for tomorrow

NMMU News

12/10/2016

The High Court has tasked NMMU with appointing an independent mediator to engage all stakeholders to resolve the impasse that led to the closure of the University in mid-September. Yesterday’s agreement, which was made an order of court, requires the University to engage all stakeholders in a mediation process – including the various student formations and parents.
 
This follows a bid by a concerned parents’ group to compel NMMU to resume its academic activities within 48 hours. NMMU welcomes the decision which essentially formalises the intensive stakeholder engagement processes that have already been underway to break the present deadlock. The deadline for a resolution is Thursday, 13 October. 
 
The above is the latest turn of events in what has been an extremely trying period for the Higher Education sector and NMMU, but more especially for its staff, students and their families. Today’s update seeks to provide background leading up to the present court decision, and provide assurances of the University’s commitment to complete the 2016 academic year and its recovery plans in support of this.
 
Background
From the initial disruption when entrances were blocked on 20 September, NMMU has been engaging formally and informally with all student leaders privately and in public platforms to listen to the students’ demands and find a peaceful solution towards resolving the university shutdown. Various student groupings, including the Student Representative Council (SRC), initially formed a coalition to collectively voice their concerns to the Minister of Higher Education and Training’s announcement on 19 September regarding the 2017 fee increase, but were divided in their approach. The SRC later broke away from the #FeesMustFall coalition and called for the resumption of classes, while continuing its lobbying for free higher education for the poor.
 
Petitions
Four different student groupings in Port Elizabeth and George submitted petitions with demands to management (see http://fmf.nmmu.ac.za website for each). Management responded to each, and to a further one by the joint #FeesMustFall coalition two weeks ago. It replied positively to all university-specific demands, bar that of writing off outstanding student debt.
 
The University’s student debt presently stands at R175m, of which R68m is for students who received debt and down payment relief in 2016. Given the need to secure the future sustainability of the Institution, it would be irresponsible to concede to this demand. The other key demand – that of free higher education for all, now – is beyond the mandate of NMMU and can only be addressed by government.
 
Mass meetings 
Four mass meetings have been held by students which management attended at the University to date. New and shifting demands are often raised at these meetings. After the initial mass meeting, a group of students chose – despite advice to the contrary – to march from South Campus to the Boardwalk Entertainment Complex. With the support of the South African Police Services (SAPS), an agreement was reached for the students to march to Second Avenue Campus.
 
Once at the campus, a small group broke away and attempted to pursue their protest action by entering the Boardwalk from Marine Drive. As a result, nine students were arrested for various charges, including public violence and were due to appear in court today.  The presiding officer over the matter postponed the case to 26 October at a different venue, the Regional Magistrate Court. There have been various other unsanctioned yet peaceful marches off campus, including a visit by students to the Herald newspaper offices and a march from the city hall to the Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber.   
 
Key demands
As already shared, the Fees Must Fall campaign for “free higher education NOW” is a national issue and beyond the powers of NMMU or any other university. The other demands, such as the scrapping of 2016 student debt and that of attending to issues of racism are to be addressed by multi-stakeholder task teams that are already in place. Last weekend, NMMU responded to the FMF students’ issues around three areas – logistical support to protesting students, contingency plans to catch up on lost academic time, and #FeesMustFall demands.
 
Latest demands
As such, NMMU management undertook the following:
  • Racism: NMMU has committed to the development of a roadmap to deal with racism and to accelerate transformation broadly. 
  • APS:  NMMU restated its willingness to revert back to the 2016 APS testing band for the seven programmes raised in the students’ demands. An additional issue of the omission of Maths Literacy as one of the recognised subjects for admission to programmes such as BCom will be re-assessed in light of concerns raised.  
  • Clearing of Student Debt for Students in the Debt Relief Programme:  NMMU is committed to find workable and sustainable solutions for all involved around this issue. The Financial Aid Task Team is already in place to address this challenge. The various student formations have been requested to nominate representatives to participate in this Task Team.
  • 8% fee increase: As a result of declining subsidy funding since 2000, universities have relied too heavily on student fees to make up the shortfall in income.  In 2000, fees accounted for 24% of university income compared to 33% in 2013. Furthermore, it is estimated that student fees increased on average by 9% per annum from 2010 to 2014 which is considerably higher than national inflation of 5-6% over the same period.
 
NMMU is acutely aware of the burden that these funding challenges has placed on our students, particularly those from poor and so-called “missing middle” families.  NMMU supports free higher education for the poor.  The announcement of the Minister of Higher Education and Training, Dr Blade Nzimande, on fees for 2017 identified interim measures to address the plight of financially needy students by:  Fully covering 2017 fees for students that qualify under the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS); Subsidising the so-called “missing middle” for a fee increase up to a maximum of 8%.
 
Our understanding of the Minister’s announcement is that this is an interim measure for 2017. It must be stressed that a fee increase of up to 8% will not impact negatively on the poor and “missing middle” students since this will be subsidised by the State. A forecast of the impact of a 0% fee increase for all students at NMMU is that it will result in a deficit of R383 million by 2019.
 
To this end, it will be irresponsible of NMMU not to take advantage of the government’s proposal to raise fees by not more than 8%. This will ensure that the University is in a financial position to continue providing quality higher education.
 
National directive 
A national directive from Government was given on 29 September to the South African Police Services (SAPS) to intervene on all university campuses across the country. As a result, a student was arrested in terms of the Criminal Matters Amendment Act for burning tyres on Monday 2 October. NMMU has since learnt that a further two students have been arrested following the blocking of entrances on Friday 7 October when staff were supposed to return to work to prepare for the resumption of classes on Monday 10 October. Given the blockade and the tense stand-off between students and police, NMMU reversed its decision to re-open on Monday.  
 
Stakeholder engagement
NMMU has been actively pursuing an engagement strategy with its stakeholders, including the various student formations, believing this is the most constructive way of reaching lasting solutions going forward. Throughout these engagement processes, NMMU management has experienced the impact of students’ shifting demands, the pros and cons of mass meetings and the fluidity of the student’s leadership. NMMU will continue to explore every avenue available to ensure the resumption of the academic programme.
 
Impact of the shutdown
NMMU is aware that the ongoing uncertainty is taking its toll on staff, students and families especially given the considerable anxiety this has been causing. The University remains committed to completing the academic year in 2016. We know that we need four weeks to complete lectures, three days for study leave and about three weeks for examinations. As we work towards returning to University, we know it is likely that the examinations will spill over into December. We know that this will have further repercussions, especially around accommodation and travel plans.
 
Recovery plans
Recovery plans are being developed to mitigate the impact of the shutdown on university operations and academic activities. In the interim, NMMU is advising students and their families not to make travel and other commitments until the revised academic calendar is released. However, we also appreciate that many plans and other commitments were made prior to the present shutdown. NMMU will do its best to accommodate these special circumstances, and will evaluate each one on its merits. A process for the submission of these special cases for consideration will be communicated in due course.
 
Way forward
NMMU has been holding a series of internal staff meetings with faculties and support staff to share the complex challenges it is facing and to highlight what needs to happen to ensure that students complete their academic year in 2016. Although not all staff have been able to access their offices, there has been commitment to continue operations remotely wherever possible and management is appreciative of this. 
 
Apology
NMMU apologises unreservedly for the inconvenience, anxiety and frustration that the shutdown has been causing. We are doing all that we can in these very difficult circumstances to address the various challenges, and will continue to share any developments as they arise.
 
Communication and Stakeholder Liaison    
 

Contact information
Mrs Debbie Derry
Deputy Director: Communication
Tel: 041 504 3057
debbie.derry@nmmu.ac.za