The years 2015-2016 were momentous for higher education in South Africa, and 2017 promises to be another watershed year. We, as the University of Johannesburg, recognise that we are poised at a historical moment in higher education in South Africa. The call for action and transformation has been heeded. As a young institution, since 1 January 2005, we have crafted a vision, mission and value statement that enables us to be a Pan-African University committed to contributing to our country, continent and the development of our people. We are together more than the sum of our parts in our commitment to excellence in teaching, learning, knowledge production and academic freedom. The University is committed to creating a path for access for our students and resolve as a university to ensure that every student has access to an affordable and high-quality education in an environment that is diverse, respectful and inclusive. We recognise that the painful histories of our country are reflected in our education system and that it is only through the collective wisdom and commitment of all our stakeholders that we can chart our journey. The direction that our University must take is clear.
We, the academics, students, members of convocation, professional and support staff, management and council of the University of Johannesburg take cognisance of the salient call for fee-free, decolonised higher education in South Africa. We recognise that unemployment, poverty and inequality, the chronic underfunding of higher education, and the continued privileging of Eurocentric knowledge, worldviews, and cultures has contributed to the ongoing volatility and instability in the tertiary education sector.
We commit our university to transformation and decolonised education, which we regard as a holistic process that requires the participation of all our stakeholders. The challenge to colonial constructs of knowledge, systems and structures that make up our university is being addressed. We recognise that we are a University rooted in Africa and that our crafting of the institution and contributions to knowledge must take cognisance of our need to use this moment as a window of great opportunity. We will strive to reinvent and reconstruct our programmes, curricula, research and international collaboration in ways that mirror our vision as a Pan-African University. We are ‘living in the moment’ as we interrogate what it means to be an African University.
We further undertake consistently to review and transform our policies, structures, relations, and institutional culture, including language use, naming traditions, artefacts, teaching, learning and research in line with the imperatives of transformation and decolonisation.
We recognise that the inequalities of our society replicate in our universities. UJ remains fully committed to the dismantling of the legacies, remnants and reproduction of inequality and exclusion. We are strong in our resolve and commit ourselves to a plan of action that addresses race, gender and class inequalities. The social justice imperatives of equity and redress will form the basis of the University’s plans for the present and the future.
We have responded to the arguments against outsourcing and have committed to an in-sourcing process believing that we will be more cohesive as a university community through these actions. In line with this commitment, we have already insourced 420 workers and have doubled their remuneration, thus transforming their lives and those of their families.
We are committed to the provision of accessible and affordable higher education as we believe in the value of education as a public good and as a means for the overall transformation of the lives of individuals and society. In caring for our students, during 2016, we have allocated R20 million rands to the UJSRC Trust Fund; a further R20 million for top-ups for NSFAS students; and, we have already raised R100 million through the Missing Middle Funding Campaign. All of this has enabled us to assist 3,850 students with the payment of their registration fees/minimum initial payments and 2,500 of these students have had their fees paid fully. Recognising that hunger remains a major problem for our students, we have provided meal support to the value of R12 million, which, in partnership with Gift of the Givers, enables 3,850 students to have two free nutritional meals a day. Intercampus buses have been funded by approximately R15 million to transport students from homes to campuses.
We are committed to finding solutions to the funding crisis of higher education in our country. While we believe that the higher education sector has remained underfunded for many years, the financial exclusion of young people from pursuing their academic ambitions is unjust. We believe that the focus should be on the poor and the missing middle, and that the affluent and wealthy who can afford to pay for education should continue to do so. The cause of access to higher education for the poor must remain an apex priority for all concerned. In this spirit, UJ has engaged in constructive and deliberative dialogue with the UJ SRC, and students on all campuses, and maintained open and active channels of communication. At UJ, we remain committed to ongoing and open dialogue and engagement between all stakeholders, convinced that the voices of all stakeholders, notably students, should be heard, and we will redouble our engagement efforts in 2017. As a public university, we have a special responsibility to convene these difficult conversations – conversations that lead to positive action.
We recognise and embrace the rights of our students and staff to free expression and peaceful protest, and to challenge the unacceptable status quo, and we defend this important Constitutional right. We also defend the right of the majority of students and staff to study and work in a safe environment. However, we condemn in the strongest possible terms violence and intimidation associated with some protest action, and we implore all to protect life, property and the integrity of the academic programme. We believe that we need to engage in sustained dialogue and forge solutions together while safeguarding the academic enterprise. We believe and resolve that the restoration of trust in our University community is paramount and that we all have a responsibility to create the conditions for the de-securitisation of our teaching, learning and knowledge spaces.
The University of Johannesburg is committed to nurturing a vibrant academic community founded on the principles enshrined in our Constitution. It is our belief that affordable, quality and decolonised education can only come about through genuine partnership and a compact between all the relevant stakeholders.
As such, we implore the President, the Minister of Higher Education and Training, government in general, the higher education sector and universities, the private sector, civil society and other stakeholders to work towards finding a lasting and sustainable solution to the problems besetting higher education – for achieving this is within our reach.
Statement issued on behalf of: The University of Johannesburg Council, Senate, Convocation, Student Representative Council, Institutional Forum, Management Executive, the Executive Deans and Executive Directors.