Dear colleagues and students
Lectures start tomorrow. A new academic year is always a point of excitement, both for the 4 000 or so students at the start of their lifetime association with UCT, and for all our students who are returning to continue their studies. This new year is particularly significant, as we begin the return to on-campus face-to-face engagement after two years of unprecedented disruption to learning and teaching that has been inflicted on us by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hundreds of our staff, across all our faculties and our support departments, have been working flat out to make this new term, and face-to-face learning, a possibility within the continuing public health requirements that are essential to keep us safe. Numerous students and their families have written to me to express their hopes and expectations for 2022. We have an immense responsibility to ensure that, from the very first day of term, 2022 provides every student with the best possible opportunity to realise their potential.
In this context, we have been working with the Students’ Representative Council (SRC) to resolve the issues that led to the SRC bringing the university to a standstill on Friday, 11 February by blocking access roads to the campus and disrupting the UCT Shuttle service. As I wrote on Friday, the SRC campaign relates to the UCT Council policy that restricts some students with outstanding fees from registering for the new academic year.
This policy does not apply to any student from the lowest socioeconomic bands who qualifies for NSFAS funding; no NSFAS student is prevented from registering for 2022 because of their financial circumstances. The Council policy rather affects the so-called “missing middle”; students whose household income is above the threshold for NSFAS but whose circumstances make it difficult to meet the costs of higher education. We have long been aware of the challenges that these students and their families face, and we have invested heavily in bursary support for students in these circumstances.
In our meetings with the SRC, we have explained the actions we have taken to ensure that no student with outstanding fees, and who has a legitimate basis for exemption from the fee block, is left behind when the new term starts tomorrow. These measures include:
These measures apply to all students, whatever their nationality. Council will meet on Monday, 21 February to reconsider the current fee block policy, and the SRC will be fully represented at the Council meeting.
One of the characteristics of this new academic year is the unprecedented number of returning students who are seeking one-on-one advice on their curriculum options. This need for advice is an inevitable consequence of two years of emergency remote teaching and the consequences of not being able to achieve the quality of academic guidance that comes with face-to-face teaching. I applaud these students for taking responsibility for their learning choices and I commend our dedicated faculty advisors who are working tirelessly to provide this advice. Given this, it is unfortunate that the SRC chose to hold the university to ransom on Friday, without warning or consultation, by closing vehicle access to the campus and disrupting the shuttle service.
The outcomes of our weekend discussions with the SRC have included an undertaking by the SRC that Friday’s blockades will not be repeated. This kind of action is counterproductive, preventing us from providing the quality of teaching, learning and research for which we are rightly recognised. It is also deeply damaging to the students whom the SRC represents, compromising the return to face-to-face teaching which so many of them have rightly demanded. I am encouraged that the SRC has undertaken not to repeat this kind of protest.
In short, we agreed on the following:
Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng
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