There were more black students graduating from South Africa’s universities during apartheid than there are today. In 1975, 15% of graduates were black, in 2016 that figure had dropped to 5%. In contrast, the number of white graduates had increased by 5% during the same period. The sobering data was released by Pali Lehohla, South Africa’s statistician general, on Oct. 24.
There are undoubtedly more black students today than during apartheid, so 5% translates to a much higher number of students, but the data point highlights one of the hot button issues in South African higher education today—the lack of funding opportunities available to black students.
It is this lack of funding that has driven the mass protests of the Fees Must Fall movement over the last two years. During apartheid, black students had opportunities to travel abroad on fully funded scholarships—many of them did so in political exile. There were also segregated universities, which have since been absorbed into other former white-only schools, or neglected.
Today, the population of black students has increased and young black South Africans have on average higher level of education than previous generations. Still, given the endemic inequalities in South African society and mirrored on campuses, getting from first year to graduation remains hardest for black South Africans. Despite the increase in state grants for education, it still isn’t enough.
Post-apartheid South Africa’s education system has perpetuated the racial and class inequalities of the previous regime. The majority of working class black students come from poorly-resourced schools and are ill-equipped to make the university grade. They get lost in a public education system equipped to educate 450,000 undergraduates, but which is currently hosting nearly a million. . .