‘How can we develop new ways to teach our subjects to young people who live in a world of Facebook and the internet?   How do we work within a multicultural, multilingual society that includes rural black students who do not necessarily speak English?   What about the teacher who adopts a child but cannot apply for maternity leave because the child was not legally registered to her name?’

View or download the article by Joan Hambidge, a professor who teaches literature and creative writing at UCT, appearing for the first time in Business Day today – Rethink of outdated standards occurring at UCT.

Business Day has kindly consented to the use of some extracts.

Comments in the media against affirmative action have put the spotlight on the University of Cape Town (UCT) and its vice-chancellor, Max Price.   For instance, journalist and historian RW Johnson recently wrote a column in Rapport predicting that standards at UCT — and its reputation — would fall because of the university’s admissions policy, which lowers admission standards slightly for black and coloured applicants.

So UCT has developed courses to teach medical students how to consult in Afrikaans and Xhosa.   (This programme, a collaboration between the medical school and the School of Languages at UCT, was recently honoured by the Pan South African Language Board.)

The same principle applies to universities.

If we cannot recognise the symptoms, we cannot cure the ailment.   Universities have changed because the world has changed.   We no longer live in a monochrome, one-language, “one size fits all” world.   We live in a complex society where, to survive, we must deal with the challenges of change.

So before we register critical comments about “affirmative action” or “transformation”, we must first be thinking about what our position on multiculturalism, multilingualism, change — and yes, affirmative action — means.

If more academics would transform on issues of culture, languages and gender, we could enter a new society without fear of the unknown (and this implies an intellectual renaissance).   As long as we adhere to old notions of standards, universities in Africa will be ignored.