Jonathan Jansen: Tough decisions for Grade 12s

January 21, 2014. Jonathan Jansen is the Rector and Vice-Chancellor of the University of the Free State. He is the Honorary Professor of Education at the University of the Witwatersrand and Visiting Fellow at the National Research Foundation. Pic: RAYMOND PRESTON. © Sunday Times.
January 21, 2014. Jonathan Jansen is the Rector and Vice-Chancellor of the University of the Free State. He is the Honorary Professor of Education at the University of the Witwatersrand and Visiting Fellow at the National Research Foundation. Pic: RAYMOND PRESTON. © Sunday Times.

Dear Grade 12 parents. Many of you have e-mailed or in-boxed me with the same question: “My child is in Grade 12 and has been accepted into university. But with all the troubles on the campuses, where do I send my child?”

Let me say, first of all, that this is one of the toughest questions to answer in these turbulent times. I understand your concerns. You want your child to be safe and secure at all times, and the burning buildings and violence on campuses must surely put your nerves on edge.

You have also made huge sacrifices to enable your child to attend university, and you do not want to discover in October or November that you have lost more than R200 000 in total costs since your child could not finish the academic year because of constant disruptions. I really do understand.

I know some parents who told me this week that they were taking their children out of university and sending them overseas to study at American or European institutions.

I also know parents who cannot afford to send their children overseas, or simply want them to stay closer to home, to be considering the one or two private colleges or universities in South Africa.

And still other parents say they might allow their child to take a gap year, see whether things cool down in 2017, and then make a decision about enrolling in one of our universities. That’s what some parents tell me.

As one deeply committed to South Africa’s universities, I would urge you not to make a rushed decision. We need you to support higher education at home.

Our universities need the most talented students and the best professors to ensure that they do not collapse.

ONGOING DISRUPTIONS: Acting NMMU vice-chancellor Dr Sibongile Muthwa addresses students during a mass meeting at the Kraal on NMMU South Campus last week. Picture: BRIAN WITBOOI
ONGOING DISRUPTIONS: Acting NMMU vice-chancellor Dr Sibongile Muthwa addresses students during a mass meeting at the Kraal on NMMU South Campus last week. Picture: BRIAN WITBOOI

If parents with options all leave, it will lead to the eventual collapse of the best universities on the continent and among the best universities in the world. In other words, sending your child to university is also an investment in higher education in the country.

I would like to believe that the current unrest will at some point subside, hopefully before the end of the year. It is simply impossible that such a small group of protesters, not all students, can keep up this level of unrest and impose their reckless violence on such a massive post-school system.

This protest is no longer about fees; it is about challenging the government and, therefore, the only solution is a political one, not endless and fruitless negotiations between university leadership and protester representatives.

The ANC-led government needs to sit down with the protesters and their political principals (and trust me, there are political sponsors behind the smoke). I also know there are many different civil society groups, including religious leaders, working behind the scenes to bring an end to these violent protests.

So do not withdraw your child’s application at this stage. Wait. Things could very well turn around and then you would have made unnecessary expenses and also lost your child’s place, especially in professional fields like psychology and medicine.

And yet I would advise you not to simply wait for things to change. Write to the vice-chancellor of the university where your child has been accepted and ask for an answer to the awkward question: Mr Vice-Chancellor, what is the university doing to ensure my child’s education will not be interrupted in 2017 and that my child will be safe during the course of her studies?

You have the right to ask the question. Do not use the word “guarantee” because a VC will shoot back and say there are no guarantees; ask, rather, what steps are being taken to normalise the situation.

But do more. Write to your local and national political representatives and express your outrage and concern that the government does not seem to be “hands on” while the universities are in turmoil. Tell them that your child’s future education is in jeopardy and that they need to act, now.

Ask why the president is not “present” in the crisis when these century-old treasures, the universities, are being threatened with destruction. In other words, it is not only about your child, but about your university.

And finally, join the call for free education for the poorest students in our universities. Everybody else must pay or the system collapses.

But it is the right thing to do to support the cause of poor but talented students. Otherwise your individual actions for your child alone come across as selfish.

3 thoughts on “Jonathan Jansen: Tough decisions for Grade 12s

  • October 22, 2016 at 5:38 am
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    It seems to me that the President is deliberately absent from the education crises. His strategy is one of dumbing down the nation. This policy commences with no funding for pre-grade schooling. It is then followed up by a SADTU controlled disfunctiobnal primary and secondary schooling system in which the tail wags the dog. Finally a policy of destabilizing our excellent tertiary institutions is the icing on the cake.

    One may ask what is the purpose of this madness and folly? It is simply to remain in power. A well educated and thoughtful citizen is unlikely vote for a corrupt and cleptocratic government. Perpetuating an illiterate and ignorant proletariat is the only way the ANC will retain their majority at the polls.

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  • October 21, 2016 at 10:09 am
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    Thank you Prof Jansen for your voice of reason against a background of a Kleptocratic uncaring regime and a small minority of deluded thugs hell-bent on destroying our Tertiary Institutions.

    Quote: “Write to the vice-chancellor of the university where your child has been accepted and ask for an answer to the awkward question: Mr Vice-Chancellor, what is the university doing to ensure my child’s education will not be interrupted in 2017 and that my child will be safe during the course of her studies?” Almost mirrors what I wrote to Vice-Chancellor of UCT, Dr Max Price, via his email address vc@ac.za as well a number of comments and questions on @UCT_news which is the official Twitter feed of the University of Cape Town.

    No response apart from the muddled and confusing VC Desk announcements.

    High time Universities stopped bending over backwards in repeated, futile and deluded attempts to accommodate a few zealous, anti-university militants.

    University Administration and staff must now focus energy, acknowledgement, affirmation and support towards the vast majority of dedicated students and lecturers who have been maligned in the media, threatened and attacked on campus and during lectures and even presented as being reactionary, inflammatory and racist simply because they are peacefully and diligently attempting to further and complete their courses.

    “Aut Disce, Aut Discede”

    Spes Bona.

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  • October 21, 2016 at 8:38 am
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    Sorry – I have a child in University and at a Res – far from home and the past few months have been torturous – to say the least.

    The ENTIRE system has failed – The corrupt State is not in any position to heal itself let alone basic education which offers tertiary education absolutely no hope at all. The Universities themselves (VC’s and their boards) have capitulated to minority populist non-thought and turned their entire management and control platform before uneducated and ill-disciplined thugs. They will now be held to ransom for every grievance because of their inability to manage this undemocratic process. No matter how great the cause – their destructive behaviour puts shame on legitimate activism and their entire movement. The SAPS are between a rock and a hard place – damned if they do and damned of they don’t. The current funding model where rich (mainly white students and taxpayers at this stage) fund poor but at the same time are demonised (white capitalist privilege) and literally chased off campus in blatant racist manner is very discouraging to the funding model as a whole. To this, you have really inane and really-not-thought-through demands to ‘decolonise’ education – which in world terms, just means to ‘dumb the nation’ further’.

    The current situation is NOT conducive to learning, personal growth nor prepare you for the future and I do not believe that this will be solved any time soon. My advice and if you can, Gr12’s: go and sit your SAT’s and study where you can; and to industry – create more private universities as this is the only hope for SA’s economic future, because the current state is completely untenable.

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