Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) Council, at its meeting on 14 October 2016,notes that South Africa’s Bill of Rights of 1993 (section 29) states that all citizens have the right to further (and higher) education, which the State, through reasonable measures, must make progressively available and accessible.
In support of this, and taking into account the injunction of progressive steps towards the fulfilment of this right within the context of a highly unequal society, NMMU Council calls on Government to make a clear commitment to the provision of a system of free higher education for the poor and a new funding model for the so-called “missing middle” in 2017.
Council fully supports the work being done by the Heher Presidential Commission, but believes that the immediate goal of establishing a system of free higher education for the poor and financial support for the “missing middle” should be brought forward for implementation in the new academic year (2017), while the Commission should focus on addressing the longer term, broader funding requirements of universities, including a subsidy formula.
Council notes with deep concern the serious and potentially devastating impact the illegal‘shutdown’ is having on the futures and career prospects of our students, their families and wider society. Council strongly believes that the blockades on academic activities at NMMU - now in the fourth week – are posing a threat to the 2016 academic year, with very real prospects that more than 25000 students may not be able to proceed to the next year of their studies or complete their degrees and diplomas. This will have particularly serious consequences for those students wishing to enter the world of work, as well as on various industries and professions who are relying on universities to produce graduates, particularly in scarce skills fields like engineering and health professions.
Given the parlous state of the South African economy, this would further negatively impact on those families who have made considerable sacrifices to invest in the pursuit of higher education.
Additionally, any failure or delay in completing the 2016 academic programme will effectively have a knock-on effect on space and capacity to enrol the next generation of first-year university entrants in 2017. A continued shutdown of our campuses effectively prevents the university administration from processing applications and admissions.
Council has noted with appreciation the considerable efforts by University Management, led by Dr Sibongile Muthwa and her team, to tirelessly engage with various student formations. Over the last month alone, at least four separate and diverse lists of demands were submitted to University management, some with considerable cost implications. Council believes that the constant raising of new demands without any consideration of the risks, costs and toll on the University cannot continue as it will render NMMU wholly unsustainable for current and future generations.
Council wishes to emphasise that it is impossible for the university to ‘scrap all debt’. The latter is a Government policy issue and legally beyond the university’s powers.
Against this background, Council finds it imperative that academic activities be resumed forthwith. Failure to do so will irreparably harm all our students, particularly those coming from disadvantaged backgrounds. Council is also deeply concerned about the costs and risks imposed on students from foreign countries.
There is no basis in our Constitution and law for the campus blockades and prevention of students and staff from exercising their legal rights to access the university. Preventing access to the university simply cannot be justified, and Council does not accept the notion that the ‘end justifies the means’. Council accepts the rights of students to strive for any cause as long as this does not impair the equal rights of others to gain access to the University.
Council firmly believes that it is in the interests of the public good that NMMU must resume all university activities immediately. To this end, we have requested the University management to immediately implement all necessary steps towards this end.
It is our sincere hope that students involved in the #FeesMustFall protests return to class to attend to their academic obligations, while directing their stated desire for ‘free higher education for all’ at Government where the matter resides.
We further wish the university community well in completing the academic programme for 2016.
Further communication to follow this weekend.
14 October 2016
For further information please consult the website: http://fmf.nmmu.ac.za
Tel: +27 (0) 41 504 1111
Fax: +27 (0) 41 504 2574 / 2731
PO Box 77000, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University
Port Elizabeth, 6031, South Africa
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