Open letter to parents, students and other stakeholders
Is free education the answer to the challenges in higher education?
|Issued by: Tshwane University of Technology|
[Johannesburg, 18 December 2015]
Prof Lourens van Staden, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the Tshwane University of Technology, reflects on some of the events that have changed the South African higher education landscape irrevocably and the impact of these events on TUT specifically.
The national #FeesMustFall campaign and accompanying student demonstrations have proven to be about much more than just the fall of tuition fees; it has in actual fact been an unprecedented movement of student activism across university campuses countrywide.
The violent nature of the protest action at the Soshanguve Campuses compelled the University to make an extremely difficult decision on 23 November 2015 – to postpone the year-end examinations for students at the affected campuses to January 2016. We understand the impact that such a decision will have on our students, especially those in their final year. However, the safety of the staff and non-protesting students at these campuses was our greatest concern and informed the decision.
The cost of higher education
The majority of TUT students are young people with lots of potential who have been dealt an unfortunate hand in life – they grew up in disadvantaged communities and circumstances with limited access to opportunities and resources. This often results in them being excluded from accessing important opportunities, such as higher education, due to unaffordable high costs.
This fact has always guided annual student fee consultations. Without compromising the quality of education, fee increases at TUT have, for the past ten years, been among the lowest in the higher education sector. Since the start of the #FeesMustFall campaign, the university has been vocal in its support. In our experience, many students' performance is affected by their constant worry about finding money to pay for their studies. Although students with outstanding debt are not excluded from writing exams, this worry is often compounded by the concern that they will not be able to register for the next study year, or even receive their qualifications upon completion of their studies.
The financial state of TUT and initiatives to assist needy students
Due to a number of factors, TUT is projecting significant financial shortfalls until 2019. These include historical student debt, the impact of ongoing student protest on the image of and subsequent donor funding to the university, a projected shortfall of approximately R200 million in NSFAS funding for the coming year, under-enrolment of students and a fluctuating student throughput rate, which in turn impacts on the subsidies received from government annually. Despite initiatives by the university to raise additional funds and make money available from its own resources to assist students, these efforts seem like drops in the ocean. These initiatives, which include a longer-term initiatives, the TUT Bursary and Scholarship Fund, under the patronage of Deputy Minister of Higher Education and Training, Mduduzi Manana, still only enable the university to assist limited numbers of students who face financial difficulties. It is hoped that the university's ongoing engagement with the Department of Higher Education and Training, Universities-SA, NSFAS and other important stakeholders will bring about substantial interventions, to alleviate the projected budget deficit up to 2019.
TUT remains on course
I want to assure all our parents, students and other stakeholders that, although the recurring student protest has dominated the higher education scene in 2015, in the background a dedicated staff corps continued doing what they do well – teach and mentor our students towards career success, as well as conducting research to ensure the university remains relevant in the global arena. Some of TUT's I want to successes in 2015 include:
• TUT is currently the highest ranked University of Technology (UoT) in South Africa in terms of research outputs. This is according to the outcomes of a Biometric Assessment of Research at TUT, conducted by Prof Johann Mouton from the University of Stellenbosch
• Earlier in 2015, TUT's Department of Auditing at the Faculty of Economics and Finance, received accreditation for its programmes from the Institute of Internal Auditors in the United States of America (USA)
• Dr Gwen Ramokgopa, former Deputy Minister of Health and Mayor of the City of Tshwane, pledged to help turn TUT around during her installation as TUT's third Chancellor.
• Seven Arts alumni vie for eight SAFTAs. Alumni from the Faculty of the Arts made their alma mater proud in March 2015, with no fewer than eight nominations for this year's South African Film and Television Awards (SAFTAs). Four former students from the Department of Entertainment Technology boast with nominations, one of them with two. Three of their counterparts at the Department of Drama and Film were also in the running for the sought-after Golden Horn trophy that winners receive
• In June, TUT hosted President Jacob Zuma when thousands of students, staff and community members turned out at the Soshanguve South Campus to attend a public address by the President. He undertook a highly successful visit to Soshanguve and the University as part of the Presidential Siyahlola Monitoring Programme
• Prof David Katerere and Prof Alvaro Viljoen have once again showed why TUT's Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences is rated as one of the leading academic departments not only in TUT but also nationally. Prof Katerere was awarded the Capacity Builder award for mentoring students and researchers in the biotechnology sector at the recent Biotech Fundi and Gauteng Accelerator Programme (GAP) Innovation Competitions, hosted at the Innovation Hub. Prof Viljoen, multiple TUT Researcher of the Year award-winner has become TUT's third B-rated scientist joining Prof Felix Dakora and Prof Dimitri Katskov, all in the Faculty of Science, as the three highest rated researchers in TUT.
In conclusion, I would like to thank our parents and students for your support and empathy during this challenging year. Well done to those who have successfully passed their examinations. Good luck to our students who will write their examinations in January, as well as those who will sit for supplementary examinations.
We wish you a happy festive season and a prosperous 2016.