Letter to 2015 UCT parents and funders of students

24 December 2015 | Story by Newsroom

24 December 2015

Dear parents and funders,

2015 into 2016

As the year draws to a close, I would like to share some reflections and news about UCT in 2015, and the year ahead.

As you know, it has been a tumultuous year for the University of Cape Town, along with the higher education sector as a whole. Student protests have had a profound impact on national and institutional thinking about many dimensions of higher education (more about this below). But, while the media coverage of UCT has focused more or less exclusively on the protests, the business of the university has continued with some of the best results ever.

  • More funding was raised from foundations and donors than ever before, exceeding previous records by about 30%.
  • The growth of research grants and publications has sustained our international recognition.
  • Several new initiatives, institutes and programmes were launched, many with a strong African focus. These include the Hasso Plattner School of Design Thinking, and the Inter-university Institute for Data Analytics linked to the Square Kilometre Array.
  • Five new Research Chairs were awarded to leading women scientists at UCT by the National Research Foundation. These were in the fields of Biomedical Engineering and Innovation, Plant Desiccation Tolerance for Food Security, Dermatology and Toxicology, Mineral Law in Africa, and Physical Cosmology.
  • Last week it was announced that UCT is set to be the first African university to become part of the International Alliance of Research Universities (IARU) next year. From January 2016, UCT will become the 11th member in the strategic partnership and the first new member since the formation of the alliance 10 years ago.
  • New discoveries, start-up companies, social impact projects, improved pass rates, and increasingly competitive applications processes, as well as post-graduation employment rates of 94% all point to UCT's ongoing success and reputation.

Wrapping up 2015

The year-end exams finished on 27 November 2015. I'm pleased to report that apart from one interruption, all exams from 9 November ran as scheduled. About a quarter of the undergraduate students elected to defer one or more exams to January.

This past weekend saw over 1400 students in all faculties graduating. This included a record number of PhDs – an amazing 139 – in one graduation session. Given the delayed exam schedule for 2015, there will be further graduation sessions for 2015 graduates in mid-2016.

Results from the November exams were published on 23 December 2015. For students who qualify on the basis of November 2015 examinations, certificates and transcripts will be available from the Student Records Office from Monday, 27 December 2015.


Many, looking back at higher education in South Africa over the past year, will think of it as characterised by the #MustFall movements – at UCT, starting with #RhodesMustFall in March, and culminating in the events of 19 - 30 October 2015 with #FeesMustFall and unprecedented national protests. The #RhodesMustFall campaign has prompted most, if not all, members of UCT to revisit their positions, and reflect on what it means to be a university in South Africa in 2015, what the experience of students who have felt excluded by its heritage and practices has been, and how we must adapt to be fully inclusive. It has initiated an important review of names, symbols and art works; and many other transformation initiatives are being pursued with renewed energy and commitment, ranging from curriculum reviews to recruiting and advancing more black academics.

As befits a university, the substance of these initiatives – and the wider social issues that have produced the problems we are trying to resolve – should be the subject of discussion and debate across the campus at large. I am aware that some students were reluctant – or found it difficult – to participate in such discussions this past year. I hope that this will change in 2016, and that all our students will feel free to voice their views and engage the views of others, constructively and respectfully, as the year proceeds. UCT is fully committed to enabling and protecting the spaces for difficult conversations, in line with the underlying values of our institution.

UCT's financial sustainability

Two decisions made during recent months will significantly increase UCT's financial commitments in coming years.

The first concerns student fees. In response to the #FeesMustFall movement, UCT – along with all other South African universities – agreed not to increase their fees for 2016. The loss of incremental income will be in the region of R158 million. However, the government has pledged to cover over 80% of this shortfall – a commitment which we welcome and which needs to be sustained.

The second decision concerns the insourcing of key services. The critique of, and protests against, outsourcing have been an on-going campaign of workers and students for many years, and was also a feature of the #FeesMustFall protests. The critique highlights the inequality in wages and working conditions between outsourced workers and other university employees. UCT had long ago set a minimum wage for outsourced workers that was much higher than industry standards. We nevertheless agreed to insource six key services. As a consequence of our elevated minimum wage levels, the costs of insourcing at UCT will be considerably lower than at many other universities, but will still increase our cost base significantly.

Ensuring financial sustainability in the next decade is going to challenge us, as it is going to challenge all South African universities. We are fully committed to careful financial planning and discipline. For much of 2014/15, a high-level task team has been reviewing our spending priorities and the choices we must make for 2016 and the future. The University Council[1] has recently approved a budget for 2016 that breaks even and that preserves all key programmes. It requires that we cut or postpone some capital projects in the short term, and we will have to reduce our wage bill (largely by offering annual salary increases that may be lower than otherwise expected and through some post reductions).

On the side of research funding, this has always been largely generated from external grants, which constitute about 40% of our total turnover. These are not affected by the above developments.

We will also renew our efforts to raise funds from foundations, corporates, donors and alumni to ensure UCT maintains the highest quality teaching and learning environment, and its globally recognised research excellence. This includes an appeal to parents to donate an amount equal to the originally proposed fee increase (10.3%) to UCT's financial aid fund so that we can sustain the university's commitment to substantial financial aid, well beyond the thresholds set by NSFAS. Details will be included in the 2016 fees account.

I can assure you, therefore, that UCT's finances are being judiciously managed and that UCT will remain the quality institution it is, and will continue to improve.

Campaigns in 2016

2016 is likely to be no less challenging with campaigns for free education, accelerated transformation, and other broader political issues. There will likely be campaigns around the State of the Nation Address, the local authority elections and the 40th anniversary of June 16. We will engage proactively with the new Student Representative Council and other staff and student stakeholders to identify issues of concern, and I hope deal constructively with the challenges.

We acknowledge the right to peaceful protests, and to the vigorous arguments that accompany these interventions. But we will not tolerate violent disruptions of our academic project, or any actions that endanger the safety of our staff and students, or vandalise university property.

We will put additional security measures in place to safeguard the exams in January and the registration in February, and if necessary, to protect the campus from disruption.

Returning in 2016

The published dates for the start of the 2016 term remain. Health Sciences returning students will be back in early January; for others, registration will start in early February, with the first meeting of classes on Friday, 12 February, and the start of term on Monday, 14 February 2016.

UCT has made a commitment that students eligible for financial aid will not be prevented from continuing their studies on grounds of affordability. If students have successfully completed the 2015 academic year and have not been able to pay off their outstanding fees, they may apply to have their debt converted into a loan with a plan to pay off the debt.  If they are found eligible and the loan is granted, they will be allowed to register for the new academic year.

I wish you all a relaxing festive season and a fulfilling 2016.

Dr Max Price


[1] The Council is the University's governing body. It comprises 30 people, 18 of whom are external to UCT. Among its key responsibilities are to ensure the financial sustainability of UCT.

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