Creating a New Higher Education System

As described in the previous chapter, the ANC inherited a higher education system that was racially and socially fragmented, discriminatory, inefficient, and massive—with millions of students scattered across 20,000 different schools and the government spending as much as 7 percent of GDP just to maintain it.44 The South African government oversaw all those students and schools through four education departments, one for each recognized race—black, colored, Indian, and white. Each department had its own philosophy, curriculum, governance system, and resources. As a result, not surprisingly, the infrastructure, curriculum, quality of educators, and resource allocations differed tremendously across many institutions. 45 The country had a few good universities, but the rest were mediocre or extremely poor. No other country in the world has had such a discriminatory and, frankly, odd educational system.

Likewise, no other country has ever embarked on such a complete restructuring of its higher education system, with the possible exception of Eastern European countries. The ANC saw education reform as a priority and a way to redress many of the injustices of apartheid. The challenge before the leaders of the new government was to create a uniform system across the country and to eliminate the inequalities that existed under apartheid. They focused on the establishment of such a single unified national system, as well as on improving access, adopting funding policies for the poor, decentralizing school governance, revamping the curriculum, and improving the quality of higher education.

The result? Since South Africa became a democracy, significant changes have clearly occurred. The apartheid government’s higher education structure has been dismantled through a number of important structural and policy reforms. The 1995, 1997, and 2004 White Papers on higher education policy—which addressed the issues of access, equity, and quality of higher education—formed the framework for those efforts. The following sections will describe them in further detail.

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