Letter to 2015 UCT students

24 December 2015 | Story by Newsroom

24 December 2015

Dear students,

After a tumultuous year at the University of Cape Town and South African universities generally, I'm writing to you with some information about the start of 2016, and news about how 2015 ended off.

November Exams
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. More than 1400 students in all faculties graduated in three ceremonies this past weekend. This included a record number of PhDs – an amazing 139 – in one graduation session. Given the amended 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, 28 December 2015.

Transformation in 2015
The end of the year is a time to reflect on the events of 2015 and to look forward to 2016. UCT has faced a testing time in 2015, and 2016 will be no less so. 2015 has seen the #RhodesMustFall (RMF) campaign on our campus, a campaign that has made most, if not all, members of UCT 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 of you will feel free to voice your 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.

The more recent #FeesMustFall (FMF) campaign has seen national decisions to have the same fees in 2016 as in 2015, with the major share of the shortfall being funded through an increase in government funding to universities. We welcome this commitment from government, and trust it will be sustained, though we will still have to trim our spending to cover the balance.

Another element of the end of year campaign was the focus on the inequality in wages between outsourced workers and other university employees. Although at UCT we had long ago set a minimum wage for outsourced workers that is much higher than industry standards, we nevertheless agreed to insource six services, which we hope to be able to do by the start of the second half of 2016. This too is a major advancement in our transformation journey.

Plans for 2016
These developments (no fee increase and insourcing) will put strain on the university's budgets in 2016 and in future years, and will require careful planning and discipline across the institution as the year proceeds. By reducing our spending in some areas – including making important sacrifices and cutting out or delaying some capital projects - we will ensure that we have a balanced budget in 2016 and can protect the academic project. We will also renew our efforts at raising funds from donors, parents and alumni to ensure UCT maintains the highest quality teaching and learning environment, and its globally recognised research excellence.

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 with the new SRC 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.

January exams
We will publish the final exam timetable for the January exams (which run from 11 to 26 January 2016) today, 24 December 2015.

For students who are in residence and who have a deferred or supplementary exam in January, residences will open four nights before your first exam. This period in res will be regarded as a continuation of your 2015 residence contract and no additional fee will be levied.

Please remember that should you need to stay in residence during your exams, you must apply for and reserve a place through the online booking system. Full details are available from the offices of Student Housing & Residence Life.

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 will not be prevented from continuing their studies on grounds of affordability. Students eligible for financial aid (including GAP students) who have completed 2015 and are not able to pay off their outstanding fees by the end of January 2016, may apply to have their 2015 debt converted into a loan with a plan to pay off the debt, and if found eligible and the loan is granted, will be allowed to register for the new academic year. Details of how to go about seeking this loan funding will be published on the UCT website by 15 January 2016.

I look forward to seeing you all on campus in the New Year, and wish you all a relaxing festive season and a fulfilling 2016.

Dr Max Price

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