The impact of #FeesMustFall protests on university administration

2015-11-06 18:11

The protest may be over for some, but it is back to the ordinary business of a tertiary institution for many. And there are a number of administrative challenges institutions have to deal with after the protest, as experienced by UWC. The first one being very obvious, fixing damaged property that was vandalised during the protest, some of it being exam venues or administration buildings.

The second challenge is mending the broken relationship between students and the institutions. A letter sent by UWC Rector called this a reconciliation process of some sort and this was agreed upon by all involved. The Rector may have had to duck a bottle thrown at him by a student but he is still the Rector and the student is still a student. Thus simply going back to class as though nothing had happened will not help in building a relationship based on cooperation and importantly, respect.  This will take time but has to happen and rebuilding the formal means of engagement where faith may have been lost in some institution's formal structures.

Third challenge relates to ordinary administrative functions of a university. Firstly the protest happened when many were getting ready to write exams. This process was disrupted in some institutions having to reschedule the assessment period. Issues such as invigilators, venues, times and dates, even markers had to be given consideration. The impact of this on the university calendar is huge considering that faculty staff who oversee promotions also work on admission of new students. So UWC will have to administer exams, deal with promotions, appeals against academic exclusions, admission of new students, registration of new and returning students in a shorter period which may require that the 2016 calendar be altered to accommodate all of these long processes.

But how did this impact on students? A number of issues were reported by UWC leadership regarding students (and staff) being traumatised by the element of violence in the protest. Many said they were not ready to write the exam which led to the university providing them with an option to write in January if they feel that they are not ready to write in November as the library was closed and academics were unable to consult with students in preparation for the exams.

International students and part-time students would have unique challenges such as visas, medical insurance, and study permits due to expire. Part-time students often struggle to get enough time off from employers to prepare for exams and having to reschedule study leave may prove challenging, getting study leave alone is challenging. Some part-time students are only given the day before an exam to study by their employers. Some forced to commit crime to get time off by buying fraudulent medical certificates from doctors to get enough time to prepare for exams (luckily I never had to). Such victimisation  must fall.

The fourth challenge is of course the costs involved. Cost for both the university and the students. The university may require  staff to work overtime until the end of February which not only impacts on the institution but family life for staff members. But I doubt it will get to that although it seems likely. Costs of all the agreements the university had to enter into such as the possible scrapping of application fees for the 2017 intake, the agreement to exempt financially needy students from paying the registration fee to avoid financial exclusions and so on. These have an impact on the university's revenue as fees account for about a third of some institutions income hence Blade, Nene, and Zuma need to step up.

The fifth challenge is the #FeesMustFall movement itself, how do you balance student activism and pass which is needed to attain the ultimate goal of tuition-fee free education for all? This challenge will require careful consideration since many want to graduate and find jobs, some have already received offers on graduate recruitment programmes and need certificates and academic transcripts to prove that they have a qualification which may in some cases, be withheld by some institutions as a result of outstanding fees, making the #FeesMustFall movement ever more relevant.

We must praise the institution for not giving in to calls to scrap the assessment entirely and use the Continuous Assessment Marks as final marks. This would have undermined the integrity/credibility of the university's assessment processes. It might be challenging to make the summer break shorter but it is necessary to preserve the integrity or value of our qualifications.

But one thing I know about UWC and South Africa is that we always rise up when faced with challenges, pool resources together, and overcome. Such is needed now to assist those students who could not study as a result of the protest by offering  them support so that they may have a real chance to do well in the exams. You could help by offering support such as tutoring or giving a commuter student lifts home after spending the evening in the library. I know students who used to sleep on campus in one of the 24 hour study venues or crammed in one room at the university residences just because they do not have transport at night. Speak to that child in your neighbourhood who is busy with his studies, he/she may need your help.

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