Human Rights Day Question: Is Higher Education Access a Right or a Privilege?

Human Rights Day Question: Is Higher Education Access a Right or a Privilege?
By Nkululeko Makhubu

Is Osphera Africa for you?
No matter where you are in this shrinking world, whether you are a Western thinker or an African thinker, you are first and foremost, human, judicially represented by rights. Most importantly, you have the responsibility to respect yourself. This will allow you to have spined empathy to respect each of your human rights.
As a fellow scholar, I am always thinking of what is the best way to think about research. “The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” Quoting the wisest of the wisest, Albert Einstein. To take this thought process even further, Sufi poet, Rumi says: “Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” Maybe, this self-reflective manner of thinking ought not to be limited as a right nor a privilege, it just is.
As important as self-respect for self-representation is important, many African students cannot represent themselves. Far too often does their silence lead to consent. To express their challenges, students can use the following intermediaries: campus external researchers and investigators or via campus led Student Representative Council’s and Student Development and Support structures. They can collectively help address neglected student rights at any given campus community.
To become a non-bias, open access, knowledge sharing community is exactly what we aspire for at The Observatory of Student Politics and Higher Education Research in Africa. To be a representation of Afro-centric, higher education, student affairs, student experience related research.

How do you think about Higher Education Research and Development in Africa?
The Observatory of Student Politics and Higher Education Research in Africa (Osphera.net) believes after reading something, it is better to harbour questions that are research worthy, than settling on rigid answers.
Never questioning important answers, often lends a rigid mentality. In this regard, research bias is as unethical as allowing higher education to be a privilege to a few. Sadly, higher education systems in most African democracies cater to a fraction of a given population. Many aren’t even skilled enough to even ask the right questions, and even if they did, the right answers are retained by elitist research and development institutional pillars.

What does Human Rights mean to African Students?
According to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner (OHCHR), human rights are rights inherent to all human beings, whatever our nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, or any other status. We are all equally entitled to our human rights without discrimination. These rights are all interrelated, interdependent and indivisible
As South African students acknowledged Human Rights Day on Wednesday, May 21, we are of the opinion that: Higher Education is a Right, Not a Privilege.
You’re welcome to counter argue this stance. However, do exercise the right by questioning your viewpoint of privilege. Hopefully, your self-reflected answer has acknowledged the fact that for various structural reasons, the majority of prospective students are denied access to higher education.
Dr Andre Van Zyl, the director of the University of Johannesburg’s (UJ) Academic Development Centre and head of the South African National Resource Centre even when access is granted, the first-year experience and students in transition, told journalists at a 2013 press briefing that half of the 18% (national intake capacity) of matrics that register across the country’s institutions drop out.
According to 2017 South African Higher Education: Facts and Figures, Universities conduct around 20% each of all research; the government sector (including the science councils) conducts about 22.8%; while the business sector undertakes 55.9%, a proportion that the Department of Science and Technology (DST) says compares favourably to levels in European Union countries.
Osphera.net and University of Free State PhD researcher, Taabo Mugume supports that South Africa under democratic leadership has undergone drastic higher education reforms. While there are challenges, progress is noticeable in the levels of access due to policy changes designed post-1994 to support mass higher education.
Sadly, the legacy of apartheid’s Bantu Education made it harder for the preparation of most of the population to even contemplate tertiary education or for the privileged to pass on the baton, and grow South Africa’s (knowledge) economy as a collective human race.
In his paper, Mugume acknowledges the National Commission on Higher Education of 1996 and the White Paper on Higher Education of 1997, the Higher Education Act of 1997 was the first post-1994 fundamental policy initiative designed to ensure the regulated transformation of institutions of higher learning. To the ends of sustaining human rights, the Act was designed with the main intention of ensuring access to higher education for more students from previously disadvantaged communities and also to avail employment opportunities.
On a global level, neither the UN Millenium Development Goals (MDG) nor the outdated United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights mention higher educational paedagogical and socioeconomic factors directly affecting students in Technical and Vocational Education and Training colleges (TVET) and University. However, these MDG’s had to be updated to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) to the extent that part of Goal 4 Quality Education: “By 2030, ensure equal access for all women and men to affordable and quality technical, vocational and tertiary education, including university”. This seems as far too many Human Rights Days will come and go till this is realised. Besides, westernised solutions do not always fruit well in Africa.
The forthcoming era of globalised industry, coined as the Fourth Industrial Revolution comes with new challenges making these Developmental Goals with the possibility of being obsolete also. According to the UN’s Committee on Special Rapporteur on the right to education, “education in all its forms and at all levels shall exhibit the following interrelated and essential features: a) availability; b) accessibility; c) acceptability; and d) adaptability”. It seems that Africa must align its own unique higher education aspirations capitalising on the ease of knowledge sharing in a networked world.
Many would agree that South African’s democracy was built on the heartfelt activism of the oppressed, who feel justice is not served to uphold their human rights.
21 March 2018 was to reflect on this very sentiment as many took a day off to remember the Sharpeville Massacre of 1960, March 21st.
As seen in the blog picture, 69 activists were killed, and 180 were wounded by the bullets of apartheid police. Personally, I feel that violence should never be a resort to any rational thinking society.

Conclusion
A society or better yet, a campus community that upholds human rights will not violate them but will welcome different perspectives through holistically inclusive ethical research and development. Higher education rights have to be seen as just that. The privilege ought to be the enjoyment of those rights, right?

What does #HumanRightsDay mean to you?
Is Higher Education a right or a privilege?
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