Update on developments on campus

30 January 2023

Dear colleagues and students

We write to update you on developments on campus in the last few days, as well as measures being taken by the University of Cape Town (UCT) executive to resolve emerging issues where possible.

On Sunday, 29 January, a group of about 25 returning students without accommodation offers occupied Kramer Building in a move led by the Students’ Representative Council (SRC). The SRC is demanding that the university finds two buildings to accommodate these students.

These are students who either no longer qualify to stay within the UCT residence system because they have exhausted the number of years permissible, or owe above the R10 000 fee debt threshold approved by Council. This demand seeks to have the university drop the current fee block, despite Council having raised the debt threshold from R1 000 to R10 000.

The SRC, in response to the executive not agreeing to their demands but offering alternative measures, led the occupation of Kramer Building.

The SRC has conceded that students currently without accommodation offers do not meet the concessions that the Department of Student Affairs (DSA) and Student Housing and Residence Life (SH&RL) can make within current policies.

In the past few days, there have been engagements between the executive and the SRC in an attempt to resolve issues amicably. One area around which there is common ground is that first-year students should be prioritised and that academically excluded students cannot be accommodated in the UCT residence system.

There have also been a number of concessions from the university’s side in a clear demonstration of the executive’s commitment to resolving these pressing issues. These concessions include the fact that students who were in vacation accommodation can remain in residences and should provide evidence on 30 January that they are engaging with the Department of Finance on reducing their fee debt or with their relevant faculty on RAC decisions affecting them.

It is important to emphasise the reality of the difficult financial position the university finds itself in. In spite of this, UCT has set aside budget within these financial constraints in order to assist students in good academic standing who meet criteria for financial aid. In an effort to assist as many students as possible who meet the criteria for financial aid, data for 2022 shows that at least R1.9 billion (unaudited) has been spent by a number of key financial aid sponsors in support of UCT students. This amount is an increase of R100 million compared to what UCT spent on student financial aid in 2021.

The support provided to students has increased over the recent years and close to 50% of undergraduate and 30% of postgraduate students receive funding support. The university has actively fundraised and set aside funding within current budgetary constraints to assist students with fee debt. Undergraduate appeals will close on 3 February 2023, and students can expect an outcome to their appeals by 10 February 2023.

It is also key to mention that the executive’s decisions are guided by and have to adhere with the applicable policies approved by Council as the apex decision making body of the university. Any decision relating to fee blocks can only be made by the UCT Council.

As we continue to engage with the SRC, we urge the student leadership to be cognisant of the reality of our financial constraints as a university, and the risk that comes with heavily indebted students. For instance, in one case a student has outstanding debt that is over R300 000 and has also exceeded by far the minimum duration of their degree.

We wish to assure the campus community that the executive is doing everything possible to address the current challenges, within the limitations resulting from current financial constraints, while adhering to applicable policies. We will continue to engage with the student leadership in an effort to resolve these challenges, and we implore the SRC to engage in a reasonable manner that seeks to consider current realities.

All university activities planned for this week, including registration and orientation, are scheduled to continue. Staff members who are based in Kramer Building are advised to work from home while the situation is being attended to. We regret any inconvenience that staff and students might encounter as a result of this unforeseen development.

We will keep the university community updated, as and when there are further developments, through the university’s official communication channels.

The UCT Executive

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