Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University’s (NMMU) first year students received a sobering welcome to the institution last weekend as vice-chancellor Professor Derrick Swartz highlighted the opportunities, challenges, rights and responsibilities in store over the next few years.Welcoming thousands of first year students and their parents in an address streamed live to various packed venues across all NMMU campuses, Prof Swartz expressed his excitement at having the new recruits join the institution.“We want to convey [to students] the rich opportunity to gain a unique qualification that will hopefully equip them with the knowledge and skills to enter into a very uncertain world,” said Prof Swartz. “The forces of globalization and economic liberalization have fundamentally altered the jobs landscape. “We need to give students the skill, know-ledge and confidence to cope in this highly uncertain, very dynamic and fast changing world. They [the students] have to become far more entrepreneurial and creative in mapping out a future for themselves.”Prof Swartz also touched on the various challenges affecting the higher education sector – chief of which was the funding crisis that saw protests that nearly brought South African institutions to their knees.“We, as universities, cannot give free higher education, neither can we scrap the debt or fees for that matter. It is simply not possible and I cannot concede to that. It is a policy issue. Unless and until government effects otherwise, that is the way the system legally works. It legally enforces me to collect the fees.“At the same time, the government must increase its subsidies. It cannot lean on fees and communities to raise the difference that they are not paying. “It is unacceptable that we have a government that does not prize and value higher education to produce the quality education that we have.”Prof Swartz said he knews that his utterances would not bode well with some student activists, however, he needed to emphasize and contextualize the fees issue. Laying down the law, he said the University would not tolerate violent protests that trampled on the rights of those not actively partaking in the protests.“We will take every legal step to protect and secure and to open Universities. There will be no shutdown of universities,” he said.Prof Swartz reminded first year students that their taking up the offer to study at the University meant they had agreed to adhere to its rules.“Remember, when you sign up here as a student, you sign a contract to uphold the values, and therefore the rules, of the institution. If you violate those rules, you are breaking your side of the contract. Your parents and I have to hold you accountable for this,” he said.“So focus on the main reason you are here – to learn, to study and to graduate so you can serve the country.”The welcoming ceremony was the start of the first year orientation programme. Registration commenced last Monday.