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The state of UKZN (and other universities) - Universities SA

Report says university extended indefinitely suspension of the academic programme that was already in force

UNIVERSITIES SOUTH AFRICA

STATE OF NORMALITY / INSTABILITY AT PUBLIC UNIVERSITIES SINCE THE START OF THE 2020 ACADEMIC YEAR

1. Introduction

The following report is a consolidated account of the status reports received by respective Public Universities by the USAf office on or before 14 February 2020.

Several key universal themes emerged as it relates to challenges experienced in the Public Universities sector, including but not limited to academically excluded students; financially excluded students (non-NSFAS students); the availability of suitable student housing, and funding for postgraduate students (previous NSFAS beneficiaries). Systemic challenges will conceivably remain in the short to medium term until the Government implements long-term national solutions.

Institution

Public Universities state of affairs as reported between 12 - 14 February 2020.

Cape Peninsula University of Technology

State of affairs as at 12 February 2020:

Operations proceeded as planned. No significant disruptions were experienced or reported.

Status: Stable

Central University of Technology

State of affairs at 13 February 2020:

Academic programmes and classes proceeded as planned. In the week starting 10 February 2020, there was a sporadic occurrence of protest by a group of students, which was later addressed by SRC leaders and Deputy Registrar.

Issue: Student allowances

Issues management: Management effectively engaged student leaders and managed discontent in consultation with the student leaders. Intervention programmes are in place to inhibit protests (as students safety remains a priority) and to ensure the smooth running of CUT's two campuses.

 

Interventions include constructive engagements with student leaders and stakeholders within the University to reach amicable and sustainable solutions. It also includes the provision of student accommodation alliances so that students are afforded a study- conducive environment.

Status: Stable

Durban University of Technology

State of affairs on 12 February 2020:

The academic programme successfully commenced and is proceeding as planned.

Issues: The Dean of Students at DUT, together with our team from various departments at the University, have been liaising with the SRC on a very regular basis. DUT has been working through raised concerns related to registration and admission, student housing and NSFAS.

Certain political groups made threats on social media, which was subsequently picked up by reporters from local newspapers. On Tuesday 11 February 2020, a group of protesting UKZN students marched from Howard College to DUT's Steve Biko campus, in an attempt to rally support from UKZN students. Police and DUT campus protection managed the situation, and the protestors were unable to enter the Campus and continued marching towards the Durban CBD.

How the issues were managed: The situation was contained, and DUT is confident that their efforts and regular engagement with the SRC, in keeping communication lines open and in finding solutions to realistic problems raised will help avoid a protest or academic disruption.

State of affairs on 13 February 2020:

Student protest action was experienced at the Steve Biko campus on 13 February 2020. Police and campus security were on the scene. The protestors threw stones, bricks and rocks at University property. Some buildings were damaged, especially those facing Steve Biko Road.

Thankfully, there were no reports of injury to non-protesting students and staff. Services at the library were disrupted for a short while, but the situation has stabilised.

The academic programme is continuing.

Status: Stable

University of Cape Town

State of affairs at 12 February 2020:

UCT commenced with lectures on 10 February 2020, and these have proceeded without any disruptions or attempted disruptions. Peace and calm prevail since the beginning of the year.

There have not been any significant trigger points or issues raised by the SRC or any student movements, and therefore, the University is

not anticipating any potential protests or disruptions.

 

Management of issues: UCT proactively puts out detailed communication at the beginning of the year on issues that could trigger discontent.

For this year (2020), an issue could have been financial aid and historical debt, and UCT published a lengthy message from the VC Desk addressing these possible concerns and outlining available options for students.

Status: Stable

University of Fort Hare

State of affairs at 12 February 2020:

Lectures at the UFH commenced on 10 February 2020 without disruption. The situation has been stable since DHET and SAUS reached an agreement to call off the national shutdown.

Issues: The Fort Hare struggle was a SAUS struggle – based on the generic issues presented by SAUS at the beginning of 2020.

The SRC accepted the SAUS national call. That is why the protest stopped when SAUS suspended the strike on 31 January 2020. The Management Committee is currently dealing with Fort Hare-specific issues such as blocked students because of historical debt (there are various categories of them, some from the missing middle; international students and also NSFAS-funded students; the latter has since been resolved) and funding to postgraduate students.

How the protests were managed: During the period that the student registration process could not advance for almost two weeks, Management obtained a court interdict against the instigators.

This action facilitated in ensuring stability on Campus. Management is in constant engagement with the SRC, and thus far, there are no signs that engagements may lead to a stalemate or resurgence of protests.

Status: Stable

University of the Free State

State of affairs on 12 February 2020:

The academic programme is progressing well. The Qwaqwa Campus was temporarily closed on 20 January 2020, due to a service delivery protest in Maluti-a-Phofung, affecting access to the Campus and also causing the registration process to be postponed. The Campus has since stabilised, and classes started on 10 February 2020.

A catch-up plan will be implemented to ensure as little loss of academic time as possible. The Bloemfontein and South Campuses are also continuing with their respective academic programmes as planned.

Issues Management: Constant engagements take place between the University Management and the Student Representative Councils (SRCs) of the three campuses – including with the Institutional Student Representative Council (ISRC) regarding matters of concern to students. The registration process has been extended from 10 to 14 February 2020.

 

Status: Stable

University of Johannesburg

The current state of affairs at 11 February 2020:

UJ's 2020 academic year officially started on Monday, 3 February 2020. Thus far, the University has not experienced any student demonstrations. All campuses remain quiet.

Issues: There are sentiments of unhappiness around registration and funding – mostly related to NSFAS.

Management of issues: The SRC and other student leaders, alongside executives and general staff, continuously engage with student bodies in formal and informal settings where they share in open discussions and seek solutions to challenges faced.

Status: Stable

University of KwaZulu-Natal

State of affairs at 13 February 2020:

On Monday, 10 February 2020, the University extended indefinitely the suspension of the academic programme that was already in force. The suspension includes all UKZN Campuses and all Colleges. Further notice regarding the re-commencement of the academic programme will be issued in due course. Registration for both undergraduate and postgraduate students continues unabated.

Issues as explained in the VC's communiqué: The SRC's key demand is that the University allows all missing middle students (whose annual family income is below R350 000) to register and not be required to pay registration fees or anything towards their debt. This category of students accounts for approximately 78 percent of UKZN's student population. Furthermore, allowing that would amount to free education at UKZN for this category of students; it would extend beyond current government policy and leave the institution in financial ruin.

As at the end of December 2019, UKZN's student debt stood at R1,7 billion. Despite this, we have continued to implement processes (through financial clearance concessions) that effectively ensure that no single student of the University is required to pay 100% of their debt before registration. The maximum amount payable towards debt has been capped at R45, 000 per student with 67% of the student population being required to pay a maximum of R10, 000 per student towards their debt.

The University's position on this matter has been guided by the principle of enabling access for students while ensuring that the University remains financially viable and sustainable for the foreseeable future; manages cash flows at a level that maintains daily service provision; maintains its ability to meet its financial obligations to staff, students, suppliers and service providers; and manages its already high level of student debt—the highest of all the public universities in South Africa.

 

Any additional financial concessions that would risk imperilling the University's sustainability would be self-defeating for all concerned. At the same time, we recognise that financial hardship on our campuses is widespread; and indebted students can easily begin to fail academically, leaving them trapped, without secure tenure either inside or outside the University. On this point, the crucial second demand from student leadership has been that academic exclusions be suspended. Nevertheless, again, University management should maintain academic standards and the integrity of the UKZN qualifications.

Managing the issues above: Management engages from the premise of maintaining the viability and standing of the University. This requires new forms of shared responsibility and truly creative leadership—and that applies to University management as much as to the student leadership.

UKZN's policy position: In order to secure a sustainable future:

a) On-going violence must stop – immediately and permanently. Similarly, the decade-long cycles of demands and concessions must end.

b) UKZN is willing to assist the 2020 NSFAS qualifying students with debt. It makes better sense to find solutions to the challenges facing this cohort because they are less likely to incur future debt if supported appropriately and are more likely to complete on time if additional support by the University is offered. The University is committed to working with the Student Leadership on this group for solutions.

c) The University is committed to working with all students who are left with one or two modules to complete their qualifications. DVC and Deans of Teaching and Learning are generating a list of these students for consideration by relevant bodies of the University, including Senate.

Status: Unstable

University of Limpopo

State of affairs at 13 February 2020:

All academic programmes are proceeding as planned.

Issues: There was a situation some few days ago, regarding NSFAS payments, but it was resolved, and it is business as usual.

Issues management: Management has proactively been engaging student leaders since 2019. Prompt, timely, and regular engagements with students are credited for preventing discontent on Campus before it emerges.

Status: Stable

Mangosuthu University of Technology

State of affairs at 12 February 2020:

Operations initially commended smoothly, until approximately 700 students went on a rampage on 10 February 2020, blocking the entrance to Campus and thus disrupting the academic programme.

 

Issues: there are three categories of students leading the protest:

a) the academically excluded: these comprise students who, beyond four years on Campus have still not completed their first degrees; those who completed their national diploma, sponsored by NSFAS, who demand to be funded for advanced diplomas, despite that NSFAS is no more funding them; those with historical debt, some of whom are NSFAS-sponsored; but for the latter, a resolution was reached;

b) the financially excluded, on account of historical debt (the missing middle);

c) those demanding student accommodation, notwithstanding that they are not funded and refuse to pay even a fraction of the registration fee asked by the University. In 2019, MUT incurred R14m loss paying for rented accommodation in favour of students who were not funded by NSFAS -- and also providing monthly allowances. The students are demanding the same in 2020 and MUT has stood its ground and said No.

Issues management: At a meeting between Management and the SRC on Wednesday, 12 February 2020, it was acknowledged that numerous issues were affecting the registration process. Management promised to pay particular attention to these to resolve most of them by Friday 14 February 2020.

This is how:

a) Cases of academically excluded students are being re- considered, individually through a review process with their respective faculties.

b) The CFO is examining on a case by case basis, those financially excluded – giving priority to those not having the required registration amount yet not having a historical debt.

c) No further concessions are being made to the post-Diploma/ Advanced-Diploma student category. The Financial Aid office is working to clear 1500 NSFAS-funded students whose allowances remain outstanding, so that their allowances can be paid out by 14 February. Others will be attended to on Saturday, 15 February 2020.

In the meantime, further agreements were reached on 12 February 2020, to the effect that:

a) the VC's State of the University address would proceed on Thursday, 13 February;

b) Classes would not be disrupted any further; and

c) The suspended lectures would resume on Monday, 17 February.

All parties agreed to work together towards resolutions that are practical and sustainable, and are in the best of the University at large.

Status: Stable

University of Mpumalanga

State of affairs at 13 February 2020:

All remains well at UMP with no sign of student discontent or potential for trouble.

 

Status: Stable

Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University

State of affairs at 18 February 2020:

The academic programme was proceeding peacefully until trouble erupted on the morning of 17 February 2020. Protesting students blockaded entrances to some Nelson Mandela University campuses. Later in the day, the SRC presented a list of grievances to Management, and a meeting was held to address these issues.

Although an agreement was reached to resume the academic programme from Tuesday, 18 February 2020, protesting students continued to block entrances to campuses, notwithstanding visible police and campus security presence.

A group of six bricks-wielding students intercepted on-going lectures, mainly targeting large lecture gatherings that attract 100s of students. The protesters were saying it was unfair for classes to continue while some students' accommodation remained unresolved. Lectures stopped, and students dispersed.

Issues: Some of these issues, which arise every year, had already been dealt with through on-going engagements held since 2019, and which continued into January and February 2020. A significant perennial challenge relates to student funding, which enables several processes such as registration, residence placement, the disbursement of allowances to funded students, and so forth.

While students may have been approved for funding from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), there is still a verification process that needs to be carried out before they can be cleared for registration, following which NSFAS releases allowances. There were also grievances about inadequate transport (i.e. university shuttle services).

Issues management: Several concessions have been granted to financially needy and academically deserving students (after verification of their financial status) in a continued effort to broaden access to higher education. As on Friday, 14 February:

· Seventeen thousand thirty-six students had been granted NSFAS funding status. This figure is set to increase as the University's Financial Aid office reconciles lists with NSFAS; and

· Eleven thousand five hundred fifty-seven allowances had been paid to NSFAS-funded students. This figure is also set to increase as the Financial Aid office inserts more statuses, and as more students register.

Regarding accommodation, the University's Student Housing office has been placing students into their allocated rooms and assisting unfunded students with temporary placements while they await NSFAS and other financial aid outcomes.

At this point, on-campus residences are full. There are about 600

vacant beds at accredited off-campus accommodation establishments. Significant progress has been made in the construction of on-campus

 

residences towards the planned 2000 beds. George Campus is nearing completion, and North Campus has recently commenced.

Transport: The University is committed to assessing student transport (shuttle) challenges in liaison with the student leadership. Mandela University remains committed to ensure that every student admitted receives the necessary support for his or her access and success. To this end, the University will continue its on-going engagement with student leadership, to respond to issues as they arise.

Status: Stable

North-West University

State of affairs on 12 February:

The academic programme is proceeding as planned. Even though trouble erupted at the Mahikeng Campus (75% NSFAS student) on 03 January 2020, it was quickly quelled. NWU is not currently aware of any pending trouble.

Management of issues: The University has engaged and remains in the process of active engagement with student leaders on our campuses. These engagements address all current issues around registrations, student financial aid, residence accreditation.

Status: Stable

University of Pretoria

State of affairs at 13 February:

UP's programme proceeded as planned without any disruption. There has not been any sign of student trouble brewing at UP.

University Management has been working very closely with student leaders to address the issues they have raised.

Status: Stable

Rhodes University

State of affairs at 13 February:

The year got off to a good start at Rhodes University. Orientation Week, registration and the academic year all started on schedule and proceeded without any disruptions.

Status: Stable

Sefako Makgatho University of Health Sciences

State of affairs at 13 February:

Academic activities at SMU are continuing as usual and classes have commenced fully. There are no signs of student trouble thus far. The University received few complaints from applicants who were not considered to study at SMU. Some grumblings have been evidenced but have not escalated to protest level.

Status: Stable

Sol Plaatje University

State of affairs at 13 February:

The academic programme was suspended on 13 February 2020 and

remained so on 14 February 2020, because of student protests, which started on Monday, 10 February.

 

Issues: In a memo to Management, students complained about residence allocations, payment of NSFAS allowances, catering facilities, Wi-Fi provision, and washing machines in privately owned residences.

Issues management: Management has responded to the complaints and put in place a plan of action which is already being implemented, including the plan to restore the academic programme. Management's course of action will include legal and internal disciplinary measures where warranted.

Status: Stable

University of South Africa

State of affairs at 13 February: Contingency measures have been put in place to ensure that the academic programme continues as planned. Issue: The main challenge has been the impact of the workers' strike (over wages), which has since been suspended. The registration date has been extended to the 17 February to ensure that students have ample time to register. Furthermore, the issues affecting students have been addressed at an institutional level. At the moment, there are no signs of student trouble brewing.

Issues management: There have been several engagements with students to address their concerns. These have assisted in addressing issues as they arise. Such engagements continue to take place with student structures. Regular engagements with students (throughout the year) assist in the identification of potential challenges; thus could assist the institutions to manage student protests proactively.

Status: Stable

Stellenbosch University

State of affairs at 13 February 2020:

Stellenbosch University experienced no disruptions and the academic programme officially kicked off on Monday 03 February 2020.

Issues: There are no signs of trouble brewing on the scale of protest action at this point, but the student leadership is engaging Management on issues related to GBV, historic debt and accommodation – amongst others.

Management of issues: The University was in a fortunate position that there were no imminent threats of protest on our campuses. This can partly be attributed to, for example, proactive administrative and financial arrangements in place to deal with NSFAS matters proactively by putting processes in place to avoid student concerns and frustration boiling over during registration period.

Status: Stable

Tshwane University of Technology

State of affairs at 13 February 2020:

The academic programme at all the TUT campuses, except its eMalahleni Campus, proceeded as scheduled on 12 February 2020. The Pretoria Campus experienced a minor incident when a relatively

small group of students marched to the Residence Centre to hand a memorandum to the Director of Residences, Student Life and Catering.

 

They then proceeded to march to the main administrative building, where they were addressed by the acting DVC: Student Affairs and Extracurricular Affairs, after which they dispersed and returned to class.

On 14 February 2020 students at the eMalahleni Campus handed a memorandum outlining their issues to the Campus Rector. The students have not yet returned to class by the close of the today.

Issues: Accommodation seems to be at the centre of student dissatisfaction currently. There has been on-going engagement between the acting DVC: Student Affairs and Extracurricular Affairs, other relevant role players and recognised student leaders to address and resolve issues immediately in order to prevent them from escalating. TUT has been closely monitoring the situation on the ground since the start of the 2020 academic year.

A meeting between Management, the student leaders, and relevant role-players is being arranged as a matter of urgency to address the grievances at the eMalahleni Campus. The situation at other campuses remains calm.

Issues management: TUT has effectively managed and contained the situation at the University. The on-going engagement between the acting DVC: Student Affairs and Extracurricular Affairs, other relevant role players and recognised student leaders to address and resolve issues as they arise, has proved to be a success recipe for managing student issues at the University.

On-going engagement and dialogue between Management and recognised student leaders have played a vital role in managing student issues.

Status: Stable

Vaal University of Technology

State of affairs at 13 February 2020:

VUT has started in earnest with its academic programmes without any disturbances or interruptions. In the past week, VUT experienced minor disruptions and intimidations of staff performing their registration duties. About seven students have been suspended pending charges and disciplinary action that will be meted out urgently.

Issues management: As VUT Management, we can confirm 100% that we have successfully contained a highly explosive situation, but we weathered the storm as a collective. The total commitment from Management to resolve issues and continuous weekly engagement with the SRC and student political structures made it all possible.

Status: Stable

University of Venda

As of 14 February 2020:

The UNIVEN academic programme has commenced. Students last participated in a protest action on 20 and 21 January 2020. There are currently no signs of protest action at the University of Venda.

Issues in January: Students were demanding to be allowed to register without making upfront payment.

Students were advocating access to transcripts for students who have completed their degrees but are outstanding fees; safety and quality of student accommodation; funding for postgraduate students; allowances for NSFAS-approved students and auto-promotion and addition of modules to some degrees.

Issues management: Management exempted NSFAS-approved students from the upfront registration payment. Of the unfunded students, those who pledged poverty were invited to present their case with evidence. Management was willing to consider the appeals – subject to further investigations. The rest of the issues were also satisfactorily resolved.

University Management is continuously engaging with student leadership to address their challenges. As and when matters are brought to the attention of the University Management, such matters are considered together with the student leadership and the latter become part of the solution. The University of Venda has a Transversal Committee comprising different senior managers and student leaders. Student matters are considered in this committee and students to participate in the decision-making process.

Status: Stable

Walter Sisulu University

State of affairs at 12 February 2020:

Only one of four campuses, the Queenstown campus, started with the academic programme on the 10th as was planned. WSU has not had any protest action this week, but the academic programme was disrupted because of the slow pace of room allocation to students in Mthatha and Buffalo City.

Butterworth Campus operations are affected because of community- wide protests because of water shortages.

Status: Stable

University of the Western Cape

State of affairs at 13 February 2020:

The University has now settled into the academic programme, this was after a postponed and negotiated re-start on 10 February 2020. On Monday, 3 February 2020 – the initially planned start date, a group of students led by the SRC began disrupting classes. By Wednesday, 5 February 2020, the University Executive and the SRC agreed that the start of the academic year would be postponed to 10 February 2020 in order to conclude clearances and registration.

Notwithstanding this undertaking, a group of students still attacked the Main Hall where registration was underway on Friday, 7 February 2020, by pelting security and police officers and the building with rocks, bricks and other objects. Police moved to disperse the students. Registrations will conclude, but Faculties will consider individual cases. Lectures have since resumed on 10 February 2020, as agreed with the SRC.

 

Issues: The SRC was demanding 1) bulk clearances for registrations for students with debt and was registering their 2) Unhappiness over accommodation. The accommodation situation was exacerbated last year when a private off-campus private accommodation service provider cancelled the lease with the University. Since then, the University started looking for alternative accommodation spaces. This was realised earlier this year, and students began moving to the alternative spaces since the week starting 3 February 2020.

Issues management: Thanks to continued engagement between the SRC and the University Executive, UWC has managed to register students without the latter resorting to a shutdown. The Deputy Vice- Chancellor: Student Development, Support, and her team frequently met daily with the SRC to negotiate a peaceful resolution. This continued engagement and frank and regular communication with students and staff, as well as other stakeholders like parents and guardians, also helped to ease tensions on Campus.

Status: Stable

University of the Witwatersrand

State of affairs at 13 February 2020:

Wits had no disruptions to the academic programme.

Issues: There was a 30-minute "sit-in" on Monday related to issues around accommodation and the funding of students who were readmitted on academic grounds but who lost their NSFAS funding. An agreement was reached on the same day. The issues have been resolved, and there is unlikely to be further action.

Issues management: Timeous, direct, proactive engagement with student leaders resulted in the issues being resolved quickly. Involving students in decision-making processes has contributed to shared responsibility across constituencies.

Status: Stable

University of Zululand

State of affairs at 12 February 2020:

The academic programme commenced as scheduled on 03 February 2020.

Issues: Even though no trouble erupted at Unizulu, the University had to engage students around NSFAS funding and unblocking those who were blocked from registering because of owing the university fees. All issues were contained and successfully resolved.

Issues management: The SRC Administrator is an active channel between the student's voice and Management, and so far, all issues are progressively resolved to students' satisfaction.

Status: Stable

2. Conclusion

It can be deduced from the accounts above that at the majority of the 26 universities, and the academic programme is proceeding smoothly, with minor disruptions being experienced at the majority of university campuses.

As of 14 February 2020, it would appear that instability persists at Sol Plaatje, at TUT's eMalahleni Campus and the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Significant challenges persist at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

USAf and its members remain committed to facilitating productive dialogue among Universities, Government, Business, Parliament and other stakeholders on issues affecting South African Universities, and the strengthening the creation of a Higher Education Governance system based on the principles of cooperative governance, institutional autonomy and academic freedom.

END