THE RAMIFICATIONS of the September 11 terror attack in the United States – six months ago to the day – will probably have both negative sectoral impacts and positive spin-offs for the South African economy and UCT, according to Vice-Chancellor Professor Njabulo Ndebele. He was reporting back to Council recently after Council had requested a report on the likely effects of the September 11 aftermath.
"Having recently visited the United States on a fundraising trip, I was concerned about how these horrific events were going to affect UCT from a fundraising perspective," Ndebele said. "However, all the foundations I visited expressed their continued commitment to South Africa and to projects they were supporting at UCT."
From an economic perspective, he said that the weakening rand could work in UCT's favour as it implied increased revenue from international donations. "But a drop in international donations cannot be entirely ruled out," he added. The impact on the South African economy might also be reflected in reduced demand for UCT graduates, especially from the Faculty of Commerce, a major supplier of the country's finance graduates, he said.
"The Graduate School of Business courses could also come under pressure as local companies are forced to re-examine 'soft areas' of their budgets, such as training. Entrepreneurs may receive even less help than at present from the banking sector as banks become even more conservative in a climate of uncertainty. This could be reflected in less external institutional support from companies for UCT's entrepreneurial thrust."
The high percentage (65%) of UCT graduates who found destination employment abroad were likely to find such prospects more difficult. "Thrown back into the domestic market they will contribute to greater competition in the local labour market pool." Students would also find it more difficult to enjoy a 'gap year' employment abroad as foreign companies concentrated on local resources.
From a student perspective, the aftermath of September 11 was especially traumatic for UCT's American students. "The International Academic Programmes Office arranged counselling sessions and fielded floods of enquiries," Ndebele reported. "Some came from our partner universities in the US who send study-abroad students here, and who requested details of UCT's emergency plans, including evacuations in time of crisis, and so on."
The longer-term impact on international student numbers was not yet clear, he added. "In spite of South Africa being a transitional country it has key situational advantages and has been identified as one of the safer places to travel to in the aftermath of September 11. Our Applications for Study Abroad places in the first semester of 2002 are significantly up and the vast majority of these are from the US."
Ndebele remarked that it was notable that new student applications were also "significantly up" on December 2000's figures. "Initial analysis suggests that the northern hemisphere safety situation, plus the sharp drop in the rand, may have led more school-leavers to abandon the idea of a gap year or the idea of studying abroad. It may well be that our pool of qualified applicants will increase as a result."
It was more difficult to assess the impact of September 11 on the intellectual environment at UCT. "I have been wondering about the state of the culture of engagement with such issues at an institution of higher learning. A world-class institution ought to be grappling more intimately with such issues. The events of September 11 reveal how closely connected we are with the rest of the world. The various perspectives from which we view the impact of these events reveal this connectedness in a compelling manner."