Hidden tragedy of SA university chaos – irrelevance in a meritorious world

By Alec Hogg

There is a lot that sucks about the disaster now enveloping South African universities. But worst is how this destruction sows seeds of a long-term downward spiral.

Universities everywhere operate in a networked, increasingly meritorious world. With broadband having made video conferencing ubiquitous, no scholar needs suffer second class lecturing in a third class facility. Governments in developing countries have to balance many competing priorities. So institutions of higher learning need to look outside State grants and draw on home bias of faculty, smart partnerships and the occasional dollop of emotional blackmail to remain relevant.

Part of that emotional focus is money from former students. The top five US universities, for instance, each have alumni-generated endowment funds of over $10bn which generate millions of dollars every year to attract talented teachers. The biggest of them, Harvard, sits on a staggering $38bn war chest.

South Africa’s top universities like Wits, UCT, Stellenbosch and Rhodes, have produced graduates with the grant potential to transform future generations. But it is irrational to expect any to write cheques while chaos reigns and muscle is bussed in to intimidate the silent majority. And while this happens, the State simply dithers. If you thought education was expensive, try ignorance.

File Photo. A demonstrator hangs on to a police water cannon during a protest over planned increases in tuition fees outside the Union building in Pretoria, South Africa October 23, 2015. South African police fired stun grenades at students who lit fires outside President Jacob Zuma's offices following a week of protests, the first signs of the post-apartheid 'Born Free' generation flexing its muscle. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
File Photo. A demonstrator hangs on to a police water cannon during a protest over planned increases in tuition fees outside the Union building in Pretoria, South Africa October 23, 2015. South African police fired stun grenades at students who lit fires outside President Jacob Zuma’s offices following a week of protests, the first signs of the post-apartheid ‘Born Free’ generation flexing its muscle. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko