World Watch

11 August 2004

The Western Cape is set to get a new 3 000-student university, to be built at a cost of about R350-million, in the desolate semi-desert of the Ceres Karoo, at least 100km from the nearest dorp, Calvinia. According to sponsors, the university, which will offer low-cost education to its students, will be agriculture-based with an emphasis on teaching students organic farming skills. There will also be management graduate courses and natural-medicine qualifications. The university will be established under the auspices of the International Federation of Universities, which also backs Cida City Campus in Johannesburg where students receive accredited bachelor of business administration degrees at the fraction of the cost of mainstream South African universities.

Students at Stellenbosch University are growing more diverse, but the profile of academic staff at the institution has not quite caught up, rector Professor Chris Brink said in a recent report-back. Black students currently account for 18.9% of the student body, while the number of black staff grew from only 8.8 percent to 10.9 percent from 2002 to 2004. Brink blamed the slow rate of change among academic staff on low staff turnover, but added that black staff accounted for 27% - and women 60% - of new appointments over the past three years.

A Somali student accused of making e-mail death threats against Cape Technikon staff has been permanently interdicted from setting foot on the institution's premises, and has also been permanently restrained from harassing, threatening, assaulting or intimidating Cape Tech staff or student leaders, sending them threatening communications and "persisting to make unfounded allegations of racism, xenophobia and racial discrimination" against the technikon. The student's quarrel with Cape Tech stretches back to 2003 when the technikon recommended - for "purely academic" reasons, say administrators - that he register for a diploma in electrical engineering rather than a BTech degree. The student charged that his exclusion was prompted by xenophobia, went on a hunger strike in March and in May allegedly threatened to "execute" the technikon's dean of engineering.

Education Minister Naledi Pandor will lead a South African delegation to a Commonwealth meeting in the United Kingdom, a gathering that will focus on ways to stem the flow of teachers from poorer to richer nations. The discussions come in the wake of many developing Commonwealth nations raising concerns that they are losing their teachers in droves to countries such as New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the UK.

Venezuela's Bolivarian University is taking some flak. The government of president Hugo Chávez, who was elected in 1998 on a promise to help the two-thirds of Venezuelans mired in poverty, established the university last July to provide more higher-education opportunities for the poor. Other public universities admit students based on standardised testing, at which the wealthy generally do better. Bolivarian University, which now has 10 000 students on five campuses across the country, gives preference to low-income students. But critics say the university, with its emphasis on social activism, provides more indoctrination than education and that it was designed to buy support for Chávez's government.

Sources:, Independent Online, Chronicle of Higher Education (online).

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