Steady stream of UCT students head to class

2016-10-03 11:00
(Jenna Etheridge, News24)

(Jenna Etheridge, News24)

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Cape Town – A steady stream of students, hoping to attend class, were dropped off at the entrance to UCT's upper campus on Monday morning.

Traffic police redirected vehicles away from the access road, while a contingent of SA Police Service vehicles parked higher up near groups of protesting students blocking off the road.

The vehicles later rushed off, although it was not known where they were headed.

"Do you know whether there is going to be class?" students asked each other as they carried backpacks and books in trepidation.

This was as protesting students, under the banner of Shackville TRC, registered their disappointment at Vice Chancellor Max Price's decision to "break faith" and reopen the campus.

Price said the executive and council had decided that "minimum security should be used to protect the academic programme, recognising also our legal obligations to secure the safety of students, staff and property".

This was while the university continued to attempt to resolve the current conflict through dialogue, he said.

"We urge protesters to respect the rights of other members of the campus community to attend class and arrive at work."

Broken agreement

In a statement on the Shackville TRC Facebook page, protesting students said reopening the university on Monday ignored their immediate demands and any issues they expected to be resolved before the resumption of the academic programme.

They said Price had released a statement without complying with an agreement to co-author e-mails and statements with the student representative council.

"This was to ensure distortion of events and engagements was avoided and no further divisions would exist on the campus due to misrepresentation by the institution. The institution has broken this agreement and effectively broken any forged trust between the two negotiating parties and the negotiations themselves."

They had proposed a self-imposed week shutdown to resolve issues, including satellite campuses and the return of suspended students.

The students had envisioned starting operations the week after, if progress was made.

University management had opposed this arrangement, they said.

"The vice chancellor attempts to express now that we have negotiated in bad faith all because they could not get what they want and have arrogantly been campaigning over the past week," they said.

"It is an ego trip in which the institution has chosen to brutalise students rather than resolve their issues."

The students said they doubted minimal security would be used on Monday.

"We have expressed to the institution our willingness to dialogue should they stop being stubborn and cease to undermine all of the processes we have undergone thus far. Ours is clear. The Protests Will Continue."

Long-term effects

In a recent online notice to his students, UCT law professor Anton Fagan shared his concerns should teaching and exams be suspended for a speculative period of about six months.

He said the university would probably have to refund many students some, or even all, of their 2016 fees.

It would earn considerably less in government subsidies linked to graduation and registration.

Donations were likely to dry up.

"Without some kind of government bailout, UCT therefore will have to shut down, for good."

He said if the university survived next year in this scenario, there might be a 50% reduction in staff, thanks to many leaving or being made redundant.

This could see the emergence of a private law school for example, partly funded by large law firms, the Law Society and the Bar, at considerably higher fees.

Fagan said the indefinite closure of UCT, if accompanied by that of Wits, would have negative economic consequences for the whole country.

"I think we can be pretty sure that if a couple of leading South African universities were to close, a downgrade to junk-bond status would inevitably follow, with all the dire economic consequences which that would bring in tow."

He said, while this was all speculation, he was finding it difficult to think of a more optimistic and plausible narrative.

Read more on:    uct  |  cape town  |  university protests  |  education  |  university fees

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