Wednesday, 29 February 2012

SA Knowledge - university admission: UCT's policy under review

SA Knowledge
inside South African research, business, politics

UCT establishes commission into race-based student-admissions policy
Monday Paper / University of Cape Town
UCT Council recently established a Commission into UCT Students Admissions, its goal to broaden engagement with the policy review by Council members and the public. The commission will be chaired by UCT Council member Judge Craig Howie and will consider material garnered by the university's admissions policy review task team, as well as the views of the public and sectors inside and outside the university. The vice-chancellor, Dr Max Price, has invited staff and students to make written submissions to the commission, to address matters of policy and principle and to offer any ideas for improving UCT's admissions policy. ....

UCT 2012 admissions policy
Race: university admission - the numbers

Race finished: debunking a scientific myth
Jan Sapp / American Scientist
Few concepts are as emotionally charged as that of race. The word conjures up a mixture of associations - culture, ethnicity, genetics, subjugation, exclusion and persecution. But is the tragic history of efforts to define groups of people by race really a matter of the misuse of science, the abuse of a valid biological concept? Is race nevertheless a fundamental reality of human nature? Or is the notion of human "races" in fact a folkloric myth? ..... The consensus among Western researchers today is that human races are sociocultural constructs. Still, the concept of human race as an objective biological reality persists in science and in society. It is high time that policy makers, educators and those in the medical-industrial complex rid themselves of the misconception of race as type or as genetic population. This is the message of two recent books: Race?: Debunking a Scientific Myth, by Ian Tattersall and Rob DeSalle, and Race and the Genetic Revolution: Science, Myth, and Culture, edited by Sheldon Krimsky and Kathleen Sloan. Both volumes are important and timely. Both put race in the context of the history of science and society, relating how the ill-defined word has been given different meanings by different people to refer to groups they deem to be inferior or superior in some way. .... A turning point in debates on race was marked in 1972 when, in a paper titled "The Apportionment of Human Diversity," Harvard geneticist Richard Lewontin showed that human populations, then held to be races, were far more genetically diverse than anyone had imagined. Lewontin's study was based on molecular-genetic techniques and provided statistical analysis of 17 polymorphic sites, including the major blood groups in the races as they were conventionally defined: Caucasian, African, Mongoloid, South Asian Aborigines, Amerinds, Oceanians and Australian Aborigines. What he found was unambiguous — and the inverse of what one would expect if such races had any biological reality: The great majority of genetic variation (85.4 percent) was within so-called races, not between them. Differences between local populations accounted for 8.5 percent of total variation; differences between regions accounted for 6.3 percent. The genetic divergence between geographical populations in the course of human evolution does not compare to the variation among individuals. "Since such racial classification is now seen to be of virtually no genetic or taxonomic significance either, no justification can be offered for its continuance," Lewontin concluded. Further research has supported that conclusion. In 2000, at a White House event celebrating their completion of the first draft of the human genome, Craig Venter of the Institute of Genetic Research and Francis Collins of the National Institutes of Health declared that the concept of race had no genetic basis. Genetics offered no support for those wishing to place precise racial boundaries around groups. Despite rebuttals and objections, no matter how one cuts it, the data have come out much the same: Between 5 and 7 percent of human genetic diversity is between subgroups within the classically defined races; 6 to 10 percent of the total human variation is between those groups that we think of as races in an everyday sense based on skin color. The remainder of the variation occurs at the individual level and cannot be categorized by group or subgroup. Certainly some traits are more clustered in specific populations than in others, such as skin color, hair form, nose shape and blood type. But race is little more than skin deep in biological terms, and individuals are frequently more genetically similar to members of other so-called races than they are to their own said race.

Fair access in the UK
For the past six years the Office for Fair Access (OFFA) has prodded universities to admit more students from modest backgrounds and from state schools. Although it can curtail a misbehaving university's ability to charge high tuition fees, so far it has not done so, relying instead on goodwill. That may soon change: on February 20th Vince Cable, whose sprawling business department encompasses universities, announced that the next director of OFFA would be Les Ebdon of the University of Bedfordshire. Mr Ebdon had earlier suggested he would be prepared to "use the nuclear option" to force universities to take more students from poor households. The appointment is controversial, not least because Mr Cable overruled the decision of a Commons select committee that had declined to approve Mr Ebdon's appointment. It has also alarmed the heads of the universities most likely to be targeted by Mr Ebdon. They argue that penalising top universities could damage them, and the wider economy, without necessarily benefiting poor students.