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Stampede at university highlights South Africa's education shortage

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"When we opened the gates this morning, we had this unfortunate, this very sad situation, where there was simply an unbearable crush on the front entrance, or front gate," Mr. Rensburg told a news conference.

In a country with high unemployment – officially 25 percent, but up to 50 percent for youths – and a public education system that systematically fails to produce literate, skilled citizens – its schools are ranked 139 in the world in literacy – it’s easy to see why young South Africans would be so desperate to get into a university.

Even those who support the African National Congress government say that more needs to be done to increase higher-education opportunities, and to level the playing field for a black majority population that has seen little material change in their lives in the 18 years since the end of apartheid.

In total, South Africa's universities have an estimated 150,000 seats; but 330,000 prospective students have already applied. Less prestigious vocational schools, meanwhile, have seats that go unfilled.

The Congress of South African Trades Unions (COSATU) reminded the ANC government of its pledges in its own Freedom Charter that “higher education and technical training shall be opened to all by means of state allowances and scholarships awarded on the basis of merit.”

“COSATU appreciates the excellent work being done by the Minister for Higher Education and Training, Comrade Blade Nzimande, to expand and improve higher and further education, but urges the government to do even more, in line with its policy priorities, to open the doors of learning to all South Africans…”

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