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Responses to the demands of the students – 26 September 2016

Date Released: Mon, 26 September 2016 15:29 +0200

The university leadership has consulted with its two unions (NEHAWU and NTEU), the HOD’s forum, and other constituencies available at short notice in making these responses.

The University and its community is committed to finding solutions to the fee challenges facing students.  The university strongly urges the Minister of Higher Education to provide a platform of engagement for the universities and students. Government must provide feasible solutions to meet the financial needs of universities and students from underprivileged circumstances. 

It is in no-one’s interest to close the university, and we commit ourselves to working with all sectors to ensure that no student’s academic year is lost, and no employee’s job and salary is threatened.

List of demands and responses:

  1. 1.       The institution is obliged to provide free quality education for the poor and middle class students of this institution.
    1. a.      The poor and middle class group in this sense consisting of students from a family background with a gross income of R0-R600 000.
    2. b.      This group is also inclusive of those students on the NFSAS programme.

Rhodes University supports the call for free quality higher education particularly for the poor. The institution on its own does not have the resources to provide free education. Rhodes University is working tirelessly together with other universities to lobby government and the private sector for exactly this. We strongly urge the students to assist in making such representations.

  1. 2.       Those students from rich family backgrounds i.e. those whose gross family income falls beyond the R600 000 threshold should be subjected to pay the full fees of the institution including bearing the burden of any fee increment that the institution sees fit.

Students whose family incomes fall above the threshold of R600, 000 per annum  will be expected to pay fees in 2017 which include the annual fee adjustment to be determined by Council. Rhodes University already provides the highest proportion of its operating budget to financial aid of any South African university (R38,7 million in 2016) – there is thus already a significant level of cross-subsidisation at Rhodes University.

  1. 3.       Members of higher management at this institution should be obliged to contribute half of their salaries towards covering the cost of learning as a mechanism of subsidising free education at this institution.
    1. a.      The remuneration committee review the salary packages of higher management and the process of allocating salaries needs to be a transparent process which consults students as a stakeholder in the process

Remuneration is a contractual labour matter governed and protected by labour law and recognition agreements with our Unions, NEHAWU & NTEU. Levels of University staff remuneration are determined by the Council of the University in a transparent manner. The university cannot legally instruct members of staff how their remuneration should be used. The University encourages a culture of altruism amongst its employees, many of whom already contribute significantly to financial support for students.

  1. 4.       The university is obliged to make the budgeting process open and transparent and both students, workers and academics should be consulted throughout the process of budgeting until the approval of such budgets

The university budgeting process is open and transparent. All members of the University community, including students, academics and workers are regularly invited to participate in the budget process. The University is engaged in a process to ensure greater levels of participation in the budget. Furthermore a financial sustainability plan is in process which includes broad consultations around the budgeting principles of the institution.

  1. 5.       Members of staff and management on all levels who own residential accommodation which they rent out to students should be obliged to contribute some portion of their profits from such properties as part of their social responsibility and as a mechanism of subsidising the free education to be realised at this institution. The portion of profits to be contributed should be a decision made with the consultation of students, workers and staff.
    1. a.      These individuals have a vested interest in the institutions students’ body and hence have an obligation to give back to such institutions. 

See response below.

  1. 6.       The university should establish a programme of identifying and assigning “University Approved Accommodation” of certain residential accommodation whereby the university can control the rent and all other expenses associated with the renting out of such accommodation.
    1. a.      The university should set up a meeting with the local business forum to discuss such recommendations and to report back the outcome of these discussions to the students of this institution.  
    2. b.      The university should set up a meeting with those members of staff and management on all levels who own residential accommodation which is rented out to students to discuss the above mentioned point and to report back to the students of this institution on the outcome of this meeting by no longer than Monday, 26 September 2016.

This matter is addressed by the national student housing policy and the university is looking at ways to operationalize this, in consultation with role players involved.

As a university, we support the just principle of our students and all staff having access to accommodation that is affordable and of a good quality that sustains their wellbeing in a healthy and safe environment.  

The university is in agreement for the need to establish “University approved accommodation”. The process to achieving this will be the establishment of frameworks on the quality of accommodation with due consideration for health and safety concerns and optimal conditions for learning. Included will be a proposal on what the university considers to be the cost of quality, affordable housing as a means to inform the determination of rental costs so that students can have a similar expectation of the quality of housing against available cost irrespective of which provider they use in the Grahamstown area. We will seek to establish agreement with those accommodation providers who sign up to the university framework who will be accredited into “University approved accommodation”. This task will be undertaken during the 2017 academic year.

The university cannot legally compel staff who own property to make a social responsibility commitment. We can however engage such staff on this proposal.

  1. 7.       The university is obliged to clear all historical debt that any member of the student body, both past and present, has incurred in their time as students of this institutions.

The university is already in a very fragile financial state after the huge payment concessions made as part of its response to the #FeesMustFall protests in 2015 (outstanding student fee debt for 2016 at the moment is R147,4 million, and historical debt of approximately R226 million).  It has nothing left financially that it can give to this problem.  Rhodes is already the university that sets aside the biggest percentage of its annual budget for student financial aid to subvent other sources of student funding. Without additional assistance from the State the university is unable to clear historical student debt.

  1. 8.       All supplementary exam should be free and should be a resolute reflected in the policy of this institution

The university agrees to waive the supplementary examination fee.

  1. 9.       The practice of excluding students on the basis of financial reasons should be abolished with immediate effect.

The university does, and commits itself to continuing to do, everything within its power to ensure that no academically deserving student is excluded for financial reasons. Mechanisms for affording this and ensuring this, including engaging with the Minister’s latest funding instrument, are being explored and reviewed.

  1. 10.   The practice of withholding student’s results, for both June and December should be abolished with immediate effect and any withheld results up to this far should be released immediately.

The withholding of exam results is the mechanism whereby the university separates those who decline to pay from those who are unable to pay. The University undertakes to engage with students on an individual basis on the issue of payment of fees to ensure that no academically deserving student cannot access a funding opportunity.

  1. 11.   All students should be allowed to register in January every year regardless of any financial debt from previous years.  

The university does, and commits itself to continuing to do, everything within its power to ensure that no academically deserving student is excluded for financial reasons. Students must make individual fee payment arrangements with the University.

  1. 12.   No student who took part in the protest of FreeEducation 2016  will face any form of sanction from this institution which included but is not limited to:
    1. a.      Suspension
    2. b.      Being interdicted
    3. c.       Exclusion
    4. d.      Any form of disciplinary hearing
    5. e.       Removal of DPs
    6. f.        Exclusion from residences
    7. g.      Any other form of victimisation

 

The University respects the right of its members to protest peacefully and within the bounds of the law.

  1. 13.   The management is obliged to respond to the student body of this institution including staff on what they have presented to the DHET and their role in the consultations that they have been having with all spheres of government in terms of the provision of Free Quality Education both at this institution and this Country.

 

The University has already given presentations to students and staff of a portion of its submission to the Fees Commission, the key position of which is our principled support for free quality higher education in particular for the poor and increased State funding for Higher Education. The University did place on toplist its full submission to the Fees Commission. The University undertakes to make this available on StudentZone.

  1. 14.   The management of this university should respond to these demands by no later than Monday, 26 September 2016 10:00 am.

As agreed with representatives of the protesting students, these will be responded to at 2pm on 26 September 2016.

Issued by the Communications and Advancement Division

 

Source:Communications