A stampede Tuesday morning at the University of Johannesburg’s Auckland Park campus killed a student’s mother and left 20 people injured, after thousands of prospective students began pushing one another, South African news site Sowetan Live reported.
The shoving began because many of the students didn’t know whether they would have a place in the fewer than 1,000 available spots in the class for next year. Some had slept on the pavement to ensure they’d be in line first.
While it’s the first stampede to take place at the university, the crush is a reminder of a major, ongoing problem in higher education in South Africa and in much of the continent — too many students, too little room.
The New York Times’s Lydia Polgreen reports that in South Africa, public universities turn away 85 percent of their applicants.
In 2010, the Council on Foreign Relations reported a number of other reasons for strain on higher education across Africa: “budget cuts, growing enrollments, repeated strikes, a crumbling infrastructure.” “A crisis,” the council called it.
When Tunisian fruit vendor Mohammed Bouazizi set fire to himself in December 2010, sparking protests across the Arab world, a part of his anger was that he could not go to university and that he had to work so hard to afford to send his sisters there.
Not only is higher education in Tunisia overburdened as it is in South Africa, with the number of students tripling over the past 10 years, but its private schools are also wildly expensive.
The 2008 book by Damtew Teferraa and Jane Knight, “Higher Education in Africa: the International Dimension.” voiced similar concerns about Egypt, saying that “the universities are overcrowded with too many students to be served adequately . . . the faculty is overburdened as a result.”
Institutions such as Uganda’s Makerere University have even begun to hold lectures in shifts, with classes held at nights and weekends, to deal with the overcrowding.
When UNESCO examined Africa higher education in 2001, the agency identified an explosion in student population and inadequate financial allocation as the two biggest problems it faced. A decade on, as the University of Johannesburg stampede shows, little has changed.
In a news conference Tuesday, South Africa’s education minister Blade Nzimande admitted that the stampede had occurred because there were not enough university seats for everyone who wanted to attend.
“We should not consider ‘walk-ins,’ ” Nzimande told reporters in Johannesburg. “The price we are paying is too much.”
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