Statistician-General Pali Lehohla’s submission that black Africans had less chance now of succeeding at university compared to the 1980s has got higher education and training minister Blade Nzimande hot under the collar.
Lehohla told the fees commission this week that between 2011 and 2016 the number of Indian and white students who completed their degrees had increased while that for blacks and coloureds had declined.
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He said for every one black that succeeded at university there were six whites who succeeded. Lehohla submitted that “Blacks do not succeed at university. Though they were succeeding in the 1980s‚ now they are not succeeding.”
But Nzimande strongly disagreed‚ cautioning government officials not to make political statements they could not take responsibility for.
“Normally it is not usual for one part of government to differ with the other but I disagree strongly with (Lehohla) when he says students in the 1980s were much better than students now‚” he said.
Nzimande explained that he was a university student in the late 1980s doing his post graduate studies‚ saying “there is absolutely no comparison from where we were at that time”.
He said he was a student from 1976 – “I lost that year”.
“I am talking from experience‚ not from theory or studying numbers. I am talking from personal experience‚” the minister charged.
Nzimande said he was nearly expelled from the then University of Zululand in 1977 because he could not pay R100‚ his last instalment and there was no National Student Financial Aid Scheme.
He said that coincidentally‚ he was given a loan by the then dean of students‚ who happened to be Professor Sibusiso Bengu who became the first minister of education post-Apartheid. He said that is how he survived otherwise he would not have received help anywhere.
“Yes the participation of black youth in university is still far from adequate...but there has been an increased participation and production of black graduates in SA‚” the minister said.
He said the very same Statistics SA figures showed that in 2009 when his department started‚ there were just under 10% of South Africans aged 20 who had a tertiary qualification.
“Today we are chasing 15%. That tells you that there is a difference that has been made by government. I do not agree with this and also government officials must avoid making political statements that they cannot take responsibility for‚” he said.
Nzimande also disagreed with Lehohla’s submission that Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges were “were counterproductive”.
The Statistician-General told the commission that unemployment among college graduates (29.9%) was higher compared to that of university graduates (12.6%).
Lehohla asked what the TVET college sector was producing when its graduates remained unemployed‚ especially in a country with a deficit of technical skills.
Nzimande said the fact that there were challenges in the TVET college sector did not mean they were counterproductive.
“I am not a pessimist. I am an optimist. One way of improving the employability of TVET college graduates is work placement‚” he said.