Sociology Seminar Series

Sociology Seminar Series


South African University Student Trends by ‘Race’ and (possibly) Social Class, 1988-1998-2012: further insights into a ‘stalled revolution’ by David Cooper (Emeritus Associate Professor, UCT;

[chapter submitted for book in honour of Harold Wolpe: Race, Class and the Post-apartheid Democratic State, publication by UKZN Press 2017]

When: Monday, 24 April

Time: 13h00-14h00

Venue: Sociology Seminar Room, Leslie Social Sciences building, 4th floor, Rm 4.51


The implications for the attainment of greater equality of university offerings and outcomes are assessed through a quantitative analysis of South African university student enrolment trends – in relative and absolute terms – over the period 1988-1998-2012. It is shown that increases in the proportions of Black African student enrolments have varied considerably amongst the previously historically white universities – some like UJohannesburg, UKZN and NMMU and even Wits have with ‘Africanisation’ increased above the 50% mark, while UCT and Stellenbosch have remained majority ‘White’ (and UWC has reversed to majority ‘Coloured’ over the past decade, reflecting it is argued, social class dynamics between Coloured and Black African students). In terms of absolute student numbers, these increases have been considerably slower at most of what are termed the 5 ‘upper band’ of historically white universities (where White students actual numbers have remained stable or even increased at most of these) - compared to what are argued as a (historically Black) new post-merger group of 11 ‘lower band’ universities (of less research-intensity) where absolute number increases of Black students have often been quite stark over the past decade. A hypothesised new (post-merger) ‘middle band’ of 7 historically non-Black African universities (like NMMU, North West, UJ etc.) are shown to display student patterns somewhat ‘in between’ the upper and lower bands. A range of possible explanations for these student trends are considered, including shifting race and class dynamics across the hypothesised new post-merger ‘three band structure’ as well as across particular geographical spaces like the Western Cape compared to Gauteng. Issues of race and class are also discussed in the context of Wolpe’s own work. 

Note: My presentation on South African student enrolment trends 1988-1998-2012 will contain a lot of data and tables, so it will be useful if people read the material and arguments in the paper beforehand (please e-mail to request).


David Cooper holds a PhD in Sociology from Birmingham University (England). Since 2014 he has been retired emeritus associate professor in Sociology, University of Cape Town. He served as teacher and researcher in the latter department from 1981 with focus initially on industrial sociology and later on the sociology of higher education; and was head of this department during 2005-13. Since 2014 he has been an NRF (National Research Foundation, South Africa) C-rated scientist whose recent research publications have been on ‘engaged scholarship’ issues, with equal weight to ideas of engagement and scholarship. His future research is expanding into areas of democratic Marxist social theory.