Townhall meeting – 11 August 2016

Dear staff and students. Thank you for coming here today and giving me the opportunity to provide feedback on several issues.

Before you get the chance to ask some questions, I would just like to give some feedback on some of the issues we have been discussing at previous meetings.

Fees

All Vice-Chancellors of the universities around the country have called a meeting with the Minister of Higher Education. We will be meeting tomorrow (Friday, 12 August), to discuss the issue, after which he will be giving a press conference.

Wits has not taken a position on where we stand on the fees issue yet, as the ministry has asked us to hold back until they have made a decision.

Universities South Africa (USAf) has told the ministry that we require an 8% income increase. That doesn’t necessarily mean a fees income. We hope that 8% could come from government subsidies.

This 8% is calculated on a 6% increase linked to inflation (Consumer Price Index) and then a 1.7% increase for library books and research equipment. We haven’t heard back from government, so we haven’t made a decision yet.

I am concerned that someone else will be making the decision, and we have to manage the consequences of that decision.

The second point that I would like to raise is that yesterday we have signed a R500 million contract to overhaul our IT system. In the next 18 months we will have a whole new state-of-the-art IT system. The whole campus will be wireless, and we will have one of the best IT systems on campuses in the country.

We will be funding half of the cost of this new IT system from the foundation, and the other half will come from the income of the new part-time studies that we will be offering at nights. All the money from the part-time studies will be going into the IT system.

The third point that I would like to talk about is the food options on campus. Some of you have told me that the food is too expensive and that we need to look at cheaper options. There is food for less than R22 on campus, and the providers have been instructed to keep their costs low. If the food is not cheap, then we will change the provider.

There has also been an issue about there not being enough food. Gift of the Givers have been involved in distributing food, but they have withdrew because of some altercation. I have intervened and they will go live again with distributing food soon.

You have also asked us to move the Kudubucks machine on the education campus. This has been addressed.

Questions and Answers

Q: Why don’t we have courses on teaching with technology at Wits?

A: You are absolutely right. We should have those courses available. I didn’t know that they are not available. We should look into that.

Q: Is there a performance management system for staff, including academic staff, and how does students’ input feed into that?

A: The performance management system is not live yet. We are looking at ways to implement performance management for professional and academic staff. I am told that the report is ready and that we will get it at the next Senate meeting. We will share it then.

Q: Can we get another Kudubucks machine on Education Campus? One is not enough for Education Camus. Main campus has more than one machine.

A: We have an amount of services available in proportion to the number of students on the campus. That is how we manage things, and that is how it is done at campuses across the world. If the ratio between the numbers of students on Education Campus is higher in relation to the number of Kudubucks machines, then we’ve got a problem. The capital cost is around R100,000.00 and the operational costs equate to R 40,000  per year for Cash in Transit services, consumables and on-site servicing and support. It should be noted that the unit at Wits Education Campus was relocated from the Harold Homes Library to the Leseding Block interlink passage in order to ensure that it could be accessed and used 24 hours a day.

Q: How does management at school level get selected? How can someone who doesn’t know anything about a department be appointed?

A: The management positions at school level are advertised, and applicants from both inside and outside can apply. There is a selection committee, which has representation from all levels, including students. We look at a mix of skills, including academic, management and administrative skills.

Q: We don’t have enough accommodation and have students sleeping in lecture halls. How can you plan to turn a residence (Park Town Village [PKV]) into a parking space?

A:  It is important that we are honest about the debate. PKV is not being demolished for parking space. You are being manipulated. PKV is being renovated into classrooms. The problem is that we don’t have enough classrooms. The architectural drawings are available, and you are welcome to view them. We did say that we will not act on PKV until we have more beds and that the cost of those beds will not change. I have these but there is a debate going on now on whether we can put it out in the public domain.

The provincial government wants to transfer the Nursing College’s buildings to Wits and we have negotiated for a further 1000 beds. We have also said that we will not move anybody during the year. So, to be clear: There will be no change in cost; there will be no reduction in the number of beds and nobody will move during the year.

PKV is not being turned into a parking lot, it will be used to build classrooms.

The number of beds will increase, not go down. Will it be enough? No. We have 6000 beds available and we have 35000 students. It costs R480 million to build accommodation that can house 1000 beds, and we don’t have that money.

The facts are as follows:

  • Wits wants to create additional classrooms and teaching venues in Parktown as part of the University’s strategic plans to enable learning in a quality teaching environment for all.
  • Wits will endeavour to make available at least 1000 more beds from 2017 to accommodate more students in Braamfontein and Parktown. All current Parktown Village 1 and North Lodge students will be relocated in 2017 as per Wits’ residence admission criteria. In addition, the University is negotiating with government to secure use of the Nurses Residences in Parktown which will add a substantial number of beds to Wits’ accommodation offering.
  • Students will pay exactly the same residence fees that they would have paid for Parktown Village or North Lodge in 2017.
  • The relocation will only take place in 2017. This means that any changes will only take place when students leave Parktown Village 1 and North Lodge after their examinations at the end of this year and they vacate their residences.

Wits Management, including members of the Senior Executive Team, met with representatives of the student community about two months ago. At this meeting, it was agreed that the student representatives would consult with students residing at North Lodge and Parktown Village 1 and report back to management. Wits management agreed that they would confirm that additional accommodation would be secured for 2017. We are engaging with student representatives with a view to bringing finality to these matters.

Q: What is the service level agreement with the service providers that service the printers? We often find printers that are not working or that are out of paper, so we cannot print when we have assignment deadlines.

A: We spend a lot of money on printers, so if they are not working we are not getting what we are paying for. If a printer is not working it must be fixed within 24 hours, and it must always have paper. We will schedule a meeting with the service provider and discuss it. You are invited to attend that meeting to give us details of printers not working.

Q: What is the plan for tutorials in residences that got cut because of because of budget cuts? What is the plan to improve the deteriorating academic teaching?

A: We found out through Vuvuzela that the tutorials have been cut in residences. We have intervened and that decision has been withdrawn. We have been clear that the academic project cannot be compromised because of budget cuts. You cannot cut a tutorial without the approval of the Senior Executive Team. The tutorials that have been cut have been reinstated.

Q: You said that the Financial Aid and Scholarships Office will be up and running on 31 October. What is the status of that?

A: The decision has been made and it is going to the Senior Executive Team next week. Money has been found for that and hopefully we will be on target to launch it before the deadline.

Q: We have a problem that the academic curriculum (in education) is not aligned to that of what is taught at schools, so we are being taught things that are not relevant at schools. Can this be fixed?

A: The academic curriculum must be aligned to what is being taught at schools. There is a process where schools are being assessed by assessors who review the school programme and see what the relevance is. Those are experts in their field and they provide the guidance on the academic programme and raise relevance issues with the Head of School, so if it is not aligned, it will be dealt with.

Q: The bus timetable is scheduled to favour the main campus, so education students struggle to find transport, and the drivers don’t even know their schedules. Can we have our own bus schedules?

A: It makes sense to look at the bus schedules and align it. We will need to check on those details, but if there need to be an adjustment, we will do so. The bus schedule is planned according to the University Almanac of which the School of Education is a part off. During the vacation periods the University still runs 30% of the circuit bus service in order to accommodate the Heath Sciences students, postgraduates and other students that are on campus during these times. Should there be any changes in the School/Faculty term dates, the bus schedules are adjusted and students are advised accordingly. Students are communicated through Social Media; Facebook, Twitter and e-mails. Communication is also placed on notice boards and visual displays at the bus stops. Changes in the bus schedules are also communicated directly to the Schools/Faculties and added as an announcement on the Intranet.

Q: Can we arrange for the bus to stop in Braamfontein, somewhere in the middle of Jorrissen?

The Transport unit together with Campus Planning & Development would need to assess the need and feasibility of the request and make recommendations to the relevant approval bodies. The University would also have to obtain written consent from the City Council to share the bus stop at the corner of Bertha Street and Jorrisen Street together with the Metro Bus, ReaVaya, etc. Since this bus stop is off-campus one will have to deploy a full time security guard to monitor access into the Wits buses, as the risk of non-students or the public accessing the buses into campus are high.

Q: Last time we met, you said you will come back with figures on student funding. How much will be allocated to unfunded education students?

A: I thought that that information has been provided to you. If not, we will make it available through the Head of School. The amount of council money is R90 million. We will have to see how much of that education students are getting.

Q: The computer labs are always booked out for workshops during the times that we have assignments to deliver, so we cannot print. Can this be sorted out?

A: You are absolutely right. This should not happen. Your Head of School will have to sort this out with CNS. That is a completely legitimate question.

Q: We feel that there is a problem getting information to and from your office. Maybe it would be better if you have an office here on this campus?

A: You are right. Maybe it is a good idea to spend one day per week here. We will look into that.

Q: What is happening with fee increases for next year? What is going to happen with the indebted students who had to sign an acknowledgement of debt? Will they be able to register next year?

A: We have not made a decision on that yet. We are waiting on the Ministry’s decision on that on 12 August 2016. However, there are two questions that we need to answer. One, is what has the Ministry decided, and two is do we have enough money in the bank to support out decisions.

Q: We are warning you that fees are not falling. We are not looking for an 8% fee increase. We are looking for zero fees. We are tired of the neoliberalism of the past 20 years. We want you to come out with two words in that meeting with the Ministry tomorrow. “Free education”. If not, we will march on you. This decision will still haunt you next year.

A: You put it very nicely, that you are tired of the neoliberalism of the past 20 years. I am tired of it too. I have been saying it for 20 years, and for the past five years I have said that we are heading for a crisis. The problem is, that the guys who make the decision are not here.

This is the issue you have to confront. If you decide to paralyze the university, it is not me who is going to lose out. It is you who are going to lose out. You need to get your degrees in order to get a job.

You have a right to protest but make sure that you make a decision that you are not going to regret in 12 months time.

 

 

Listen to the full townhall meeting here