Communiqué by Prof Ihron Rensburg to parents / guardians of UJ Students

Dear Parent/Guardian of a UJ student

2015 was a watershed year for higher education and this seems set to continue in 2016 with the call for all tuition and registration fees to be dropped across institutions.
Key issues in 2015 were zero percent fee increases; free university education; the decolonisation of universities and the curriculum; the insourcing of outsourced workers; and, the general acceleration of transformation. Protests were used as the mechanism to highlight these matters; however, these protests unfortunately soon became the main focus, with many degenerating into arson and destruction of university property. As a result a number of peer institutions cancelled year-end examinations.
The UJ response in 2015 was substantial. In line with peer institutions, and the related announcement by the President, we waived fee increases for 2016, which for UJ means a shortfall of R200 million, of which R140 million will be provided by the state and R60 million by the University through cost-cutting measures.
Additionally, UJ began the process of insourcing all outsourced services, work that we now expect to conclude during the course of 2016, giving these workers additional benefits that will in the future continue to ensure decent work and decent pay as well as ending real or perceived exploitation. The University went further by granting an ex gratia payment of R2 500.00 to all cleaning service workers and pledging an allowance of R1 000 per month to each of the outsourced workers, while the process to bring them on board continues.
I’d like to share with you here what UJ has done during 2015 to facilitate access to higher education for financially needy South Africans who qualify for a programme of university study. We allocated R10 million to the SRC for the sole purpose of assisting 2 500 students who were unable to pay registration fees in 2015. From our operating budget the University topped up state funding through NSFAS to the tune of R45 million, and our finance division raised a further R38 million externally so that we were able to provide financial assistance to 1 600 senior and final year students in financial need who would otherwise not have been able to continue or complete their studies. While we have fully serviced campuses, the University provided 16 buses at a cost of R16 million per annum that transport our students between campuses and from the city for free. Finally, the University’s meal support programme of R10 million per annum in partnership with Gift of the Givers daily fed approximately 3 500 students, who would otherwise go hungry.
I believe that these responses, that have been in place for the last three years, demonstrate our long-held commitment to accessible and inclusive university education. These efforts must also be seen against the background of our programme over the past ten years to keep fees affordable when compared with some of our peers.
I am pleased to report that despite concerted efforts to disrupt our year-end examinations, these continued uninterrupted in November, as did supplementary examinations in December. As a result, all indications are that we will again have more than 12 000 graduates in 2016, an achievement indeed for each of our graduates and for the University as a whole.
In the face of these challenges experienced by the University and its students, UJ has made excellent progress during 2015 in that graduate output has improved significantly. In 2015, approximately 12 250 students graduated, of whom about 50% were the first in their family to obtain a university qualification. Research output accelerated by more than 20 per cent to reach a new all time high of close to 1 100 research units, and as a consequence the University was again ranked eighth in Africa for research output, and among the top 4% of universities globally for its teaching and research accomplishments. All of this we have accomplished while recording excellent progress on the transformation, accessibility and inclusion fronts.
This makes very clear that UJ is fulfilling its mandate to empower individuals, and through them families and communities, while it is making exceptional contributions to research, innovation and community engagement.
2016 promises to be another challenging year. The University will implement the zero percent fee increase as indicated. However, there are further demands for no registration fees to be paid, for previous debt to be cancelled and, more broadly, for no fees to be required at all. In this regard, protests are being planned to disrupt and, in fact, not to allow registration in 2016.
University Vice-Chancellors have met under the auspices of Universities South Africa (USAf) and together we fully support the quest for funded access to quality higher education for the financially needy and the safeguarding of the integrity and credibility of the South African higher education system. We further recognise the constitutional right of students to protest lawfully and peacefully; however, we condemn all acts of violence, criminal activity, damage to property, and behaviour that impinges on the rights of others, particularly on the rights of others to learn, to teach and to undertake research.
At UJ, with the exception of NSFAS qualifying students, all other students will still be required to pay their student fees in 2016, as this is one of the revenue streams that ensure that the University can remain financially viable and therefore able to do their job of empowering thousands of young people, families, communities and our nation. Also, with the exception of NSFAS qualifying students, all other students will be required to pay registration fees. UJ recognises that not everybody can afford university fees and will thus continue with the support that it provides for its students in the form of the SRC Trust Fund, which will be increased significantly in 2016 to accommodate up to 15 000 students that cannot afford to pay registration fees which is three times higher than the support provided in previous years. UJ will also continue to top up NSFAS both through its operating budget and funds raised from the public and private sectors. Additionally the University will continue to provide free inter-campus bus transport and the meal support scheme will continue.
In respect of outstanding student debt, the usual UJ arrangements will remain in place, namely, where students are unable to pay their debt in full, payment arrangements must be made with Student Finance. In respect of NSFAS qualifying students’ historic debt, and in line with the President’s announcement regarding the state’s intention to cover such debt accumulated during 2013, 2014 and 2015, NSFAS qualifying st​udents will not be required to pay outstanding debt accumulated during this period.
As we go forward, it is critical to maintain an uninterrupted academic programme to secure the success and progress of our students, their families, our staff and our nation. This we are determined to do without taking away the right of students to protest. In this regard, I would wish to remind our students that once they have registered, they agree to and are therefore bound by and required to comply with all University Rules and Regulations as well as the Student Charter.
In the face of further protests, security measures will remain the same as in 2015 in order to secure the safety of our staff, students and visitors, the integrity of the academic programme, and to safeguard our property and facilities. We remain grateful for the cooperation and support of our students, parents, staff and visitors.
Finally, I wish to extend my sincerest congratulations to our graduates of 2015, and my very best wishes to all our students and staff for a successful 2016 academic year.
Prof Ihron Rensburg
Vice-Chancellor and Principal
University of Johannesburg
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