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Statement from the Wits Council - 19 March 2021

- Council

Statement from the Council of Wits University on the funding of higher education in South Africa.

The Council of the University of the Witwatersrand is cognisant of the current higher education funding crisis in South Africa. The University has consistently engaged with various constituencies regarding these financial challenges and continues to do so. We have heard the calls – at Wits and across the country – for access to higher education, for free higher education, and the cancellation of historical debt, and we recognise that these are national challenges that cannot be solved by universities alone.

We believe that quality higher education has the power to transform lives and positively impact society. Quality higher education creates new knowledge, develops the sophisticated, scarce and critical skills needed to modernise and advance our economy, and fosters socially conscious and active citizens who stand for justice and advance the public good.

We believe that most South Africans appreciate the value of universities in shaping and enhancing our democracy, the role that they play in shaping our world today, and creating a better society for future generations.

Wits University occupies a special place in the hearts and minds of South Africans and a valuable and enduring legacy. The University is the heart of activism that seeks a better world for all, but it cannot bear the burden of the sector and the nation on its own.

The Council works with the Senior Executive Team to ensure that Wits University remains well-governed and we are duty bound to ensure that it remains financially sustainable so that it can continue to advance society through quality higher education – whilst ensuring there are still doors of learning to open tomorrow.

We welcome the commitment of the Senior Executive Team to enable access to higher education for academically talented students, within the resources that are available to the University.

We know that the University administers over R1 billion in financial aid, bursaries and scholarships annually, and that it commits over R120 million annually from the Council budget to assist students. We recognise that some 27 000 students (out of about 37 500 full-time students) receive some form of financial assistance, and we applaud this contribution from the University.

But it is not enough.

It is not enough to solve today’s funding crisis, let alone address the systemic funding issues facing higher education and South Africa.

The higher education funding crisis is entrenched in our country’s debt and economic woes, compounded by a global pandemic and the austerity measures that have been imposed. Although Wits continues with its efforts to financially support academically deserving students, the endeavours of universities are merely stop-gaps in a funding void.

Issued by

Mr Isaac Shongwe (Chairperson) on behalf of the

Council of the University of the Witwatersrand 

19 March 2021