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02 May 2018 Photo Charl Devenish
South Campus UAP celebrates 27 years of access to education
Mr Francois Marais, Prof Kalie Strydom, Prof Daniella Coetzee (South Campus Principal), Prof Francis Petersen, Dr Nthabeleng Rammile (Vice-Chairperson of the UFS Council), and Dr Khotso Mokhele (Chancellor of the UFS).

More than 27 years ago, international funding from the Human Sciences Research Council and Anglo American was put to an unusual use for that time. Prof Kalie Strydom’s research unit at the University of the Free State (UFS) was tasked with reviewing how institutional missions would change in the new South Africa. Prof Strydom worked closely with surrounding communities in Bloemfontein to develop a bridging course which would help students who showed potential to access tertiary education, although they did not meet the requirements. His vision brought to birth the University Access Programme (UAP), as it is known today, which is hosted on the UFS South Campus, and is still providing unique access to higher-education institutions in South Africa.

People with a passion for human development
March 2018 saw the 27th anniversary of this remarkable initiative, which has given a second chance to over 18 000 students. Special guests at the event included Prof Strydom, Mr Francois Marais, and representatives from the Department of Higher Education and Training and Investec’s corporate social investment office.

Dr Sonja Loots, researcher in the UFS Centre for Teaching and Learning (CTL), singled out two key individuals in the formation of the UAP: Prof Kalie Strydom, who initiated the programme, and Mr Marais, who has been Director of the UAP since its inception. Dr Loots highlighted one of the driving forces behind Prof Strydom’s perseverance, vision, and determination with the UAP by quoting from an interview with him for an upcoming book on student access and success. He said, “It was a decision based on principle … to be part of the solution to a better country.”

Access and success still an issue today
In his presentation on the “Importance of Access”, Prof Francis Petersen, Rector and Vice-Chancellor of the UFS, pointed out the vital role of access in South Africa, especially the value it offers for the betterment of the country’s people. However, he said that student success is also an issue, and institutions need to be accountable for it. Quoting Prof John Martin of the University of Cape Town’s Faculty of Engineering, “We must be flexible on access, but robust on success.” Only by “closing the loop” in this way, can the UFS and other higher-education institutions ensure a valuable contribution to the economy of the country.

News Archive

Twenty years of the constitution of South Africa – cause for celebration and reflection
2016-05-11

Description: Judge Azar Cachalia Tags: Judge Azar Cachalia

Judge Azar Cachalia

The University of the Free State’s Centre for Human Rights and the Faculty of Law held the celebration of the twentieth anniversary of the adoption of the South African Constitution on 11 May 2016 on the Bloemfontein Campus.  Students and faculty members celebrated and reflected on not only the achievements of the constitution but also on perspectives regarding its relevance in modern society, and to what extent it has upheld the human rights of all citizens of South Africa.

The panel discussion started with a presentation on the pre-1996 perspective by Judge Azar Cachalia of the Supreme Court of Appeal.  Judge Cachalia reflected on his role in the realisation and upholding of the constitution, from his days as a student activist, then as an attorney representing detainees during political turmoil, and currently as a judge: “My role as an attorney was to defend people arrested for public violence. My role as a judge today is to uphold the constitution.”  He stressed the importance of the constitution today, and the responsibility institutions such as the police service have in upholding human rights.  Judge Cachalia played a significant role in drafting the new Police Act around 1990, an Act which was to ensure that the offences perpetrated by the police during apartheid did not continue in the current democratic era. Further, he pointed out that societal turmoil has the potential to make society forget about the hard work that was put into structures upholding human rights. “Constitutions are drafted in moments of calm.  It is a living document, and we hope it is not torn up when we go through social conflict, such as we are experiencing at present.”

Thobeka Dywili, a Law student at the UFS, presented her views from the new generation’s perspective.  She relayed her experience as a student teaching human rights at schools in disadvantaged communities. She realised that, although the youth are quite aware of their basic human rights, after so many years of democracy, “women and children are still seen as previously disadvantaged when they should be equal”. She pointed out that, with the changing times, the constitution needs to be looked at with a new set of eyes, suggesting more robust youth engagement on topics that affect them, using technology to facilitate discussions. She said with the help of social media, it is possible for a simple discussion to become a revolution; #feesmustfall was a case in point.

Critical perspectives on the constitution were presented by Tsepo Madlingozi of University of Pretoria and University of London. In his view, the constitution has not affected policy to the extent that it should, with great disparities in our society and glaring issues, such as lack of housing for the majority of the poor.  “Celebration of the constitution should be muted, as the constitution is based on a decolonisation approach, and does not directly address the needs of the poor. The Constitutional Court is not pro-poor.”  He posed the question of whether twenty years on, the present government has crafted a new society successfully.  “We have moved from apartheid to neo-apartheid, as black elites assimilate into the white world, and the two worlds that exist have not been able to stand together as a reflection of what the constitution stands for.”

Prof Caroline Nicholson, Dean of the Faculty of Law, encouraged more open discussions, saying such dialogues are exactly what was intended by the Centre for Human Rights. She emphasised the importance of exchanging ideas, of allowing people to speak freely, and of sharing perspectives on important issues such as the constitution and human rights.

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