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Wits committed to transformation


Wits University committed to transformation but won’t compromise on the quality of education.

The University of the Witwatersrand is committed to transforming at all levels including through diversifying the academy, increasing access to higher education, renewing the curriculum, implementing a new language policy, insourcing, reforming institutional culture and renaming Wits’ places and spaces. This plan was adopted about two years ago and progress on this plan is monitored monthly with regular reports to the community. The latest update is available here:

Despite these institutionalised efforts, there are often public remarks about our failures to engage in transformation by stakeholders who do not engage on the basis of the facts. They refuse to read the updates and make assertions at the rhetorical level without considering the issues in-depth.

One such example pertains to the allegations of racism made by small groups of students who have not performed. These groups suggest that they are being failed simply because they are Black, without presenting any evidence to support their assertions.

In recent months, we investigated two such cases. In the School of Accountancy, an external academic reviewed all assessment programmes in the School in order to determine whether there was anything untoward in the assessments. The prognosis is that all assessments in the School are in line with local and international standards of research intensive universities.

A second set of assertions has emerged in the Faculty of Health Sciences where a small group of students claim that racism is practiced, largely related to assessments and examinations. The University instituted a comprehensive enquiry that lasted three months, which was undertaken by a senior scholar from a separate faculty, who interviewed all stakeholders, including the students. The report found that no charge of racism could be upheld. The report did find administrative and communication weaknesses, which are being addressed. The findings were shared with the students, some of whom chose not to accept the findings of the inquiry, even though they participated in drafting the terms of reference.

It is worthwhile noting that the Faculty of Health Sciences has been pursuing a substantive transformation agenda over the last few years. In 2015, the admissions policy was revised to ensure that talented learners from poor and marginalised backgrounds were granted access. Whilst access is still based on merit, about 40 seats are allocated to high performing learners from quintile one and two schools and 40 seats to learners from rural areas. This policy provides learners from disadvantaged backgrounds with the opportunity to access the faculty to study medicine, thus balancing meritocracy with the commitment to transform. Compared to similar universities, Wits has a greater proportion of students from poor and marginalised backgrounds with the majority of Black students passing without issue. A full assessment of our pass rates in this Faculty, demonstrates that overall, over 80% of students pass, boding well for transformation not only within the University, but also for the sector.

Despite the implementation of these new policies, an outlying group of students still maintains that Black students are prejudiced by the Faculty’s assessment procedures and processes. The University’s previous investigations in this regard finds otherwise. This small group of students also ignores the fact that all the University’s assessments are externally examined and independently verified to ensure that quality is in no way compromised. The examination papers are also anonymous – containing only the student number and no names. 

The University will not accede to the attempt by a small group of students to try to bypass assessment processes through political means. Rather, we encourage them to follow the example of the many others, of all races, to study diligently. It is imperative to recognise that when students graduate as medical doctors, they hold people’s lives in their hands, and it would thus be irresponsible of the University to allow students to graduate if they have not met the requirements of the programme for which they have studied.

We have seen in the public domain that there are some who want to see transformation fail and who will see this debate as a lever to argue against transformation. We caution against such opportunism – transformation is a fundamental value of our Constitution and is a central value of Wits University. We need to transform and maintain quality – these are not mutually exclusive strategies which we have implemented for years and which we will continue to pursue in the future.

We took the unprecedented step of making this statement to reiterate that the University will not compromise on the quality of the degrees it offers. If we do so, we will compromise the integrity of the University, which will impact negatively on students and alumni, and ultimately undermine the society that we serve.