There’s no such thing as ‘separate but equal’
NWU plans to increase diversity — and quality — at all its campuses
● North-West University students are still largely divided along racial lines — most of the students at its Potchefstroom campus are white while the majority of those at Mahikeng and Vaal Triangle are black.
Vice-chancellor Dan Kgwadi is hoping to dramatically change this by introducing a multilingual language policy whereby neither English nor Afrikaans will be the dominant language at any of its three campuses.
Setswana and Sesotho will also become languages of instruction once the policy is approved by the university’s council.
Should the senate accept and recommend the language policy to the council, it will take a decision at its next meeting on September 27.
This year, the university’s full-time student population is 57.6% black African and 37.7% white. At the Potchefstroom campus, 66% of students are white and 26.9% black. At Mahikeng, almost 98.4% of students are black and 0.5% white.
“In terms of the demographics [for all campuses], you would think it looks OK, but when you go to the campuses you see a skewedness that is reflective of the country’s history,” Kgwadi said.
“We are still a replica of the country’s history. It’s unacceptable. We must acknowledge that we are not as diverse as we should be.”
He said a diverse institution would be an indication of quality.
“This includes an exchange of views, student learning experiences and how much they learn from each other. It’s important for the university to provide that diverse platform for students to learn from inside and outside a classroom.”
Kgwadi said the new policy would not allow language to be a barrier to access.
“It’s a perception that quality is better elsewhere. After we address this perception, it will be automatic that a white student near Mahikeng will not necessarily want to study at Potchefstroom.”
He said that unlike most universities, where English is the medium of instruction, NWU had adopted a functional multilingual policy in which English, Afrikaans and Setswana were used interchangeably.
“We have now adopted a language policy that does not really assign any language to a campus.
“We have to convince the authorities from a quality point of view we are inclusive. At some point we will have to offer parallelmedium classes. This is what we are proposing.”
Kgwadi, 51, took over as vice-chancellor of NWU in April 2014, just months after an outcry over an orientation programme for first-year students at Potchefstroom who dressed in uniform and made a Nazi-style fascist salute.
He was confronted with a federal university and “a model based on separate development”, in which each campus had its own faculties, management and academic programmes.
There were 15 faculties, including two law faculties, three education faculties and two business schools.
Kgwadi said the content of the modules and even the prescribed textbooks were different at the Potchefstroom and Mahikeng campuses. “It was truly separate, but the certificate was the same. It was not a single university as such, so the first thing was to come up with a strategy to establish NWU as a unitary institution of superior academic excellence.”
He reduced the 15 faculties to eight and spread the deans around the three campuses. The dean of the economic and management sciences is based at Mahikeng while the dean of natural and agricultural sciences is at the Vaal. The deans of the six other faculties are stationed at Potchefstroom.
“We want to ensure all the sites of delivery have a strong academic presence, so no campus becomes a satellite. There is no stigma attached to the one being superior to the others.”
Kgwadi completed a BSc degree in 1989 at the former University of Bophuthatswana, which is now the NWU Mahikeng campus.
He completed a doctorate at the former Potchefstroom University for Christian Higher Education.
He joked that when he was appointed the first rector of the Mahikeng campus in 2005, after NWU was established a year earlier, he had to abandon his MBA studies because he could not sign his own certificate.
It’s unacceptable. We must acknowledge that we are not as diverse as we should be
Dan Kgwadi, 51, took over as vice-chancellor of NWU in April 2014.