This year marks 43 years since the events of 16 June 1976. As the country observes this historic milestone since the youth of South Africa in particular students took to the streets to voice their displeasure and concerns with the introduction of Afrikaans as a single medium of instruction, a lot has certainly changed in the country’s education landscape.
The heroic deeds of the students of 1976 have undoubtedly helped accelerate the tempo towards the realization of freedom, as thousands fled the country to join liberation movements in exile and many losing their lives in the process. It is important to note that these activities of 1976 were in the main coordinated by young people.
Fast forward to the post liberation and democratic period, the landscape in education has significantly changed in South Africa with students scoring some victories.
Some Universities have habitually been the preserve of a few in particular those who could afford the exorbitant fees charged by the various institutions. Nonetheless, the goal posts have indeed shifted as more and more young people currently find themselves in the higher education system, even those who are so poor or previously disadvantaged. This has been made possible of course by the intercession made by government to change the lives of the people through progressive policies that seek to redress the imbalances of the past.
In an effort to further increase access to these institutions, government has effectively over the years made money available through the NSFAS to help those whose families cannot afford to pay for their education.
One can argue that today, institutions of higher learning are indeed the epicenter of the struggle as more and more students call for access, quality free higher education, transformation, decolonization of the curriculum, better infrastructure, intersectionality matters, the demise of apartheid symbols, insourcing of workers etc.
The activities of the fallist movements as characterized by the Rhodes must fall and the recent #FeesMustFall have captured the imagination of the nation and altered the higher education landscape perhaps for the benefit of generations to come in a manner unprecedented and scoring victories in the process.
Today, Institutions of higher learning, government as well as students and other key stakeholders continue to grapple with ways and means of ensuring that access to higher education is fully realized.
The management of Universities across the board are now dealing with new and emerging challenges as a result of more numbers competing to gain access to these institutions while funding from government has been dwindling over the years. This means that while doors are opening, there is no adequate space and infrastructure to accommodate every student especially in public universities.
Additionally, there appear to be concerns about maintaining the quality of the research output, quality of teaching and learning across universities as well as holding on to experienced and eminent academics while at the same time ensuring that the numbers of student enrollments increase. It is indeed a tightrope to walk as many strive to strike a balance and ensuring that the standing of their universities is safeguarded as well as improving and maintaining the high quality of graduates produced.
Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University is undoubtedly playing its part to ensure through its five schools that quality health sciences professionals are nurtured and produced for the benefit of the country.
SMU is arguably better positioned to provide solutions to the health challenges facing the country through its graduates and research efforts. Furthermore, through its community service programs, the University students are already making a meaningful contribution to the wellbeing of citizens working under strict supervision.
In remembering the generation of 1976, one can without any shadow of doubt proclaim that their relentless fight in pursuit of equal access to education, and their acts of valor were not at all in vain. Their heroic deeds paved the way for the current and future generations to complete what they started. However, there is still a lot to be done to adequately address emerging challenges and demands.
Phaladi Seakgwe is SMU Communication Manager. Writing in his personal capacity.