Academic year off to shaky start for SA universities

2017-01-26 09:07

Strike at Unisa

NEHAWU staff members at Unisa is on a "full-blown" strike. With some Unisa offices on a "go-slow" since Friday, some students have been turned away at Registration offices in Durban on Monday this week. The union says it has permission to strike from today. Higher Education is off to a turbulent start  in 2017.

This morning some Unisa campus entrances are being blocked by NEHAWU workers. Burning tires have been reported outside the Unisa Sunnyside Campus in Pretoria.

Unisa Registration Dates

On Tuesday this week, NEHAWU (the National Education Health and Allied Workers Union) announced that it will start a full-blown strike at Unisa from today (Thursday, 26 January 2017). The strike is because of a deadlock over salary increases.

The union demanded a 14% increase from November 2016. The university offered 6%.

Union members said they were angered by the university management reducing their offer from 6% to 4,5% during a CCMA facilitation to resolve the issues on Tuesday.

They also felt that Unisa wasted money (more than R100 million) on an IT system for student registrations in 2017. According to them, the system is not usable. And the money should have been used to pay staff better.

Unisa advises students to go online to register. On Tuesday this week the Unisa website and MyUnisa were unavailable due to technical problems and Unisa was working to restore these services.

Readiness of Tertiary Institutions

Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande will brief the media on the readiness of tertiary institutions for the new academic year, today. This comes after various meetings with management at Higher Education institutions the past few weeks to discuss their readiness for this year.

FET Colleges being Shut Down

This week SAFETSA - the South African Further Education Training Student Association is continuing its shutdown of 265 campuses at TVET (Tehcnical Vocational Education Training) colleges countrywide.

The student organisation sent a memorandum to the DHET (The Department of Higher Education and Training), and has a meeting booked with the DHET to engage in discussions this coming Sunday.

According to Yonke Twani, the organisation’s President, they are receiving support from students to shut down the colleges. He says that in some colleges in the Eastern Cape teaching is still taking place.

Minister of Higher Education and Training Blade Nzimande will be attending this meeting.

Earlier in January Minister of Higher Education and Training Blade Nzimande "called on formations representing students at Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges to engage in discussion with his Department and College administrations and to strengthen and renew efforts to resolve their legitimate issues".

One of they key issues identified by TVET students, is the long-standing issue of outstanding certificates.

Fees Must Fall Leader still in Jail

Bonginkosi Khanyile, possibly the only Fees Must Fall student still behind bars since protests ended last year, will spend another month in jail.

Protesting Students Fees-Must-Fall

Khanyile appeared in the Durban Regional Court for a pre-trial conference, but had his matter postponed to February 28, because lawyers were still gathering statements.

He faces charges including public violence, illegal gathering, trespassing, and inciting violence.

More power over Higher Education for the Minister

Earlier in January, President Jacob Zuma signed the Higher Education Amendment Act. This Act gives Minister Blade Nzimande greater powers to intervene in university matters. The central theme of the act is to make universities more inclusive and further the government's transformation plans for higher education. "To move away from old patterns of universities based on racial or language lines and to recognise African schools of thought and knowledge."

Key Changes to Help Students

Thus far we have seen a number of key changes by government to assist students in 2017. This includes no upfront registration fees, historical debt relief and assistance for learners who have applied but did not get a place at higher education institutions.

Is this Just the Beginning?

With most of the students who participated in the FeesMustFall campaign the last two years expected back at universities only in the next two weeks, what we are currently seeing might just the beginning of a very turbulent year for higher education in South Africa.

About the Author:

Jan Badenhorst works as the CEO of Skills Academy. Skills Academy offers Home Study Courses to people who never completed Matric, or who cannot get entry into Universities.

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