Dear colleagues and students
Yesterday afternoon the UCT executive received a 48 hours’ notice from the South African Liberated Public Sector Workers Union (Salipswu), that it intends to embark on a lawful strike. The strike relates to a range of issues including shift work, provident funds savings and four-hour a day work for some staff. The university has been engaging with unions on these matters, which included most recently a facilitated three-day employee and union relationship workshop during the week of 14 August 2017.
The UCT executive believes that significant progress has been made in resolving these issues and remains committed to continue negotiations with unions and staff. Salipswu similarly indicated a willingness to continue negotiations and to this end an invitation was issued to the union to meet this morning. If a strike cannot be avoided, it may entail a withdrawal of labour in certain parts of the university, particularly the residence system. We trust both parties will seek to ensure that it is peaceful.
According to social media posts, some students are calling for a shutdown in support of the Salipswu strike. The university has noted reference to students being financially excluded and would like to set the record straight. It is true that 23 students are still on a grace period and have been granted until 15 September 2017 to settle their 2016 outstanding fees. These students are not yet registered for 2017 because they still owe 2016 fees which were due on 30 June 2016 (some 15 months ago). They have nevertheless been granted extra time to pay their debts and allowed to attend classes, access the library and VULA, and course assessments in the meantime.
Initially, 180 students were granted a grace period. Of the 180, 157 students managed to pay their 2016 outstanding fees. Only 23 students had not paid their 2016 outstanding fees by the original deadline of the start of the second semester. All students on the grace period were informed that they will not be allowed access to Vula, library and other services if their 2016 fees had not been paid by 31 July 2017.
The Students’ Representative Council (SRC) and Shackville TRC/FMF which is represented in the Rapid Response Task Team (RRTT) was consulted when this decision was made and they fully supported this decision. However, the SRC subsequently approached the UCT Executive Director: Finance indicating that they were in the process of fundraising for these students and they will assist in clearing the 2016 debt of these 23 students, but did not want these students to lose out academically when the funds have been raised. The SRC were adamant that they will be in a position to raise funds for these students. On that basis, the grace period for all 23 students was then extended to 15 September 2017 and we have supported the SRC by providing access to all necessary information for its fundraising drive. We continue to work through these issues within RRTT.
All of the 23 students are ineligible for financial aid as some have a family income which exceeds the maximum threshold for financial aid, while others are pursuing postgraduate diplomas and are not eligible for financial aid. Some of these students are also ineligible for NSFAS funding as they do not meet the criteria for academic eligibility. All funders have rules in place about the maximum number of years that students can take to complete their qualifications and NSFAS applies the N+2 rule (normal duration of the programme plus an additional two years). UCT using its own resources applies N+3 if the student is in their final year of study. The extent to which UCT provides financial aid is demonstrated in the 2016 Annual report. In 2016, a total of 3 707 students were assisted with financial aid from NSFAS and UCT own funding, and a further 3 218 by external bursaries (corporate). This represents almost 40% of all undergraduate students in 2016. At undergraduate level financial aid provided amounted to R627 million and R351 million at postgraduate level. Undergraduate support comes from various sources; corporate and other external bursaries support students to a value of R244 million, while NSFAS provided loans amounting to R202 million and UCT contributed R109 million from council controlled funds. In addition, income from endowments and other funds available to the University for the purposes of financial aid contributed R71 million.
The UCT executive emphasises its commitment to engage with unions, staff and students to resolve these issues. We furthermore recognise that unions have the right to strike. We call on students and staff to protest or strike in a manner that will not disrupt the operations of the university as the university cannot afford to lose any academic time if we are to complete the curriculum in time for exams. Unlike in previous years, the exams are already scheduled until the last days of November and they cannot be postponed except by rolling them over to the next year. This will have disastrous consequences for staff, students, incoming first years, the university’s financial stability and for society. The academic and financial aid appeals process earlier in the year clearly demonstrated that it is financially vulnerable students who suffer the most if the university is shut down and we cannot afford to risk the future of our students.
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