Does student governance eventually lead to national government?

2014-08-10 10:00

With the SRC elections at The University of the Witwatersrand coming up and many prominent university activists and leaders planning to run in these elections, I was just questioning the importance of student governance for those planning to run our country to greater heights in the future. Looking at some of the members of the National Assembly it’s evident that student governance plays a really important role.

The main purpose of student governance like the Student Representative Council has to be that of putting the students’ needs first, providing services to improve the university and create a better relationship between management and students so that their grievances can be heard directly through the SRC. The SRC has to actually represent students, including their views and best interests. I mean its perfect practice for community leadership, regional leadership as well as provincial and national leadership. If you can serve students so that they can succeed than you can serve the citizens of our country so that they can do the same.

Looking at say the Wits SRC elections, it really is just like looking at a sneak peak to the national elections, with PYA which includes the African National Congress Youth League, The Muslim Students Association and SASCO usually winning the elections with a majority, however last year a non-political organisation called Project Wits won almost half of the 15 seats that were available. The Democratic Alliance Student Organisation also participates however in the last SRC election they won no seats. This year however there will be a little twist with the new political party the Economic Freedom Fighters Youth League participating as well. I have to admit it will be probably one of the most exciting campaigns if not the most exciting.

The role of the SRC has expanded over the last few years; today the SRC has a lot of power and responsibility over their respective universities. Looking at the University of the Witwatersrand, we constantly see the SRC challenging the decisions and comments made by our VC, Adam Habib.

I want the various SRC bodies to do more though; I want them to challenge financial exclusion and academic exclusion so that students that want to support their families and uplift their standard of living actually get the opportunity to get their respective degrees. The worst thing for me is when there is a hard working student who does extremely well but cannot meet their fees. These students should be aided by the SRC; these types of students should be given bursaries and sponsorships from external sources, which is organised by the SRC. Another type of student is the one who is hard working but cannot seem to cope with academics; I strongly believe that academic exclusion should never exist at a university.

There are enough pressures on students from corporate companies already that require their future employees to meet certain academic requirements so having a university do the same thing on a general scale just isn’t fair in my mind. What we are doing with academic exclusion at a university is discouraging hard working students from obtaining the certification they need to change their lives just because a university believes they cannot do it. If a corporate culture is not what a student wants, in fact if all that a student wants is to get a degree from a university, why should academic exclusion stop them from getting it? I completely understand the concept of limited space at a university, but it is vital to understand that, that same university believed that this person has what it takes to get his or her degree via their APS scores. We should never allow a university to turn down a student because of their academic or financial records, especially if their finances don’t match their work rate and results.

We also need to look at universities above us in the ranking and learn from them, SRC bodies need to constantly communicate with Ivy League universities student bodies and learn from their mistakes and their successes. I feel South African universities can improve in many aspects. Unfortunately recently we have just implemented their mistakes and we need to change that. The aim of any university should be to put structures in place that assists students in obtaining their degree not the other way around.

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