The Washington Post

University of Johannesburg stampede: Is African higher education in crisis?

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.

Thousands of students and their parents push their way into the gates at the University of Johannesburg on Tuesday. (Adrian de Kock/AP)

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.”

More world news coverage:

- Syria’s Assad vows ‘iron fist’ against opposition

- Bombing kills 30 in northwest Pakistan

- Alleged U.S. spy sentenced to death in Iran

- Read more headlines from around the world


Success! Check your inbox for details. You might also like:

Please enter a valid email address

See all newsletters

Show Comments
Most Read


Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Your Three. Videos curated for you.
Play Videos
Don’t be ‘that’ sports parent | On Parenting
Miss Manners: The technology's changed, but the rules are the same
A flood of refugees from Syria but only a trickle to America
Play Videos
John Lewis, 'Marv the Barb' and the politics of barber shops
Kids share best advice from mom
Using Fitbit to help kids lose weight
Play Videos
This man's job is binge-watching for Netflix
Transgender swimmer now on Harvard men's team
Portland's most important meal of the day
Play Videos
5 ways to raise girls to be leaders
How much can one woman eat?
The signature drink of New Orleans