25 October 2015Dear colleagues and students
In a matter of days the terrain of higher education - within the universities and within government - has changed dramatically. The antecedents have been evident for some time, not least in the diminishing investments by government in higher education over the past five years, in tandem with the economic hardships endured by many students and their families. But it has been the courage and tenacity of the now national student movement that has focused all our minds so acutely on the problem. Their intervention has been a game changer ... and I salute them for that!
These past days have also drawn wider support for the students' demands for affordable higher education: from parents, alumni of various universities, and even supporters who live overseas and have made the effort to march in support of the protest in the country. It has produced a remarkable degree of civic mobilisation, and popular concern for the plight of students and the future of our universities.
There are risks and uncertainties too - most obviously, in relation to the requisite additional funding for higher education, particularly beyond the funding emergency of 2016. At UCT we will need to review our budgets and funding priorities for next year, with an eye on additional cost we will have to carry. But UCT along with all universities cannot carry the costs of the new fees dispensation without significant further financial investment from the State.
I would like to give you an update on a number of matters closer to home, here on campus, and on decisions that came out of the special sitting of the University Council on Saturday, 24 October 2015.
Zero percent increase:
On Friday, 23 October, the meeting of the president and his ministers, VCs, Councils and students at the Union Buildings resolved to recommend a zero percentage increase in student tuition and other fees for 2016. The University Council on Saturday unanimously confirmed that there will be a 0% increase in fees for academic tuition and housing for all students from the African continent at UCT in 2016; all fees will remain at 2015 levels.
Council noted that the President had committed the government to providing universities with grants comparable to most, if not all of the revenue loss consequent upon the 0% fee increase - although the amount that government would provide to each university is currently not known.
It is hoped that the Department of Higher Education and Training will ensure that the full amount is replaced.
In the context of this week's national campaign against outsourcing and in view of Minister Nzimande's recent commitment to setting up a ministerial task team to examine outsourcing at all universities, with recommendations by mid-2016, UCT's Council decided on Saturday to re-open and review its policy on outsourcing. Council also received and considered a memorandum from the Joint Shop Stewards Committee on the matter. My senior colleagues and I have recommended to Council that we shift our previous approach to outsourcing and commit to an investigation into what it would take to enable insourcing. We expect that significant additional costs would be incurred and we have to identify how to cover these additional costs. Following the Council meeting, I and other senior colleagues have met with groups of shop stewards, workers and students. I recognised the sense of urgency afoot, and critically, that the question of insourcing/outsourcing stands in the way of resuming scheduled university activities. I have today made a commitment to bring a proposal on the question of outsourcing and insourcing by 1 November 2015.
Meanwhile, as there is some confusion about UCT's 2014 updated policy and practice on outsourcing, which includes information about the UCT prescribed minimum wage for workers employed by contractors providing outsourced services at UCT.
Review of policy and guidelines for deploying the SA Police Service on campus:
The Council has asked for policy proposals to be submitted to the next meeting of Council on deploying SAPS on campus in light of recent events and in response to the request for such guidelines from the Academics Union and Black Academics Caucus. We are acutely sensitive to the opposition to the presence of police on campus, but also recognise our responsibilities for maintaining the safety and security of all those on campus.
Interdict and charges:
I confirm that on Thursday 22nd UCT management set in motion a process to ask the High Court to lift the interdict that was granted on Monday, 19 October 2015. We have also undertaken to make representations to the police and the prosecution authority and to have charges against students and workers withdrawn. You can read my statement of 22 October for more details.
Other matters that were not discussed by Council specifically but need to be mentioned here:
UCT open forum:
We announced earlier that we would have a UCT open forum for all working and studying at the university who wish to discuss the issues we are facing. This was eclipsed by the pace of developments on campus. While many students and staff participated in recent gatherings, most members of the UCT community have not participated in discussions of these important developments and the implications of the far-reaching decisions we have to make, due to the closure of campus. I will attempt to convene such a forum soon, to enable a wider discussion and consultation within the university at large.
Exams to be rescheduled:
The set of exams scheduled to be written from 27 October to 13 November 2015 has been postponed. This entire set of exams for 27 October-13 November will be moved to a new date, which is as yet undetermined. Once the new date is set, students will be given notice in order to be able to prepare properly. Updates will be posted on Vula and here.
Counselling for staff and students:
Exam season is stressful in any year but we know that the recent protests have created additional anxiety for many students and staff, whether or not they were directly involved in the marches and other protest activities. I urge any student or colleague who is feeling distressed to seek out the counselling services that are offered for free to students at the Student Wellness Service and to staff through the Department of Human Resources.
We hope to restore UCT to full operation so that we can enter into the consolidation phase of this semester, but at this stage we do not yet have a commitment from members of the university who are protesting that there will be no disruptions. A decision on the future of outsourcing cannot be made until 1 November and I believe no purpose will be served by attempting to keep the university open.
After careful consideration we advise that the campus will be closed from Monday, 26 October 2015 to Friday, 30 October 2015.
Please watch the UCT homepage for updates.
Dr Max Price
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