Universities: the state of play

2016-10-09 06:00

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As protest action around the call for free education enters a fourth week, at least four universities have opted to close tomorrow while scrambling to find ways to save the academic year.

All eyes remain on the so-called epicentres – institutions whose actions are seen to influence others – which include Wits University and the University of Cape Town (UCT).

Despite announcing last week that if classes did not resume this week, the academic year would be lost, both Wits and UCT opted to shut down campuses on Wednesday after classes were disrupted and police and private security confronted students.

Students at UCT are also reported to have thrown petrol bombs while attempting to occupy a building on campus.

The councils of both institutions have been locked in talks this weekend over the way forward.

Wits vice-chancellor Professor Adam Habib told journalists on Friday that they would look into three main options.

He kept reiterating that, “while the call for free education is a noble cause, it does not require the sacrifice of the academic year”.

Habib’s options include:

. Reopening Wits tomorrow with a full security contingent and police;

. Requiring students to study online to complete the academic year; or

. Temporarily shut down the university.

An insider at Wits said an additional option would be to open tomorrow with no visible security at all, given that police and private security officers have aggravated the situation.

Police would also not be on campus, but just outside its perimeter.

On Friday, UCT announced it would not be open tomorrow because engagements with students were continuing.

The institution will also be withdrawing private security guards from campus.

“Private security firm Vetus Schola has been withdrawn from the campus until further notice in the hope this will enable us to have more positive engagements without the hindrance of having to discuss their deployment on campus. They will not be deployed on campus on Monday either,” the statement read.

Other campuses that will remain shut tomorrow include the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University and the University of Pretoria.

Those that have opted to reopen tomorrow include Sol Plaatje University, University of Venda, North-West University, Tshwane University of Technology and the University of the Western Cape.

Students calling for free education remain adamant that universities must remain shut until government buckles and gives in to their demands.

Government has remained quiet on what should happen this week. Deputy Higher Education and Training Minister Mduduzi Manana told City Press the only plan was to continue to appeal for talks.

“Our view is we have made an appeal to the students to go back to class and that they have registered their point. They are not talking to a government who is resisting their call. Government is doing all it can to actually consider this matter.

“There is a commission sitting and an announcement made benefiting the poor and missing middle. We are a listening government.

Read more on:    up  |  uct  |  cput  |  nmmu  |  wits  |  adam habib

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