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Response from the Senior Executive Team to education students

- Wits University

Wits management commits to working with student representatives to resolve funding issues.

The Senior Executive Team (SET) has deliberated on the issues raised by students from the Wits Education Campus and remains committed to working with student representatives in order to resolve these matters. 

Student funding

The University is committed to the principle of access to quality, free higher education for those who cannot afford it and is working with various structures within the University as well as with external stakeholders including the public and private sectors, the National Students’ Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) and others to develop an alternative model to fund higher education.

  • About 20 700 of Wits’ 33 000 students received financial aid, scholarships or bursaries in 2015. Of the 20 700, approximately 3 820 were education students, representing 19% of the students who received funding.
  • In 2016, thus far approximately 8 888 students received funding of which 2 599 were education students, representing 29.2% of the total students who were allocated funding at Wits.
  • Approximately 499 students from the Wits School of Education require funding which amounts to about R40 million. About 235 students may qualify for NSFAS funding worth approximately R15 million, leaving a shortfall of R25 million.
  • Wits has written to the education departments of both Gauteng and Limpopo requesting support. We have not yet received favourable responses from these structures. The University will continue to follow up with officials.
  • The University has managed to raise approximately R500 000 from external donors to assist with undergraduate student fees this year. These funds have already been allocated. We have also managed to raise additional funds from a SETA for postgraduate students.

No student will be deregistered for not making the necessary tuition fee payments. However, we encourage students to enter into payment plans with the University in the interim so that interest does not accrue on their outstanding balances. We will also allow all Wits students to pay off their debt interest-free until the end of November 2016 provided that students do not default on their payment plans.

This does not have any bearing on academic exclusions or the University’s admission or readmission procedures which are in place to ensure that Wits’ quality education standards remain intact.

Funza Lushaka Bursary Programme

The Funza Lushaka scheme is a merit-based programme funded by the Department of Basic Education (DBE). In 2015, 51 000 applications were received for about 4 000 bursaries nationally.  The Funza Lushaka bursary programme is allocated on merit to students studying towards a Bachelors of Education (BEd) degree or a Post Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE). It is not a financial aid programme. The programme aims to address critical teacher shortages in specified subject areas and school phases.

Selection Process

A Funza Lushaka selection meeting was held at Wits on 22 March 2016. The selection committee consisted of officials from the DBE, the provincial department of education and Wits representatives. The selection of bursary holders was undertaken in accordance with the criteria contained in an approved policy. The results of the Funza Lushaka selection process have not yet been officially released although we are aware that some preliminary lists were posted on the campus. The Funza Lushaka coordinator at Wits will inform students of the outcome of the selections once this process is completed. It is envisaged that students will be informed of the outcome before the end of April 2016.

A Funza Lushaka representative from the DBE is in attendance today to answer any key questions around the programme.

Accommodation

The issue of accommodation is a national challenge and remains a difficult matter for an urban university like Wits. We have tried to accommodate more students over the years through developments like the Wits Junction and Noswal Hall, but building residences is expensive and is not easily funded. We have 6 600 beds which accommodate about 19% of the student population. Education students occupy about 19% of the available beds, which is broadly in line with their proportion to the student body.

The University will not evict education students staying in residences who are still awaiting the outcome of their bursary status.

The Student Affairs Office has had a presence on the Education Campus last week. All needy students who require emergency, temporary accommodation are requested to speak directly to the Dean of Students who will consider submissions on a case by case basis.

Standard marking

All academics at Wits subscribe to the Senate Standing Orders on Assessment. The Dean of the Faculty of Humanities will work with the Head of the School of Education to ensure that academics in the School adhere to all University policies and procedures. This will be undertaken by the end of May 2016 and any particular complaints made in this regard should be raised with the Dean of the Faculty directly.   

Financial aid and student support services

The establishment of satellite financial aid and student support offices in Parktown will be a significant additional cost to the University in a year in which budgets are severely constrained. However, we commit to launching such facilities in Parktown by 31 October 2016.

Low-cost food options

The University is investigating cheaper food options for students on the Parktown campuses. We will commence with a survey of the type of food that students favour and the price range that they can afford. Depending on the outcome of the survey, additional service providers could start operating on the campus as from 1 August 2016.  

Budget meals are available at the Highfield Dining Halls from 09:00 to 10:30 and from 15:00 to 16:00 on weekdays. Prices are R22 and R24 respectively. Details are available from the Catering Liaison Officer at the dining halls.

We have also requested Theo’s to offer low cost options including a hot meal at a favourable price. Student Affairs will also be providing a warm meal for lunch for students who are financially constrained. This will roll out from the 3rd of May 2016.

Safety and security

The recent disruptions and unlawful activities have left Wits with no choice but to once again redirect resources away from where they are needed most – accommodation, food and support for needy students. We can only remove security once we can guarantee that University activities will continue without disruption and when we can ensure the safety and security of staff and students.

The SET assesses situations daily and will determine what level of security is required. The University allows for lawful protest, provided that it does not infringe on the rights of others to learn and work. If there is a breach of the University’s policies and procedures, if University activities are disrupted or if the court interdict is in any way violated, the University will act as appropriate against those individuals.

Student governance

The University has a governance structure in place and the Education Students Council is thus required to work within this framework, through the Students’ Representative Council and the Office of the Dean of Student Affairs, as required.

Engagement  

The SET remains committed to working through the details of these matters via the Office of the Dean of Students.

Thank you

Senior Executive Team

18 April 2016

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