Rhodes University’s location makes it tough to attract staff for transformation‚ says VC

30 November 2016 - 13:28 By Roxanne Henderson

Rhodes University is lagging behind in gender transformation‚ which is ironic because most of its student population are women.

Image: Nigel Forshaw via Facebook

The Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) heard this on Wednesday when it conducted public hearings into gender transformation at institutions of higher learning.

The CGE began this process two years ago when it investigated transformation at the University of South Africa‚ the University of Venda and the Department of Higher Education and Training.

Last year‚ it held hearings for the University of Pretoria‚ North West University and Tshwane University of Technology. Now Rhodes University‚ the University of Cape Town‚ the University of the Witwatersrand and the University of KwaZulu-Natal will have their turn.

The CGE's Kerry Oosthuysen said Rhodes was this year included in investigations because of the protests around “rape culture” that erupted on the Grahamstown campus earlier this year.

Oosthuysen said that the university had a well-documented history of sexual violence on campus‚ with students saying they did not feel safe on campus and would not walk alone at night.

“An academic study in 2007 noted that sexual violence as a distinct and recurring problem.”

While most of the university's population are women‚ men still rule the roost‚ Oosthuysen said.

Of the university's 457 academic staff‚ only 205 are women.

The problem of transformation also extends to race. Black academic and support staff are not sufficiently represented‚ she said.

Black women are only present in large numbers in the university's semi-skilled band of employment.

Rhodes vice-chancellor Dr Sizwe Mabizela said that the university faces many challenges which makes it difficult to attract staff for transformation.

Among those Mabizela listed are uncompetitive salaries and few employment opportunities for spouses of academics in Grahamstown‚ which he said “has an unemployment rate of about 70%”.

He also said that high property prices made the small Eastern Cape town an unattractive home for young academics beginning their careers.

Though these challenges exist‚ they should not be used as an excuse to avoid transformation‚ Mabizela said.

Rhodes has put in place programmes to accelerate the development of black and women academics. These programmes relieve some of the teaching burden on academics in order to allow for further study.

The CGE commended Rhodes for these programmes and establishing a Gender Action Committee.

– TMG Digital