UCT's race-based admissions policy under the spotlight

18 February 2013 | Story by Newsroom

UCT will revisit its race-based admissions policy for the 2015 student intake, following recommendations in the Report of the Commission into Student Admissions Policy, submitted to Council at the end of last year.

The report urges UCT to use alternative markers of disadvantage for incoming students. Until then, the university's current policy will remain in place.

Council appointed the commission in October 2011 to consider the admissions policy and potential alternatives to the use of race as a measure for redress and as a proxy for disadvantage. The decision followed several years of sometimes intense public debate on the matter. Various models for admission will now be studied.

Chaired by retired Appeal Court Judge-President Craig T Howie, a UCT Council member at the time, the commission worked in parallel with (but independently of) the Alternative Admissions Policy Review Task Team (AAPRTT), which Vice-Chancellor Dr Max Price established at Senate's request in 2009.

In an email communiqué to staff and students on 12 February, Price outlined the commission's recommendations as well as the developments within the AAPRTT, and the process UCT will follow in assessing a future admissions policy.

Price said the AAPRTT had been testing alternative admissions criteria for three years and could now offer other models for discussion.

Broadly, UCT's current admissions policy is designed to achieve three outcomes. First, it ensures that the university attracts the best students, those who get the top results in the National Senior Certificate (or equivalent) and National Benchmark Tests (NBTs); and those who, after taking into consideration educational and other disadvantages, are the top performers in their class. Second, it gives effect to UCT's redress aims. And third, it ensures a diverse student body.

"All three of the above are concurrently achieved by using 'race', self-declared by the applicant, as part of the determination of who should be admitted," Price said in the communiqué. "Nonetheless, the continued use of the applicant's self-declared race group as a proxy for disadvantage and a vehicle for redress and diversity continues to be controversial."

There were also growing concerns around the current policy's constitutionality (UCT sought legal advice on this score and the Commission's report acknowledged the constitutionality of the policy); the use of self-declared race; UCT's commitment to non-racialism; the small numbers of black students who are no longer seriously disadvantaged and the fact that disadvantaged white students do not benefit from the current policy; and the growing number of students who believe it is appropriate not to declare their race.

"How this policy changes is a matter for serious, informed discussion on many different levels," Price noted. "As we have done in the past, we invite input from all parties on campus to help formulate a policy that will maintain our commitment to both academic excellence and diversity in our student population."

A special meeting of Senate on 15 March 2013 will consider the commission's report and the research on alternatives and give direction as to the further direction of admissions policy development.

The Report of the Commission into Student Admissions Policy can be downloaded from the website. You are also welcome to provide individual and personal responses to the report, UCT's current admissions policy and possible alternatives to using race as a proxy for disadvantage. Responses can be sent by email.

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