Govt, varsities meet to solve student issues

Tuesday, October 6, 2015
By: 
More Matshediso

Pretoria - President Jacob Zuma says government recognises and supports the right of university students to protest and to voice their opinions and grievances.

However, he strongly condemned the violence and destruction of property that have taken place at some universities in the name of student protests over the past year or so and most recently at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

“This right [to protest] should be exercised with utmost responsibility, ensuring that the rights of other South Africans are not violated in the process.”

The President on Tuesday held a meeting with Vice-Chancellors and the leadership of universities in South Africa at the Union Buildings in Pretoria. Briefing media afterwards, he said the meeting had been fruitful and historical.

The meeting was held at the request of Universities of South Africa and the University Council Chairs Forum - South Africa. Among other things, the request was necessitated by the recent violence on different campuses in the country.

“The meeting agreed that all forms of dispute must be resolved through negotiation and that where wanton acts of criminality take place, the law must take its course,” said the President.

While violent student responses have been condemned, the management of universities must open up legitimate channels for discussion and dialogue over matters concerning students, with a view to resolving whatever issues they raise.

“We believe that university management must be more proactive and not allow matters to deteriorate to such an extent that students go on a rampage, often due to lack of understanding and knowledge of the situation and spurred by poor communication,” said the President.

Financial aid

The meeting also focused on key challenges facing universities such as student financial aid, the increasing politicisation of university campuses and transformation of higher education.

“We wish to reiterate government's commitment to funding poor students in higher education in the context of a constrained fiscal climate,” he said.

Funding for poor academically capable students, disbursed though the National Students Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), has increased from R441 million in 1997 to over R9.5 billion in 2015.

“While funding has increased considerably, it is clearly still insufficient to support all poor and academically deserving students,” said the President.

Processes for improving the disbursement of funds, and concerted efforts to root out fraud, as well as sourcing additional funding to support students are currently being implemented.

The President said, however, shortfalls in financial aid should not be used as a justification for hooliganism and vandalism of state property.

President Zuma announced that a task team has been established to explore solutions to short-term student funding challenges, made up of officials from the Department of Higher Education and Training, the Presidency, NSFAS, two Vice-Chancellors representing the leadership of universities, two student representatives, and other higher education stakeholders.

“The Task Team will make recommendations by the end of November 2015,” he said.

Transformation

Issues relating to the transformation of the higher education sector were also discussed, ahead of the second Higher Education Summit, which will take place in Durban from 15 to 17 October.

“It was further noted that the current activity on many historically white university campuses by new student movements were related to concerns around the slow pace of university transformation and the demand to open access more effectively and thus change entrenched institutional cultures.

“We also discussed some of the real gains in transforming the higher education sector, while acknowledging that there is still much more to be done,” he said.

The President said students protesting for the transformation of institutions must focus on dialogue and legitimate means of negotiation and protest to bring about change.

In attendance was the Chairperson of Universities of South Africa, Professor Adam Habib, and the University Council Chairs Forum Chairperson, Mbulelo Bikwani.

Habib said diversity of views in university should be allowed and be expressed without fear, “but we should respect each other…”

He said the use of violence and intimidation to achieve any objective cannot be tolerated in a democratic society, adding that Universities of South Africa is committed to fully participate in the Transformation Summit and promotes transformation in higher learning institutions.

Bikwani said whatever challenges universities face, “we will come together, with collective wisdom and come up with solutions”. - SAnews.gov.za

 

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