Vice-Chancellor’s Town Hall Meeting on 20 August 2015 at Parktown Education Campus

Medical Aid scheme

People seem to confuse this, we are not the Discovery Medical Aid scheme, Discovery is simply the administrator of the Wits Medical Aid scheme. We are still on the Wits Medical Aid scheme simply with a different administrator. The reason why a different administrator is useful is that they gave us a better deal and secondly they get better price for us. There have been some problems with this and where there have been problems it was about the cost of the fee.  We explored two other options which serve the interest of people.

By law you cannot offer those options without registering them with the Medical Aid society and we are in the process of registering them.

Student Financial Aid Scheme

The student financial scheme is a big issue every year. We have challenges of how to finance the fees of students from poor communities. Last year we had about R179 million from NSFAS, which covered about 3100 students and the student representative body raised some money through the OneMillion campaign. At the moment we are exploring other financing options. We opened up a conversation with the CEOs of all banks and one of the things we are thinking about is to rethink finance in education.

One of the things is that we want is to is for banks to provide loans to students in humanities, instead of funding large amounts of bursaries to engineering- , medical- and actuarial science students  – which banks like, because those students will be driving BMW’s in five or seven years and the banks would want to have them as clients. So, unfortunately they say they cannot give funding to art students, teaching students etc. (humanities). We asked them to give those students loans and then we can redirect money from there elsewhere and we explore it from there.

The second option is that the banks are saying to us that if we have collateral, they are prepared to raise funding on the open market, which is very interesting because usually we think of a collateral, as individuals. They are saying we should think of NSFAS-level action.

To cover each and every student fee in higher education in South Africa will cost us less than R10 million, but obviously you would have to get government and NSFAS to agree on it.

It is at least an interesting model to explore, so what is happening is that this month is that all VCs and the CEOs of banks are meeting to explore if this model will work out. We were receiving all kinds of all world praise. I would like to have this before the end of this year so that next year we do not go back to student protests.

Expediting the disciplinary process

I have gone to Carlton to ask for a expedited disciplinary process. Our disciplinary process is very problematic. For example, when there is someone causes an offense, [the case]drags on for months and that creates a serious problem. We do not address it quickly and usually with students this would be because the students are writing exams, and then when September comes during the SRC elections then they say they are being charged because they are standing in the elections. Iwant to be able to expedite the disciplinary process. I have asked Council to review the process and it is being negotiated with Professor Crouch and the SRC.

You do know of the case of Mr Dlamini, who was found guilty of an offence and was asked to step down as SRC president. He took us to a review committee, which also found him guilty. So the decision to ask him to step down stills stands and now he is now longer SRC president, Miss Shaeera Kalla has now taken over the position of SRC president.

Crime in Braamfontein

I may ask the City Council [to ensure] that the street lights are always on in Braamfontein and in Parktown as this is an environment that students and staff are using. We are having a conversation with them (City Council) about this issue. The challenge of crime –not inside residences but within our environment outside – is that buildings are neglected, the sewerage system is overflown, the security is not enough. Someone was killed last year, so these are serious challenges.

One student one laptop

Regarding the possibility of one student, one laptop, I have instituted another idea of looking into: the possibility of making sure that that every student has a device that they get on coming to University. Now here is the dilemma regarding this, about 70 percent of our students have a device and the rest do not. The challenge here is finding money to pay for the devices of the remaining 30 percent. Currently, there are two investigations being done. The first is regarding the specifications of this device and secondly, how do we finance it.

One of the ways we are thinking of is capturing the cost in the fees and that means we will need to model what the increase would be and how we will manage it. Sixty-five percent of our students are on scholarships, so the scholarships will cover for it. The technical specifications of the devices are the easy part. We could do this progressively, if you are a first year student, we could cover the costs of the device over four years.

Q: Can there be alternative ways of addressing the one learner, one iPad issue? Education students need to be taken seriously. It will be hard for me to try to move into the traditional ways of doing things while students are using iPads.

A: You are right, training will need to be provided regarding this. I would like to implement this by January, but we do not know whether we will be able to afford the costs.

Response from Shaeera Kalla

The issue of electronic devices is an issue which affects the academic culture and level of interaction that Wits students have. Many students who are from rural communities and schools do not have the exposure to electronic devices. What the SRC has been doing is trying to determine how many of our students are from these rural communities and how many students do not have electronic devices. What we are looking into is to give every student in the University to have access to an electronic device no matter of where they come from, and this has to be done strategically in a streamline approach. We are in conversation with Microsoft to look into a model that will give students value for their money because it will cost way more if students had to buy them individually. The precise model has not been developed yet. We are also looking into a model where the students will own the devices, where the University does not have to take back the devices at the end of their studies. The financing is a problem here because we do not want it impacting on student fees. We do welcome any suggestions.

SRC Election

During the SRC debate, there was a party that took over the stage and did not allow for the debate to happen and a scuffle ensued, which turned violent. This has now reached a point where I find it unacceptable.

I have always allowed debates, but when you cross the path of violent physical altercations [it cannot be allowed].

The managerial committee and I had conversation with every candidate from every party who were involved and said three things to them:

  1. I will be thinking very seriously of suspending all students who were involved in the physical altercations from the campus immediately, meaning they will not be waiting for a disciplinary hearing, they are off that campus
  2. I will be considering suspending all parties that contributed to the heightened atmosphere that led to the violence.
  3. I am thinking of suspending all candidates that broke the electoral code, and deregistering them as candidates of the SRC.

There are lines that [should not be] crossed and frankly this line has been crossed. I want to be clear, as students and staff, we sign up to rules. We sign up to a code. You are not obliged to leave, but when you come here, you sign up to the codes and those are codes are determined by the Senate Council and some of those codes have been violated here. I will be meeting with parties concerned, the SRC and the candidates tomorrow. I will bring forward a proposal and I will react on it. I will not sacrifice the free and safe space of others.

Esselen Residence

Last year I wanted to move old students out of residences to Braamfontein and I had already made arrangements,  but the students notified us that they did not want that. This year we are back together. I am thinking of moving out those students to Braamfontein and closing down the residences, but still providing the same benefits and beds to the students of these residences. The reason for doing so is simple – I cannot guarantee the environment. I can guarantee the building, but if I cannot guarantee the environment I cannot be held responsible for it, so I would rather move the students and keep the building for some other purposes. The city promises [to increase safety] but I am not sure about that. So what is a possibility now is a closing down of residences with the partnership of service providers.

I know there will be a grumble that I am acting against the democratic wishes of students, but to be honest, at the end of the day I will make sure that every student is safe. That is not a democratic decision, but it is my managerial responsibility. There is a full review of this now and we will have to make a decision within the next five weeks or so.

Townhall Meeting

Q: I would like to express my disappointment with the Townhall meetings. In the first semester the Townhall meeting was supposed to come to us first and it was cancelled without us receiving any communication regarding this. Now second semester, it is again coming to the Main Campus instead of other campuses.

A: One that day when I was supposed to come I did not have my card and I was not allowed to come onto the education campus. This shows that the security systems are in place and that rules apply equally to everyone, regardless of who you are.

Q: Regarding the missed Townhall meeting, is it possible to have the Townhall meeting during the last week of September or the first week of October to allow for more attendance?

A: I think it does make sense to have it like that. I do know that for some of them it was simply an issue of advertising. If you do have suggestions, I am happy to look at them. In the past two years that I have been attending these meetings, the attendance has never been brilliant, but not bad. I see very few of the medical students attending and a lot of education students and people from Parktown Education Campus attending.

Kudu Bucks Entrance

Q: I have a serious concern regarding the Kudu Bucks entrances at other campuses – there is only one entrance – can something be done regarding this?

A: I do not know why there is only one entrance. That is a legitimate request. I think campuses need to have more than one entrance. The Wits Business School (WBS) disconnected and on some other level they like being disconnected and this is the problem with most business schools around the world, they are entrepreneurs. I do understand that the WBS is in for a major upgrade so the entire campus is now targeted for a complete upgrade and we made an entire series of arrangements. There is a R30 million upgrade being (that will start) immediately and another R200 million over the next 3-5 years. My idea would be to take the WBS, Education Campus, Health Sciences Campus, Charlotte Maxeke Hospital, Dornald Gordan Institute and create an entire precinct, which we manage in a regulated manner, but obviously we would need to negotiate with the City Council.

Q: I need clarity about Kudu Bucks entrance. Our Kudu Bucks Machine is inside the library and when the library is closed we cannot access the Kudu Bucks machine. We have been asking I-cam to bring us a new Kudu Bucks machine, at least here (Parktown Education Campus) or at Marang. Can that one at least be fast tracked?

A: I completely agree, it does make sense. We will meet with the executive in charge and we will respond to that in the next couple of days.

Education students benefiting from Childrens Hospital.

Q: VC I have a suggestion for foundation phase students and interphase students. First of all we have a children’s hospital and currently there are construction on our campus. How are we going to benefit? We might have students who are admitted for three months and foundation phase students and interphase students can assist those students during those times. The hospital can be an educational centre. I want education students to benefit something from that hospital and that they must get incentives, especially those ones who cannot pay for their fees.

A: I do not think that is an impossible thing to do, we can multitask around it. Regarding the foundation and interphase students benefiting from it, I do not know about it. We do not manage the hospital, it is managed by the Nelson Mandela Children’s Foundation. It is a worthwhile proposal we can put forward to them. I think it is an interesting idea to put forward to the chair of the foundation and let us see what will happen.

Criminalisation of students on campus

Q: I know of protests which are non-violent and the University sometimes will bring poor charges against students and staff who protest in non-violent ways.  How are these related to the idea that the University is a progressive institution?

A:  I am very interested in this notion of criminalisation. I think one should be careful that you do not start appeasing violent protests. Frankly if you start appeasing violent protests, you will end up in a situation we had last week where someone got hurt. The problem is that people are telling me that I am too soft and there are a number of people getting away with murder here. If you go onto twitter you will see, there are a number of students who are steaming that safety and security is under threat in the last few days at this campus. You will be amazed at the number of conflicting messages I receive. On the one hand, people are saying to me that I am too hard and on the other hand they are saying to me that I am too soft and I need to be harder. I can give you examples, but let me tackle the classic cases.

This time around with the student debate there was violence and we are going to take action about it. Previously there were infrastructural damage, and we are going to take action about it. There are rules and there are regulations and these are there for a reason. So when somebody walks into a classroom and starts campaigning – they had five students who were protesting – and the lecturer asks “excuse me why are you doing this in my classroom?” they find it offensive and asks me to stop it.

For some students it is their democratic right to be in the classroom and now you want to take 15 minutes of their time so that you can campaign for the SRC elections. I have two different views coming out from the same exact matter and so I am going to make a trade-off. We have created a situation where can do that (campaign), but you should do it outside the classroom.

People have accused me of violating the freedom of protestors. There was an incident where students sat on the 11th floor and occupied it for three days and I gave them an opportunity to leave. I gave them 24 hours before I acted and 24 hours later they were still there.

Do not use the right to protest to say that no rules apply. If you do that, then you will have the kinds of problems we have. Five, six months ago, somebody broke into a dining hall, took food and assaulted staff. That is essentially fraud, theft and violence, and then they said to me that they should not be facing disciplinary hearings.

MJL Workers

Q: We have been in correspondence with the University for a while now and university had promised to get the contracts of the ex MJL workers to a new company, but have failed to do so. We have not received a full report back on the process. Can you inform staff and students who are left in the dark about what is going on regarding this?

A: Prof. Tawana has written to the MJL workers.  None of them wanted to take up the offer. I cannot employ the workers. If I do employ the workers, I will have to increase fees or increase subsidies. That is the challenge. I wrote about outsourcing to all the workers unions in solidarity and I said to them let us think about the idea of cooperative and not one person replied. So there is an exploration into workers’ salaries. We are going to have to think about other options outside.

My dilemma is that I have to manage the fees of students on the one hand; I have to manage salaries on the other; and the morality of employing four workers (as you said) and not having outsourcing. The workers are saying we want to be employed and we want higher increases and low fees. It does not happen that way. It does not add up. If I do not spend the money and if we do not have the investments in the University, the quality of education will fall. That is the challenge and that is where the trade-offs are, and if anybody can show me that they can do the trade-offs better, I will follow it.

Transformation

Q: I would like to request that not only the VC should control and be involved in the process of transformation, but students and staff should also be involved in that process.

A: You are right, not only us who should be involved. We are at a point where the actual appointments should be made by students and staff and not only Faculties and us (management). The curriculum reform should explain all students, all student conversations, all unions, so we are going to tackle this. We are committed to the idea of all stakeholders at Wits.

Fee increase

Q: I believe that there is going to be a fee increase of about 11 percent, and I believe that there is not enough discourse/communication to let students know about this.

A: We have not finalised the fee increase and there have been a number of engagements with the SRC and others regarding this. The last number we had a conversation about was 10.5 percent. We are looking towards an increase of upfront fees, but it will not be 10 percent as we had originally imagined. There is a debate about these issues. As soon as we have a number, we will make it available. There are robust engagements on this issue.