The last six months have been extraordinary times for universities in South Africa, and so has the last month been in the case of our University. Indeed we are witnessing and experiencing the birth pains of an entire new epoch for universities in South Africa.
Our challenge is to recognize, and respond to the idea that we are both the subjects and co-creators of this new epoch. Birth is painful. However, despite being discomforting, birth gives way to new possibilities, and a new moment of confidence, optimism and hope. In this process nurturing resilience is equally vital.
Important also is the ability to discern that which is obvious, and that which is not, as we struggle into this new epoch. In this regard, it is evident that the visible goals of ending the injustices of outsourcing, tackling the very high price of university education, especially for the poor, accelerating transformation, including cultures and traditions, and accelerating curriculum changes that reflect South Africa in the post-colony, are wholly legitimate and must carry our full support.
We should also not delude ourselves into thinking that all of us are equally committed to achieving the same objectives nor that all of us are equally committed to achieving a peaceful yet definitive transition. This is evident in the violent events of recent weeks, here at our University, and at our peer institutions, which endangered the lives of our staff, students and visitors, caused malicious damage to property, and sought to undermine and disrupt our academic programme and good governance. This must not deter us from decisively advancing into this new epoch. This will though require a vigilant yet principled, humble yet definitive, embracing yet coherent, and a compassionate yet honest approach to the challenges facing us.
It is in this context that at our University we have sought to secure the integrity of our Institution: our staff, students and visitors safety and security remain our primary concern. As do our facilities and property. Equally so for the uninterrupted continuation of our academic programme, and at this time, especially, the uninterrupted sitting for our examinations.
We have also, ceaselessly, deliberately and thoroughly engaged with all of our University constituencies, with their concerns and ideas for this new epoch. As we continue to do so, we are always mindful that there are opportunities and limits to our ability to help make this new epoch. Our University’s sustainability, our hard-won academic credibility, stature and integrity, and our equally hard-won academic and other freedoms, that we all hold so dear, are all equally paramount. None of these three vital foundations of our University can be sacrificed at the cost of the other, lest in our efforts to accommodate each other’s demands, we collapse all of these – sustainability, academic credibility and freedoms – and in turn our University, like a house of cards.
This does mean that since our University exists within a national public system, many of our constituencies’ demands require system-wide solutions which we must actively articulate and advocate. Having said all of this, our role is to build upon the many gains and successes that we have made in our first ten years. For example, we have, in partnership with the UJSRC, substantially widened funded access to the poorest in our nation, we have substantially diversified our academic staff and student body. This work must continue. Additionally, we must tackle the remaining injustices (such as outsourcing and the transformation of our University with particular reference to cultures and traditions that deliberately exclude Black and Women academics) and share our experiences in a deliberate and definitive manner with the national public university system.
It is against this background, and following several engagements with our constituencies – including Council, Senate, the Management Executive, the UJSRC, Convocation, other students outside of the UJSRC, the University’s recognized labour organisations, some of our outsourced workers not represented by recognized labour organisations, and other academics outside of Senate – that we now provide our University community with a comprehensive and updated statement of commitments.
Insourcing of Outsourced Workers
1. Cleaning, protection and gardening services that are presently outsourced through external service providers will be insourced according to an agreed insourcing plan, and workers currently performing these services will be transferred through an agreed process to the University, and in this process no new conditions relating to education level for insourcing will be introduced.
2. Insourcing of all concerned workers will be completed no later than 30 June 2017.
3. The University will not renew any of the above outsourcing service contracts.
4. In the interim, until insourcing is fully completed, outsourced workers will, through their respective employers, receive an additional monthly allowance of R1000, effective 31 January 2016.
5. Subject to outsourced workers returning immediately to work, within the terms of the various court orders, and the University’s rules, and without abrogating the principle of ‘no work no pay’ outsourced workers will, on 11 December 2015, through their respective employers, receive a one-off allowance of R2500.
6. Outsourced workers whose children are admitted to the University will be exempted from the payment of tuition fees, as is the case with the University’s current employees, and subject to the policies of the University in this regard.
7. As is the case with University staff, outsourced workers will qualify for further studies at the University.
8. Outsourced workers will, through their worker representatives, participate in the University’s Insourcing Task Team, whose task it is to urgently develop and agree on the insourcing plan, having considered all of the facts and remedial actions, and that in order for the Task Team’s work to be constructive, the University will in good faith provide all of the information that will be essential for the Insourcing Task Team to complete its tasks. The tasks of the Insourcing Task Team are extremely important, and this must be accelerated and the draft report be completed by no later than 15 December 2015. The end-goal of the insourcing of service workers is to achieve decent work and a decent wage, and that insourcing must result in a significant improvement of the standard of living conditions of the workers concerned.
Registration Fee and the Minimum Initial Payment
9. In order to increase access for financially needy students, in terms of the NSFAS means test criteria, the UJSRC Trust Fund will be increased significantly so that 5,000 financially needy students will be assisted to pay the registration fees and minimum initial payment of fees. A further 10,000 students who will be funded through NSFAS and the UJ NSFAS top-up, will not be required, as is currently the case, to pay registration fees and minimum initial payment. This means that a total of 15,000 financial needy students will be assisted with the payment of registration fees and minimum initial payment.
Unblocking of Access to Academic Results Statements
10. Since 15,000 financially needy students will be assisted to pay the registration fees and the minimum initial payment, these 15,000 financially needy students will be provided full access to their academic results statements.
11. Suspensions of the six students who were suspended by the university during the last four weeks for various reasons, will be temporarily uplifted subject to them agreeing to a statement of intent.
Zero Percent Fee Increase
12. The University shall, as announced by the President, implement the zero percent fee increase for 2016. This zero percent fee increase will result in a shortfall of R199M to the University’s operating expenditure. The University will introduce cost saving measures in 2016 to make up for its part of the shortfall amounting to R60M. The state is expected to make up for the remainder of this shortfall.
Free University Education
13. The University shall continue to lobby and work with peer institutions and the government for the implementation of the free university education dispensation for the poor in our nation.
Knowledge, Universities and the Post-Colony
14. In recognition that 21 years after the end of apartheid, very little curricular progress has been made in respect of inserting African philosophies, epistemologies and contextual realities into undergraduate and postgraduate learning and teaching, the University will immediately establish a task team that will include Senators and students to deliberate on the concept and process of decolonizing knowledge, and the development of modules that will be incorporated into future curriculum, and not later than 2017.
15. In this regard an initial approach could include for example compulsory undergraduate modules exploring topics such as Key Themes in African History, Great African Philosophers of the 19th and 20th Centuries, Important Anti-colonial struggles of the 20th Century, The State of the Post-colony – Progress and Retrogression, and, Critical Citizenship in the 21st Century.
16. While the University is recording good progression in respect of the diversity of its student and staff body, including its major initiative to accelerate the academic progress of Black and Women academic staff, the University shall accelerate these efforts. Furthermore, the University will take clear and specific actions to create diverse, welcoming and affirmative cultures and traditions. The University’s new agenda for transformation, as well as its monitoring mechanisms, will be inclusive of University stakeholders, and will be deliberate, substantive and results-orientated.
Security Situation at the University
17. As we remain committed to securing the interests of all of our constituencies, and continue our engagements, we are aware of ongoings attempts to disrupt the normal operations and academic programme of the University, including through potential acts of violence.
18. In this regard, the University remains resolute in our commitment to securing life, property, the University’s normal operations and the academic programme, and to this end various plans are in place, and under regular review.
19. We request your understanding of the enhanced security arrangements.
20. The University Council is fully in support of this statement.
Prof Ihron Rensburg
Vice-Chancellor and Principal
University of Johannesburg