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Council statement, Mon 19/10 at 13:30

- Wits University

Council statement: Response from the Council of the University of the Witwatersrand on the agreement reached between Council EXO and students.

Representatives of Wits University Council were ready to address students today, Monday, 19 October 2015, at noon as per the agreement that was reached on Saturday morning, 17 October 2015.

The condition was that the Council representatives would have a fair chance to report. In anticipation of large numbers of students, and for health and safety reasons, Council informed the Wits Student Representative Council that this would happen on the piazza outside the Great Hall.

Council’s response was developed at a full day Council meeting held on Sunday, 18 October 2015. However, given the storming of Senate House on Monday morning, which runs contrary to the spirit of the agreement and the representative’s engagement, Council was regrettably no longer in a position to report in person.

Council has therefore shared with students the response from Council electronically. The statement follows below.

Council and executive management of the University remain committed to resolving the fee issue and to getting the academic project on track as soon as possible. This can only happen under safe conditions that are conducive to the academic project.

HERE FOLLOWS THE FULL STATEMENT BY THE COUNCIL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF THE WITWATERSRAND:

Response from the Council of the University of the Witwatersrand on the agreement reached between Council EXO and students on 17 October 2015:

A special meeting of Council was convened on Sunday, 18 October 2015, to consider the agreement that was reached on Saturday, 17 October 2015, between the Executive Committee of Council and students. This agreement was prompted by developments at the University over the past few days and the concerns raised by students. 

Council understands and appreciates the extremely difficult circumstances under which this agreement was reached. Council further appreciates the willingness of the student leadership to engage in a transparent process of renegotiating student fees for 2016.

Council recognises the absolute priority of the academic project and the international stature that the University, as an African university, enjoys. It is especially important for Wits to retain its premier academic status given the fact that we have a large number of poor students who are entitled, as are all others, to receive quality education. Council does, however, agree with students that the large fee increases are now a barrier to access for talented but financially stressed students who are prevented from realising their ambitions.

Council affirms the general principles reached in the agreement, including that the current proposal on fee increases be suspended and that a transparent process of negotiation, between the University and the students, be implemented as a matter of urgency.

Cognisant of the spirit and the conditions under which the agreement was reached, Council:

  1. Heard from Council Exco, as agreed, who advanced the position put forward by students, regarding the hardships that will be created by an above inflation increase in student fees and their demand for a 0% increase.
  2. Recognised the rationale for a 0% increase, given the position put forward by students that an above inflation increase is extremely onerous on students and their families in the current economic climate.
  3. Recognised that above inflation increases over a number of years have created a burden of higher education costs that is becoming increasingly difficult for students and their families to sustain.
  4. Deliberated on the conditions that have forced fee increases over the years. These include the decline in state subsidy. This is made worse by above inflation increases in the costs related to infrastructure, utilities, including lights and water, and the falling rand-dollar exchange rate, which have resulted in a substantial increase in the cost of all library books, journals, electronic resources and research equipment.

In recognition of the issues that were advanced by students, Council has considered a number of substantive ideas and options to address the fee increase challenge. These possible mechanisms include:

  1. Austerity measures to ensure that the University’s financial resources are biased towards the academic project and improved access. All non-essential expenditure will be interrogated.
  2. Discounts for NSFAS and financially stressed students, and the sourcing of additional funding from external sources.
  3. Waiving the upfront fee for not just NSFAS students, that is already a practice at Wits, but for all qualifying students. 
  4. The Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Professor Adam Habib, has committed that, given the context, any performance bonus that is due to him for 2015 will go towards access for deserving students.
  5. Continued engagement with government with regards to addressing the identified shortfall in funding for higher education.

In keeping with both parties’ commitment to negotiations, Council agrees that these options must be considered through a deliberative process and concrete negotiations, in line with the University’s governance procedures. Council has established a team and is requesting the student community and the Wits Student Representative Council (SRC) to establish a similar team to partner with Council on resolving this issue as anticipated in the agreement. A process will also be established that will enable all financial and other information to be made available to all parties.

The outcome of these negotiations will be presented to Council as soon as possible, or by the latest, at the next Council meeting.

The University will resume academic operations on Tuesday, 20 October 2015 to enable students to conclude their studies and prepare for examinations.

Council of the University of the Witwatersrand

19 October 2015

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