6500 by 2010

By Ian Siebörger, Nompumezo Makinana and Tim Walker

Rhodes University’s latest enrolment plan aims at growing the university to between 6300 and 6500 students by 2010 – even though Education Minister Naledi Pandor has allowed the university to enrol 7000 by then. At the moment, Rhodes has about 6000 students. It will need to keep up its current growth rate of between 2 and 3% to meet the target.

The plan also says that the university should enrol a higher proportion of science students and that Rhodes should take in a smaller percentage of international undergraduate students to make room for more black South Africans.

This enrolment plan was sent in a letter to Pandor on June 30. It is the product of ten months of discussions among the university’s academic staff about what Rhodes’s size and shape should be in the future.

These discussions started when a team from Rhodes met with government Education department officials in July last year. At this meeting, the officials said they were impressed with Rhodes’ quality of teaching and the university’s low drop-out rate, so they wanted Rhodes to take in more students, according to George Euvrard, Rhodes’s dean of education. Rhodes has an average pass rate of 86% and aims to maintain these high levels, meaning that it has the highest target pass rate in the country, according to the national Education department.

Then in February this year, Vice-Chancellor Saleem Badat wrote to Pandor asking for more funding to enable the university to grow as the Department of Education wanted it to. Pandor replied, saying the department would give Rhodes an extra R80 million over the next three years to build more facilities on campus. In her letter she also told Rhodes that its enrolment was permitted to increase to 7000 by 2010, and asked the university to increase its percentage of students studying majors in science and technology.  However, the university says in its reply to Pandor, “it is highly unlikely that Grahamstown will be able to accommodate an additional 1000 students in a three-year period.”

The letter to Pandor says that the university will need R350 million in the next three years to address backlogs in infrastructure and expand the university to cater for more students and courses.  Of this, R108 million is needed to refurbish the library, R160 million for six new residences a dining hall, and R83 million for upgrading and building lecture venues and research facilities.  In addition to this, the university needs money to improve salaries for its academic staff, which “is considerably lagging behind that of other universities”, according to the letter.

Director of Finance Anton Vorster says that apart from the R80-million grant that the Department of Education has promised to Rhodes, money for expansion would have to come from student fees, the regular government subsidy, fundraising through the communications and development division, and money left to the Rhodes University Foundation in wills.

This expansion has started already, with two new reses for Kimberley Hall under construction at a total cost of R32 million.  They should be ready for occupation at the beginning of next year. These two reses will accommodate about 70 students each. 

Kimberley Hall Secretary Marion Penney explains that the hall is in the process of splitting into two halves: the west half will comprise Cullen Bowles, De Beers, Goldfields and the new women’s res behind Kimberley Hall, and the east half will comprise Piet Retief, Thomas Pringle, Walker and the new men’s res below Piet Retief.  Separate acting hall wardens for each half are already in office.

The Science faculty is aimed to grow for the benefit of Rhodes and the region. “There is a social imperative for the science faculty to do something for the Eastern Cape,” said Professor Ric Bernard of the faculty. “There is a crying need for huge numbers of better-educated science students.”

The Department of Computer Science is one area in which growth can occur. “There has been a dip in ComSci students in the last 5 years; we still have space and size,” said Bernard. To help this expansion, the Computer Science department has also taken the step of sending flyers to schools to attract more students. “It will produce graduates the country needs as well as increase university income as government grants are high for Science students,” said Bernard.

The Education faculty is another part of the university that the government would like to see expand. This is partly because the country needs more teachers and because the faculty attracts a large percentage of black students, helping to make Rhodes more racially representative. The faculty is planning to offer BEd degrees in primary school teaching from 2009 onwards. Euvrard says the faculty needs to do this to meet South Africa’s large need for primary school teachers.

The Commerce faculty is currently exceeding the university’s own targets and the national enrolment and output requirements, according to its recent position paper on the size and shape debate.  The paper also says that the faculty should continue to affirm its African identity by encouraging a good balance of South African students, and by actively seeking the enrolment of a proportion of its students from other southern African countries and beyond.

To see the university’s full reply to Pandor and a record of the debates around the future of the university, visit www.scifac.ru.ac.za/misc/sizeandshape

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