutions and having to go via circuitous routes if they are to progress to high-quality qualifications. Given the shortage of well-prepared black students in particular, the key equity goal of fostering representivity across the system requires provision for the inclusion of talented but disadvantaged students in all key programmes in all institutions (Fisher and Scott 1993). In the interests of development and equity, it is particularly important for disadvantaged students with high potential to have direct access to extended curricula in selective, high-status programmes rather than being faced with the succession of selection hurdles involved in progressing through intermediate institutions. Racial stratification can be reduced if institutions, particularly the leading ones, develop the capacity to accommodate diversity through flexibility in the curriculum framework (Scott 2003).

New challenges

In the 1990s the emphasis on equity programmes at UCT shifted towards substantial enrolment increases and economies of scale in foundation and extended curriculum programmes. Such planned growth was a step towards ‘normalisation’. In addition, as the foundation and extended curriculum programmes grew more sophisticated and were more effectively integrated with mainstream curricula, it became possible to open up elements of them to mainstream students (mainly but not exclusively black students) who were struggling with the traditional courses, and some structured ‘catchnet’ curriculum pathways were introduced.[12]

Aided by these developments and some small but rapid growth in black access to good-quality historically white schools, overall black student numbers at UCT increased substantially. While African enrolment had remained low in absolute terms for much of the 1980s (reaching 900 or 7% of total enrolment in 1988), it rose five-fold in the next ten years, reaching 5000 or 28% of total enrolment in 1999, as shown in Figure 3. By the end of the decade, total black enrolment (that is, including ‘Coloured’ and ‘Indian’ as well as African students) had levelled off at almost 50%.[13]

Figure 3: UCT enrolment by population group: 1988-2004

However, as has been the case across the higher education sector, the growth in black participation has been concentrated in certain subject areas, and the promising aggregate figures mask the continuation of racial (and in some cases gender) imbalances in key programmes, notably in high-status first degrees (such as Actuarial Science, Medicine and the finance streams of Business Science) and in postgraduate studies. Since UCT is a leader in programmes like this, it is felt that it has a particular obligation to extend their benefits to suitably talented black students who are not fully qualified or prepared. It has thus became important to provide extended curricula for the exceptionally selective programmes as well.

In this situation, the key challenge for curriculum design and innovation at UCT (and the few similar universities in South Africa) is dealing effectively with diversity in mainstream provision, rather than relying as heavily as now on foundation programmes. It is evident that, to reach reasonable levels of representivity in the student body, UCT has to cater for a greater range of student preparedness than almost any comparable universities elsewhere. Achieving this without compromising quality and standards remains a demanding challenge. What is strongly in UCT’s favour, however, and what makes the equity project feasible, is the high level of latent talent that can be found in the historically oppressed communities. Identifying this talent and offering provision that allows the students to flourish has already yielded significant successes, but there have also been many failures.

These challenges have to be addressed within the context of a higher education system in the midst of unprecedented change. The country’s thirty-six public universities and technikons are to be reduced to twenty-four institutions through incorporations and mergers. A new sort of institution – a comprehensive university – is to be created.  A new funding formula, which will seek to steer publicly-funded student places towards national development needs, is being introduced. A new, statutory, quality assurance agency has been launched and is beginning a programme of quality audits. A national agency for processing higher education applications is under consideration, and a new, and much changed, curriculum for secondary schooling has been announced, along with a new approach to certification. At the same time, private institutions are proliferating and entrepreneurial providers from Europe, Australia and North America are probing the possibilities of the South African market. 

New national higher education policy is making strong arguments for a more ‘responsive and engaged’ higher education sector, and, it could be argued, for new ways of understanding the relationship between equity and excellence. The South African National Plan for Higher Education (MoE 2001) and the Education White Paper 3 (MoE 1997) ‘A Programme for Higher Education Transformation’ put forward the following arguments about the role of higher education in contributing to social justice and economic and social life more generally:

Higher education, and public higher education especially, has immense potential to contribute to the consolidation of democracy and social justice, and the growth and development of the economy… These contributions are complementary. The enhancement of democracy lays the basis for greater participation in economic and social life more generally. Higher levels of employment and work contribute to political and social stability and the capacity of citizens to exercise and enforce democratic rights and participate effectively in decision-making.  The overall well-being of nations is vitally dependent on the contribution of higher education to the social, cultural, political and economic development of its citizens. (CHE 2000: 25-26)

Institutions such as UCT therefore have an important role to play in addressing issues of equity in a broader sense through supporting new forms of excellence in their policies and practices. They offer individuals the opportunity of moving across the borders of social exclusion. They incubate applied research and technology transfer spin-offs through basic research activities. They act as nodes that link organisations dedicated to the public good (whether government agencies or charitable foundations) with communities. They facilitate the transfer of resources from the ‘first world’ economy to the ‘third world’ (whether the ‘third world’ is in rural Africa or the inner city of a North American metropolis). In as much as this happens, the relationship - or possible relationships - between the twin goals of equity and excellence will be better understood.  Lastly, it might then be possible, through this understanding, to see that the relationship between equity and excellence is part of a bigger struggle around the identity and role of (public) higher education institutions (Hall 2003).

It is evident that many people in higher education continue to consider that equity and excellence are in competition, particularly for resources, and the dilemmas faced by national and institutional leaders in managing these forces have not yet been resolved. However, we have expressed the view in this essay that, particularly in the South African context, it is becoming increasingly counter-productive to consider and treat equity and excellence (and the demands of ‘development’) as separate imperatives. It fact, it may well be that the new overarching imperative is to balance equity and excellence.

The key question becomes how this is to be accomplished. We believe that progress will be made not by denying the equity-excellence tensions that appear as a reality for many in higher education but rather by (a) establishing clear, prioritised and convincing goals at national and institutional level, and (b) developing, publicising and implementing strong theory- and evidence-based policies and strategies that demonstrate how, or to what extent, the tensions can be reconciled in practice. We believe further that development work done in South Africa and elsewhere, of the kind discussed in this paper, has identified principles and approaches that can provide a basis for progress, albeit that there are still many serious shortcomings in developmental practices on the ground. It is hoped that international co-operation in this area of work will be able to grow productively as some commonalities emerge between developed and developing countries in relation to widening participation.

It is clear, however, that there are substantial challenges ahead. In the area of promoting ‘equity of access’ and ‘equity of outcomes’ in the institutions themselves, forthcoming challenges include:

  • The probability of a growing tension between equity and efficiency in higher education resulting from changes in the state’s approach to funding public services. This is evident in the proposals for a new higher education funding framework in South Africa (MoE 2002), and may create testing challenges for equity and/or quality of provision.
  • The growing impact of private higher education, which may include drawing away resources from the public higher education sector without contributing substantively to meeting developmental needs.
  • The fact that race and social class are no longer virtually coterminous as they were in the apartheid period is already creating new tensions, alliances and challenges in higher education, and will require serious reflection on the equity agenda and possibly new equity-related approaches.


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[1] On its election in 1994, South Africa’s first democratic government inherited a fragmented, bureaucratically chaotic situation in respect of higher education administration and control (NECC 1993: 206). The legislative framework of ‘own affairs’ and ‘general affairs’ determined how post-secondary institutions were to be governed. In essence, this meant that educational matters relating directly to the White, Coloured and Indian population groups were deemed to be ‘an own affair within the group’s own cultural and value framework’, and were administered by a Minister who was a member of the Council of Ministers of the relevant group authority: the House of Assembly for Whites, the House of Representatives for Coloureds, and the House of Delegates for Indians. In contrast, the educational affairs of Africans (in respect of ‘own affairs’) were administered by a Cabinet Minister (the Minister of Cooperation, Development and Education) in the central government. To make the position even more complicated, educational matters deemed to affect more than one of the three minority population groups and Africans outside the black ‘homelands’ or so-called national states (e.g. Gazankulu, KaNgwane, Lebowa, QwaQwa, KwaNdebele, KwaZulu) were termed ‘general affairs’, and were administered by the Minister of National Education. Apart from the ‘homeland’ authorities, there were thus five Ministers responsible for education – four for ‘own affairs’ and one for ‘general affairs’. It is perhaps no wonder then that ‘the apartheid model led to a situation of divided and unequal control as far as educational institutions were concerned’ (Bunting 1994: 9).
[2] By way of illustration, in 1983 95% of the Department of Education and Training (DET)  students who obtained a matriculation exemption (the statutory minimum requirement for eligibility for degree study) attained D or E aggregates (Badsha, Williams & Yeld 1987) – that is, they obtained aggregate scores of less than 60%. In South Africa, the aggregate results of school-leaving examinations are classified and used as the main criterion for entry to higher education, and a ‘C’ aggregate has generally allowed access to most programmes.  Thus the profile of results for DET students was below the aggregate level required by the white institutions. At this time, moreover, of the students writing the Senior Certificate examination at the end of Grade 12, only between 8% and 13% obtained an exemption  (Bot 1992). The fact that only about a tenth of the tiny group of survivors of the dysfunctional DET school system (1.4% of those who started school) would be eligible for regular admission to a white university shows just how elite this group was. Compounding this, the very poor state of mathematics and science education in DET schools meant that even if students attained a high enough aggregate to be considered, they would be unlikely to achieve the kinds of results in these key subjects to be considered eligible for admission to many high-status academic programmes.
[3] The widespread suspicion that DET Senior Certificate results did not effectively predict future academic performance was supported by a growing body of evidence (Badsha et al 1986, Shochet 1986, Potter & Jamotte 1985). This view was trenchantly expressed by the principal of the University of the Witwatersrand in 1987, who stated that  ‘for students produced by the system offered by the Department of Education and Training, matriculation can only be regarded as a random statistic’ (The Star 25 May 1987). In addition to the structural and legislative factors impacting on the access of black learners to historically white universities, the chaotic and repressive conditions in DET schools ensured that black learners were inadequately prepared for university study. The universities were therefore faced with the unsatisfactory situation of having to select students on a basis known to be unreliable. To make matters worse, the DET examinations produced a restricted range of scores and a restricted set of subjects, making selection largely arbitrary as there was little to distinguish one applicant from another.
[4] The under-resourcing is best captured in pupil-teacher ratios and per capita expenditure (Christie 1986).  In 1971, the pupil-teacher ratios were 58:1 in DET schools and 20:1 in White schools. In 1983 the ratios were 43:1 (DET) and 18:1 (White). In 1971, the per capita expenditure was R17 for DET students and R282 for White students, and in 1983 it was R146 and R1,211 respectively.
[5] The Teach-Test-Teach (TTT) project at the University of Natal was in its early years a version of this approach (Griesel 1991, 1999; Zaaiman 1998). A large group of students was tested, put through a fortnight of instruction, then re-tested.  Selection was planned to take place after this two-week tryout period.
[6] The prevalence and severity of educational disadvantage in South Africa, and the adverse impact this has on the ability of candidates to demonstrate their underlying abilities, made the development of an alternative system of testing an extremely complex undertaking. Initially, it was believed that a large part of the problem of the restricted range of scores obtained by black Senior Certificate candidates would be overcome by a more rigorous assessment system  - in other words, that the flawed DET examination was the primary problem. But it rapidly became clear that a new approach to probing underlying ability was needed, rather than simply improved conventional testing procedures.  As Yeld and Haeck (1997:9) pointed out, traditional testing approaches tend to elicit ‘… fairly uniformly dismal  performances … [which] … blur the distinction between better and weaker candidates’. The AARP therefore adopted a ‘scaffolding’ approach, where tasks are created within the tests. This ‘scaffolding’, it was reasoned, ‘enables candidates to engage with the … tasks in ways which are different from those which would have been employed had the scaffolding exercises not been worked through’ (Yeld & Haeck 1997:9). The approach, while recognising the limitations of in-test opportunities to really shift performance, attempts to take students from a performance level based on their prior opportunities to one more closely approximating their underlying ability. It was decided to use the skill areas of language and numeracy in early test development, as these were of general value in the curriculum and core areas of academic ability. In a comprehensive validation study of this approach, it was concluded that ‘the use of scaffolding within a test, for talented educationally disadvantaged students, can significantly enhance test performance’ (Yeld 2001:307). The study also concluded that the AARP tests were effective in predicting academic success and, more specifically, that ‘students who score in the top quintile of their candidate pool are more likely to graduate than are students who are admitted on the basis of their Senior Certificate results alone’ (Yeld 2001:308).
[7] The basic statistics from the 2001 cohort writing the Senior Certificate examination confirmed these disquieting results. Only about 15% (67 700) of South Africa’s school-leaving examination candidates achieved the minimum requirement for entry into higher education. This represented less than 8% of the age cohort, far short of South Africa’s target higher education participation rate of 20% (MoE 2001). Only about half of those who achieved the minimum entry requirement for higher education were black students – about 33 000 in total. 19% failed, and fully 51% of the age cohort did not write the examination. It was not reported whether those that did not write the examination were at school in lower grades, or not in school at all. (See also Taylor and Vinjevold 1999.)
[8] ‘Placement’ here refers to placing new students in first-year courses with an entry level that matches their prior learning, thus enabling the students to gain a firm foundation for their studies as well as allowing for responsible widening of access.
[9] Part of the Tertiary Education Linkages Project sponsored by the United States Agency for International Development.
[10] It was argued that the articulation gap was partly attributable to the higher education sector’s historical lack of alignment with South African educational realities. Mainstream university programmes had never articulated successfully with the black school sector. The main reason for this was that the core of the higher education qualification framework had been adopted early in the twentieth century (based on the Scottish system) for institutions that were serving a small, predominantly white middle-class community. South Africa’s higher education qualification structure was (and remains) based on a three-year first degree followed by an ‘Honours’ year benchmarked on the British Honours degree. Critical curriculum parameters and assumptions were normed on a largely homogeneous and well-prepared student intake, and were not valid for the majority of the black students who would need to be admitted in increasing numbers if any significant equity progress was to be made.
[11] In 2004 – seven years after the White Paper and a decade and a half since UCT, through its Vice-Chancellor, first argued for state funding of AD in the then statutory higher education advisory body – the Department of Education made available the first major tranche of funding for foundation programmes, as provided for in the new funding framework: a total of some R270 million for the 2004-06 triennium.
[12] For example, the direct intake into the Science Foundation Programme grew from under 30 students in the 1980s to around 120 in the late 1990s, representing up to 30% of the total Science intake. The growing numbers of ‘mainstream’ students transferring into the programme have effectively doubled the size of some of the component courses, reflecting the need for this form of provision.
[13] The ADP contribution to the successful participation of black students cannot be accurately quantified in summary form because of major variance in the extent to which students in different categories and programmes make use of ADP provision. By way of example, however, cohort studies of the five most recent intakes to have completed their programmes (the 1995-1999 intakes) show that in Science and Engineering – areas where black representation has historically been very low – around 60% of the African graduates came through the full ADP programme. This shows that talented but disadvantaged students, who do not meet regular entry criteria, can reach the exit standards of academically demanding programmes if they have appropriate provision. This is seen as significant in that future growth in African enrolment will come mainly from this category of students, at least in the medium term.

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