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Thokozile Thulo
Thokozile Thulo says the UFS has changed its focus in supporting students with disabilities.

The Centre for Universal Access and Disability Support (CUADS) has recently opened a permanent office on the Qwaqwa Campus The centre aims to ensure that the University of the Free State increasingly becomes a universally accessible higher-education institution which embraces students with various disabilities.

Thokozile Thulo, CUADS Assistant Officer at Qwaqwa said: “Our focus has changed from ‘special’ accommodation for individuals to the creation of a learning environment that is welcoming and empowering to all students. Integrated learning and education methodologies and processes are being researched and developed to create more awareness among lecturing staff. This incorporates universal design, faculty instruction and curricula.” 

The CUADS office assists students to gain access to study courses, learning materials, various buildings and residences, computer facilities and specialised exams and tests. For visually-impaired students, study material and textbooks in Braille, audio, e-text or enlarged format are provided. 

The office also supports students with various psychosocial and chronic conditions such as epilepsy and panic disorder, as well as learning difficulties such as dyslexia and hyperactivity. “In addition, we support students with special arrangements such as extra time for tests and exams,” said Thokozile.



News Archive

Gender bias still rife in African Universities
2007-08-03

 

 At the lecture were, from the left: Prof. Magda Fourie (Vice-Rector: Academic Planning), Prof. Amina Mama (Chair: Gender Studies, University of Cape Town), Prof. Engela Pretorius (Vice-Dean: Humanties) and Prof. Letticia Moja (Dean: Faculty of Health Sciences).
Photo: Stephen Collett

Gender bias still rife in African Universities

Women constitute about 30% of student enrolment in African universities, and only about 6% of African professors are women. This is according to the chairperson of Gender Studies at the University of Cape Town, Prof Amina Mama.

Prof Mama was delivering a lecture on the topic “Rethinking African Universities” as part of Women’s Day celebrations at the University of the Free State (UFS) today.

She says the gender profile suggests that the majority of the women who work in African universities are not academics and researchers, but rather the providers of secretarial, cleaning, catering, student welfare and other administrative and support services.

She said that African universities continue to display profound gender bias in their students and staffing profiles and, more significantly, are deeply inequitable in their institutional and intellectual cultures. She said women find it difficult to succeed at universities as they are imbued with patriarchal values and assumptions that affect all aspects of life and learning.

She said that even though African universities have never excluded women, enrolling them presents only the first hurdle in a much longer process.

“The research evidence suggests that once women have found their way into the universities, then gender differentiations continue to arise and to affect the experience and performance of women students in numerous ways. Even within single institutions disparities manifest across the levels of the hierarchy, within and across faculties and disciplines, within and between academic and administrative roles, across generations, and vary with class and social background, marital status, parental status, and probably many more factors besides these”, she said.

She lamented the fact that there is no field of study free of gender inequalities, particularly at postgraduate levels and in the higher ranks of academics. “Although more women study the arts, social sciences and humanities, few make it to professor and their research and creative output remains less”, she said.

Prof Mama said gender gaps as far as employment of women within African universities is concerned are generally wider than in student enrolment. She said although many women are employed in junior administrative and support capacities, there continues to be gross under-representation of women among senior administrative and academic staff. She said this disparity becomes more pronounced as one moves up the ranks.

“South African universities are ahead, but they are not as radically different as their policy rhetoric might suggest. A decade and a half after the end of apartheid only three of the 23 vice-chancellors in the country are women, and women fill fewer than 30% of the senior positions (Deans, Executive Directors and Deputy Vice-Chancellors)”, she said.

She made an observation that highly qualified women accept administrative positions as opposed to academic work, thus ensuring that men continue to dominate the ranks of those defined as ‘great thinkers’ or ‘accomplished researchers’.

“Perhaps women simply make realistic career choices, opting out of academic competition with male colleagues who they can easily perceive to be systematically advantaged, not only within the institution, but also on the personal and domestic fronts, which still see most African women holding the baby, literally and figuratively”, she said

She also touched on sexual harassment and abuse which she said appears to be a commonplace on African campuses. “In contexts where sexual transactions are a pervasive feature of academic life, women who do succeed are unlikely to be perceived as having done so on the basis of merit or hard work, and may be treated with derision and disbelief”, she said.

She, however, said in spite of broader patterns of gender and class inequality in universities, public higher education remains a main route to career advancement and mobility for women in Africa.

“Women’s constrained access has therefore posed a constraint to their pursuit of more equitable and just modes of political, economic and social development, not to mention freedom from direct oppression”, she said.

Prof Mama concluded by saying, “There is a widely held agreement that there is a need to rethink our universities and to ensure that they are transformed into institutions more compatible with the democratic and social justice agendas that are now leading Africa beyond the legacies of dictatorship, conflict and economic crisis, beyond the deep social divisions and inequalities that have characterised our history”.

She said rethinking universities means asking deeper questions about gender relations within them, and taking concerted and effective action to transform these privileged bastions of higher learning so that they can fulfil their pubic mandate and promise instead of lagging behind our steadily improving laws and policies.

Media Release
Issued by: Mangaliso Radebe
Assistant Director: Media Liaison
Tel: 051 401 2828
Cell: 078 460 3320
E-mail: radebemt.stg@ufs.ac.za  
02 August 2007
 

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