for tomorrow

NMMU News

11/12/2015

VICE-CHANCELLOR Prof Derrick Swartz reflects on 2015 at the Staff year-end function and long service awards held on 1 December.

Summing up the year: Registration went smoothly, large numbers of students were inducted into our system, academic programmes ran well and ended in the successful culmination of an uninterrupted exam and assessment process and Graduation ceremonies scheduled for 10 and 11 December. All in all - extraordinarily successful year.

LANDMARK SHIFTS

What has happened over the last month has been momentous with landmark shifts in the future of the university. Universities will never be the same again.

The events which erupted in mind-October were propagated by groups of students, sometimes joined by workers and gained support by some academics all over the country. The first issue to arise was the demand for a more equal higher education system - a very noble and laudable demand which I fully support which itself is a reflection for a demand for a more equal society economy and social system.

South African remains to be one of the most deeply divided and unequal societies in the world and for the first time in 21 years, students stood up in universities asking for a more equal dispensation, not just in higher education but in society as a whole. The demand is for poor students with academic abilities and natural talent not to be discriminated against and to be given an equal chance. Why should a poor student living in a township or in a rural community not have the same chances as others in a society that prides itself for the promotion of equality and social justice.

The country-wide protests resulted in down time at universities including NMMU and brought Council to make a series of momentous decisions.

DEBT AND FUNDING ISSUES

  1. The first of these issues is that there will be no fee increases for 2016 and the government will pick up 70% of the difference between the 0% increase and the 9% increase that NMMU had planned.
  2. Student debt has intensified as families feel the pressure of the economy, especially when the fee levels and costs of higher education keep on rising. The debt owed by students to universities across the sector runs into 10’s of billions of rands. NMMU’s student debt currently sits at about R85m which with additional interventions, will be able to be brought down but nowhere near where it was in previous years.    
  3. The HE system relies on two sources of income – government subsidy (the block amount which was initially the major income driver) and student fees which was supposed to be the smaller proportion of income.  But from 1994, the portion from the Government subsidy has declined, forcing universities to raise fees to make up the difference to run the institutions. 
  4. Since 1994, student numbers more than doubled, growing from 440 000 to 990 000, but the funding has essentially remained the same. The block grant came down and universities were squeezed to raise the difference on the back of fees. It’s a structural crisis in the system as a whole in South Africa.
  5. This problem urgently needs to be addressed by having the subsidy grow relative to the cost of funding our institutions. The President has announced that he will be setting up a Commission to look at the fees subsidy issue and to make structural interventions in the next few years which will be unlikely to bear fruit in the next two years.
  6. This will result in belt-tightening for 2016, 2017 and possibly 2018 and we will have to make do with resources that we have in the system as well as finding new resources.

GROWTH

  1. This all comes at a time when we had planned on expanding a Medical School initiative and the Maritime and Marine Science initiative. We must continue to grow in the right areas, which is why we began with these two major investments. The purchase of the CSIR campus for Maritime and Marine Sciences and the Medical School Project is underway.  Fortunately, in both cases, we have been able to secure significant funding.
  2. The country’s National Development Plan calls for us to grow the participation rate from 19% as it is now, to 25% by the year 2030 - growing student numbers from  the 990 000 to 1.625 million in 15 years. At the rate in which the sector is growing now, we will never be able to make those targets.

WORKER OUTSOURCING

  1. Students across the country have demanded that we address the social injustice of workers with outsourced contracts.
  2. For reasons that I don’t know as I was not here, it was decided to outsource these contracts to companies using a tender system that put a premium on price with the supplier providing the management, labour, technology and supervision. Many workers were shifted from contract to contract for almost 21 years.
  3. I believe that this was the wrong decision to make.  It was fundamentally wrong even though the possible reasoning was due to declining government subsidies.
  4. The low-priced contracts resulted in the under-pricing of the labour cost with workers being paid at immoral rates.
  5. This is totally unacceptable, ignoring our value of Ubuntu. This injustice had to be brought to and end despite the financial implications.
  6. Council took a decision to insource this labour starting from next year over a period of two to three years until social justice is done.  Taking into account legal liabilities and contractual obligations, we are looking for a win-win situation to take place in the most responsible manner.
  7. A short term intervention has been put in place and to increase salaries to a minimum of R5000 per month and the children of our workers will now also enjoy the same discounted study rates as other staff. We are going to look at a mechanism to provide a special a pension fund as many of these companies did not pay pension or provident funds. UIF contributions will also be addressed.

This took place under our watch but now that we know the truth, I’m taking responsibility and doing what is right. We want these outsiders to now become insiders and feel the warmth of NMMU. 

We pay tribute to our workers for the role they have played in creating this beautiful university and this is a story that has not yet been told.

Enough is a feast” said the late philosopher, Neville Alexander  - if we only live a little bit less, we can all have a feast around the table. 

THE WAY FORWARD

Because of the combination of the pressures on our cost structures, government subsidy declining and fees not growing, for the next 2-3 years we are going to have to do our business as we used to do it in the good times now in a much smarter way in the bad times so that we can hold the family together and all get enough of the feast.  A little less than before, slower rates of growth but still be able to make ends meet.    

  1. We have tremendous market potential, located in a prime area - right in the heart of the metropole. I will be meeting with the Mayor and his team to see how the City and the University can work smartly together to lower costs. 
  2. We have a lot of land and we are looking at how we can generate a commercial income that we can put into student bursaries and help with the wage bill going forward.
  3. I will be doing a lot of fund raising next year, and after climbing Mount Fuji to raise funds for poor students, I plan on doing another climb. The R1 million plus that was raised is being placed in a special bursary fund for our students.

NMMU will take care of its own but for that to happen we need to all work together and I appeal to you to put your shoulder to the wheel and work as a family in the finest tradition of our namesake, Nelson Mandela.

Thank you for all your work, for your generosity, spirit, humanity and professionalism.  I can tell this university is well run.  We have to keep up the good things and the discipline that has built this university. As we invite new members of staff in, we need to make sure that the business discipline continues in order to sustain this fantastic institution.