Wits University students sing and dance near gate 7 on empire road. Johannesburg/Braamfontien. 15/10/2015 picture: Nqobile Sithole
Wits University students sing and dance near gate 7 on empire road. Johannesburg/Braamfontien. 15/10/2015 picture: Nqobile Sithole

Wits prof: Underfunding is the issue

By TEBOGO MONAMA, KATE MORRISSEY AND PINKY MANI Time of article published Oct 16, 2015

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Johannesburg - Acting vice-chancellor and principal of Wits University Professor Andrew Crouch says that even if the university didn’t increase fees, there would still be people unable to afford the current costs.

“Even if we increase the fees by zero percent across the board, some students will not be able to afford the fees. The core issue should be the underfunding of institutions,” he told The Star on Thursday.

He is acting as the head of the university while vice-chancellor Adam Habib attends the national Higher Education Summit in Durban.

Wits students have since Wednesday embarked on protests over the planned 10.5 percent increase in study fees for the 2016 academic year.

They believe the high fees are a way of excluding poor students from attending the institution.

Wits cancelled Friday lectures owing to student protests over proposed hikes in fees.

The institution, however, said the medical school would remain open.

On Thursday morning opened tensely at Wits, with students blocking the university gates for the second day. This time, however, they faced off with police.

The police came to the rescue of the driver of a car after the students blocked the way as he was leaving campus. The police gave the students a two-minute warning to let the car go.

“I was worried for my life,” the man said.

The students continued to dance and chant at the university’s two main gates throughout the day.

One student held a sign that said “This undercover racism at Wits outsmarted the apartheid system”. And someone had taped a sign to the gate that said “Education is not a debt sentence”.

Crouch said: “We are not trying to exclude poor students. The university tries to assist where possible.”

He said the university was able to stretch its National Student Financial Aid Scheme allocation to accommodate 800 more students.

Two-thirds of Wits students, he added, receive financial assistance. He said the university council was the only one that would decide whether to revisit the fee increase issue.

“The university council tries to moderate fee increases, but higher education is underfunded throughout the sector. There is pressure on finances and we need a larger subsidy from the state.

“We have to increase fees so we don’t compromise the quality of education,” Crouch said.

Their projections show they will get a 5 percent increase in their subsidy from government, he added. Crouch added that, as a cost-saving measure, the university had tried to cut back on subscriptions to international journals.

“We are looking at cost-cutting measures. With the journals, we are also finding that it is more expensive to buy the journals individually than in a general subscription. We are hamstrung by the dollar-rand exchange, but also, how far are we supposed to cut?”

He said while the institution was worried about the bad publicity due to the protests, only a small group of students were taking part in them. Crouch said only 300 of the 30 000 Wits students were taking part in the protests. He added that videos circulating online showing protesting students being attacked by police officers and other no-protesting students were one-sided.

“They (protesting students) aren’t innocent. They are walking around campus with sticks. Why do they do that? They didn’t allow staff and students to leave the campus. There are selective depictions and not the full story,” he said.

Crouch said some non-protesting students had opened cases with the campus police.

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