Ask the hard questions

18 December 2014 | Story by Newsroom
UCT Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Crain Soudien.
UCT Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Crain Soudien.

UCT was "especially proud" of its Faculty of Commerce which on 18 December held its second of four graduation ceremonies this week, said Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Crain Soudien. With some 370 graduands about to make the transition to graduates, Soudien reminded them of their alma mater's excellence.

"We are one of the main producers of actuaries in the country," said Soudien, addressing an audience that included Gauteng Premier David Makhura. "Our economics department is the leading economics school in the country. The work we do in the faculty is broad and deep.

"We produce the critical technical skills the country requires."

But the faculty also sought to engender a climate that allowed it to ask "hard questions about the time and space in which we find ourselves: why, for example, the country is paralysed by persistent poverty. Why, in the face of the growth of the middle class of the country, especially the black middle class which has grown from something like 300 000 people in 1994 to over 4.5 million in 2013, why inequality continues to widen in the country."

With this, the provision of technical capacity and the opportunity to think critically, UCT commerce students were in an enormously privileged position, Soudien continued.

A total of 1 653 commerce students are due to be receive degrees and diplomas this December, up from the 1 504 that graduated twelve months ago.

When the faculty was established in 1921, relates Soudien, there were 33 students. At the time it was built around an economics programme to which was later added economic history, public administration and accounting and auditing.

The graduands' predecessors "didn't always feel so well disposed to the faculty", Soudien noted. There were exceptional individuals among the faculty's early staff corps, but some "didn't cover themselves in glory".

Of one of those staff members, who resigned in 1930 to become the Governor of the Reserve Bank, a student was reported to have said: "The three years of this future governor's tenure at the university were memorable for his not turning up at lectures and not marking your essays."

That staff member was told by the university's principal that he was lucky to have got in first with his resignation as the university had already decided to not re-employ him, said Soudien.

"Almost 100 years later, I know that all of you are in a significantly better position than your predecessors were in the early 1920s, and I hope that you will treasure in your memories your time at the university."

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Story by Yusuf Omar. Image by Michael Hammond.

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