Launch of The Higher Education Task Force Report
Wednesday, March 1, 2000 Omni Shoreham Hotel, Regency
Ballroom, Washington, D.C.
Mamphela Ramphele, Co-chair, Task Force on Higher Education
I just want to thank everybody for the comments they
made and I think we welcome them and hope that the website, both
the one that Henry referred to and the one that the Bank is setting
up, will be an active one where people can really make further improvements
about this document.
I just want to touch on two issues. One: the question
of international standards and whether or not they can reasonably
apply to developing countries. I am absolutely passionate about
the ideal. I believe the way in which we transformed university
of Cape Town in South Africa - and I hope that model will permeate
into the work we are doing now for the system as a whole - demonstrates
unequivocally that poor people need excellence even more than rich
people, because they haven't got the choices we've got, nor the
ability to make those choices to distinguish good from bad. Therefore,
unfortunately, we have to have a system that has clear regulatory
frameworks and expectations and some kind of boundaries set so that,
as in my country now, we don't get private providers coming in and
disadvantaging those people who are disadvantaged by apartheid,
because they haven't got the means to distinguish between good and
So I believe equity and excellence go together, and
if you sacrifice one of those you end up with mediocrity. The poor
can suffer from mediocrity. By that I don't mean every university
must be a research university nor that every country must necessarily
have top-level research universities, but they must have good quality
universities where the qualification means something to those people.
The second point I want to make is on student politics.
I think therein lies the challenge about rights and responsibilities.
They are not only referring to levels of staff but they also apply
to students. I think that too often vice-chancellors or presidents
of universities are too timid in setting boundaries about those
rights and responsibilities. If you want rights, there are certain
obligations that go with those rights. At my university, for example,
we had a very ugly strike in 1991 where students broke windows and
smashed this, that and the other. My predecessor said, "Those
poor guys, you can't really punish these people." I said, "These
are young people with brains. They are as responsive to boundaries
as your son and my son is. To treat them as sub-humans with some
kind of " You know it's different standards for different people.
Young people everywhere in the world respond positively to boundary
setting with rewards and punishment for performance which is inappropriate,
particularly with behavior which infringes on the rights of other
people. And that is very important, particularly in our case where
we are dealing with a legacy of struggle. It's fine to have had
struggle, to have used whatever tactics. The point is now the challenge
is for us as a higher education system to educate responsible citizens
to take ownership and be stewards of the new democracy. They cannot
be stewards if they are destroying the public goods that higher
education represents. So I think that is a failure of adults and
not necessarily the fault of students that we have this disruption.