UJ welcomes Presidential Fees Commission, to work with other universities on future of Higher Education, secures 2016 financing

The University of Johannesburg (UJ) welcomes the announcement by President Jacob Zuma of the Commission of Inquiry to look into the long term funding of higher education and together with its fellow institutions is mobilising the knowledge, research skills, and considerable intellectual capacity available within the universities to contribute to the Commission’s deliberations.

Using design thinking and involving all university stakeholders, the aim is to produce suggestions and discussion documents together with other universities as the sector charts its course for the future. The ultimate goal is to support the Presidential Commission of Inquiry chaired by retired Justice Jonathan Heher with substantive analysis and suggestions.

“As universities, we have the ability to mobilise significant intellectual firepower in support of the Heher Commission, assisting it in creating the basis for a root and branch redesign of the sector”, said UJ Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Prof Ihron Rensburg. “Together with our fellow universities, we hope to put significant capacity at the disposal of the Commission. “

At the same time, UJ’s finance department has secured its funding model for 2016 following the decision not to increase fees for this academic year. The model relies on a mix of financial sources, including student fees, regular and additional government grants as announced by Minister Blade Nzimande, and support from individuals, companies, and organisations.

“UJ has embraced the government’s decisions on university funding while remaining determined that we do not lose focus on our core business of contributing to the transformation of society and of empowering individuals, families, and communities through academic study leading to concrete, sought after qualifications,” said Prof Rensburg. “As a leading South African and African university we remain committed to the research, innovation, and teaching at the frontiers of science, technology, and knowledge which can help modernise and transform our economy and with it our society.”

Government support for 2016 will make up for 70% of the budgeted shortfall resulting from the fee rise moratorium. From UJ’s side, a range of measures have been implemented, including a line by line reexamination of University budget, a very limited drawing from the reserves, and further significant efforts at external fundraising from individual and institutional donors and the private sector.

While challenging, the 30%, or R 60-million of the shortfall for 2016 to be found by UJ remains for the moment manageable within the context of the University’s overall budget for 2016.

“Our concern is that income cuts should not over time lead to a deterioration in spending on research or teaching,” said Prof Rensburg. “For this reason, we have joined the other Vice-Chancellors in supporting 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.”

As part of its implementation of the line item budget adjustment for 2016, UJ’s finance department has deployed a team to examine expenditure, and identify any possible further savings, although prudent fiscal management in the past indicates that this will not be able to make a very large additional contribution to the overall task. More importantly, savings are being sought in the University’s very significant procurement budget, with discussions with suppliers of goods and services aimed at securing their contributions to the long term viability of one of their most important clients.

Last year already, UJ began insourcing all outsourced services. This process is expected to be completed during the course of 2017, and will give affected ancillary workers additional benefits that will in future continue to ensure decent work and decent pay as well as ending real or perceived exploitation.

In addition, the University last year granted ex gratia payments of R2 500 to all cleaners while pledging an allowance of R1 000 per month to each of the outsourced workers until the process of bringing them on board continues. All children of outsourced workers who have been admitted to study at UJ will do so for free. Funding for this process is also being found by the University.

Rumours that staff could be negatively affected by the fee rise moratorium and the insourcing of ancillary workers are incorrect. As with any other employer, performance bonuses are paid by UJ in response to tangible achievements by individual academics and administrators, and the University as a whole, and are therefore not guaranteed. A provision within the parameters of the overall budget is made by the University every year for bonuses, and 2016 is no exception.

UJ also continues with its partners to make major efforts to assist its neediest students to pay their initial fee instalments, erroneously referred to as registration fees. Last year, the University allocated R10-million to the SRC to assist 2 500 students unable to pay registration fees and provided R 45-million from the operating budget together with R 38-million raised externally in assistance to a further 1 600 senior and final year students in financial need who would otherwise not have been able to continue or complete their studies.

This year, up to 10 000 students will be able to access a combination of NSFAS grants, UJ top up loan funding, and externally sourced funds. A second group of up to 5 000 financially needy students will receive support exclusively through the SRC Trust Fund to pay their first fee instalments.

The University also continues provide 16 buses at a cost of R16-million per annum to transport students between campuses and from the city for free. The meal support programme of R10-million per annum in partnership with Gift of the Givers feeds approximately 3 500 of the most needy students daily who would otherwise go hungry.

With the exception of NSFAS qualifying students, however, all students will in 2016 again be required to pay registration and student fees. This is one of the important revenue streams that ensure the University can remain financially viable and able to do its job of empowering thousands of young people.

The usual UJ arrangements will remain in place regarding outstanding student debt. Students who are unable to pay their debt in full, must make payment arrangements with Student Finance. In respect of historic debt, and in line with the President’s announcement on debt accumulated during 2013, 2014 and 2015, qualifying students will receive assistance from NSFAS to pay outstanding debt accumulated during this period.

“Budgets are tight, but the University continues to do its job in the interests of its students and their families, and of contributing to research and development in South Africa,” said Prof Rensburg. “Our country is the source of 40% of the considerable and relevant technical innovation emerging from the whole of Africa, and we are working with our partners in other universities, in government, and in the private sector to make sure it stays that way. The Heher Commission is a major boost to securing the future of quality university education and research in South Africa.”

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