Greetings to you all – welcome to the new year at UCT and the start of the semester.
The first month has gone well. While January is usually a quiet time for UCT, this year has been unusually busy. Here's some of what's been happening.
- Deferred exams concluded successfully: The deferred exam block concluded without incident on Monday, 25 January 2016. A total of 539 exams were written by 5 881 students, who averaged 2 to 3 papers each. The exam results were released at 29 January 2016 at 12h00. We also accommodated some 2 000 deferred exam students in residence at no cost to them.
- Orientation is under way: I am always buoyed by the enthusiasm and energy of our new intake of students. I met the first groups of humanities and commerce students this week and was struck by their eagerness, excitement and pride at having made it to UCT.
- Fee debt issue: Earlier this week I announced the details of a new plan that has been developed to deal with historic fee debt. The new approach aims to assist students who have incurred fee debt in 2013, 2014 or 2015, and will enable them to proceed with their studies (or to graduate) despite the outstanding debt against their name. The new plan, funded mostly from the new allocations made available by government through NSFAS, but also from UCT's own resources and donors, will mean that no NSFAS-eligible student should be prevented from continuing with their studies or from graduating due to unaffordability, provided they are academically eligible. See the full VC Desk released to students.
- First-year applications: We have had an excellent cohort of applicants to first year, and most faculties chose to make more offers than in previous years. We hope this will not result in over-enrolment but the uptake rate is always unpredictable.
- The insourcing project has started: We expect to have all the workers currently employed by five outside contractors transfer into UCT in mid-2016. (The services of the sixth company will be insourced later.)
- Union salary negotiations: Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Francis Petersen is leading the negotiations with the three unions – namely the Academics' Union (AU), the Employees' Union (EU) and NEHAWU. Whilst the AU and management have already reached agreement on a 5% increase, the EU and NEHAWU have declared a dispute. Negotiations are continuing.
Looking ahead, the next challenge is to ensure smooth orientation and registration of new and returning students. We are keenly aware of the ongoing national campaign for free education and how on some campuses, registration processes have been disrupted as part of protest action. We are also well-advised about government's commitment to work progressively towards free access to higher education for poor students. The plans for this are being developed by NSFAS and the presidential commission over the next six months.
I believe, and as far as I can tell, so does the SRC and the vast majority of staff and students at UCT, that the cause of free education for the poor will not be advanced or accelerated by preventing the universities from functioning in 2016. Successful registration is a key condition for ensuring academic access and progress for all students. And students wishing to proceed with their studies for the year have the right to do so. My colleagues and I, charged with running the university, have the responsibility to protect these rights.
We have taken the following measures to ensure we get off to a good start:
- I invited all student formations to meet with me to identify issues they felt should be addressed in order to obviate the need for protest action and disruption. While the SRC and Student Assembly representatives accepted the offer and raised many important issues which we will address, the RMF and FMF did not reply or attend.
- We have put in place online registration procedures for those programmes and years of study where face-to-face consultation is not required.
- We have consolidated face-to-face registration in a limited number of venues where we believe we can offer better protection of the registration processes.
- Having observed the disruption on other campuses, we have arranged the necessary security back-up arrangements to ensure that registration will proceed unhampered.
- I have constituted a special executive task team to assist me with specific challenges that we anticipate will arise this year. The task team will focus on matters affecting universities nationwide that may impact UCT specifically. The aim is for the task team to work with multiple stakeholders across campus, to anticipate and diffuse tensions, ensure good communication with the campus community when events are moving rapidly, and ensure maintenance of a safe environment for all. The task team will be led by DVC Prof Francis Petersen. Other members include acting DVC Prof Anwar Mall, Dr Russell Ally, A/Professor Elelwani Ramugondo, Mr Roland September, Ms Gerda Kruger and Ms Lisa Cloete. In each case, the task team member will make arrangements in their portfolios for work to continue whilst they serve on the task team. The team will commence its work this week.
In this first communication of 2016, I had also wished to talk about progress and plans on transformation. But given the length of this communication, I will address these in another VC Desk shortly.
Dr Max Price
Read previous communications: