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WATCH | UCT classes move online amid SRC’s campus-wide shutdown

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WATCH | UCT classes move online amid SRC's campus-wide shutdown
  • A disruption at the University of Cape Town (UCT) has led to the university’s move to online teaching and learning.   
  • In protest against fee blocks and housing access restrictions, the UCT Student Representative Council called for a campus-wide shutdown on Monday.  
  • As long as the demands of the SRC are not met, the shutdown will continue.

Following a campus-wide shutdown by the Student Representative Council (SRC) on Monday, UCT has moved its teaching and learning programmes online until further notice.

Earlier this month, the University suspended academic activities following a campus-wide shutdown in protest against fees and housing access demanded by the Student Representative Council.

Faculty and departments that are not able to move programs online will make specific arrangements and communicate them directly to staff and students,” said Moholola. Remote working is also recommended for staff members.

Students were disrupted by SRC members as they made their way to class on Monday morning. As a result, classes were canceled.

Student housing, fee blocks, and NSFAS issues were the cause of the disruptions, according to the SRC. A number of demands were made by the SRC, including lifting fee blocks before the start of the 2023 academic year, at an emergency meeting with the university’s council.

“There must be a minimum five-day registration period after the fee block has been lifted. Students who have been excluded from residences must receive student housing if they are academically eligible to continue. According to the statement, UCT needs to conduct a policy review that eliminates financial exclusions and fee blocks permanently.

Until fee blocks are removed, academic work should be suspended, said the SRC.

“We strongly object to fee blocks because they are a tool of oppression against black and poor students. Too many students have been deprived of their right to education due to fee blocks.”, said the Student Representative Council.

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Deputy secretary-general of the SRC, Erin Dodo, reported that unpaid fees and historical debt led to students’ university acceptances being revoked last month.

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Additionally, students with debts exceeding R10,000 have been excluded academically.

As long as the SRC’s concerns weren’t met, Dodo said, the blockade would continue.

At a mass meeting on campus, several students protested with SRC members.

SRC members handed over their demands during a march to the Bremner building.

In addition to calling an emergency council meeting, Dodo demanded that the management retract their “lie” about management regularly engaging with SRC members.

UCT classes move online

The protest action on Monday was also met with mixed reactions from UCT students.

According to a final-year BSC student who wished to remain anonymous, many students have been unable to register and seek accommodation due to fee blocks, and some have lost their residence placements.

Because of a lack of student accommodations, the student said he knew several Limpopo and Mpumalanga students who were staying in lodges nearby the university.

He explained why the SRC was protesting. Students must be able to register if management comes up with an arrangement.”

“I’m supposed to be in class, I want to be in class, but I understand those students can’t… all of us shouldn’t be in class until these issues have been resolved.”

According to a first-year BA student who preferred to remain anonymous, she heard about the protest on social media. She was on campus when she got an email notification that her classes had been cancelled.

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There was no Jammie shuttle service available on upper campus, said she.

“My academic year may get pushed back as a result of their protest,” she said.

SRC president Hlengiwe Gugulethu Lisa Dube said: “Most black and brown people face housing problems and can’t register because of fee blocks.”

According to the SRC’s vice-president, Swazi Hlophe, UCT is the most expensive university in South Africa.

“The fees for a first-year degree can reach more than R100 000, and residence fees can reach as much as R102 000. The purpose is to make it extremely unreachable for those in the middle class so they cannot afford it.”

This year, the SRC hoped these persistent issues would finally be addressed. Every year, students face financial exclusion and a lack of student housing.

Hlophe said:

Our decision to say this will be the last protest of its kind is intentional as we will not stop protesting until the policy of fee blocks and financial exclusion is reviewed and eliminated.

UCT council’s lack of engagement and response frustrated the SRC, Dube said.

“Our demands were initially communicated to council through management in January,” she told News24.

“One of our biggest frustrations is the lack of transparency and management engagement,” she said.

Hlophe said the university management did not meet the deadline given to them by the SRC on Monday, which ended at 17:00.

According to a statement from UCT, this disruption went beyond the bounds of lawful protest. The SRC acted without having engaged with university management before engaging in this latest course of action.

“Two weeks ago, the SRC and management worked on the issues tabled in the previous round of engagements and were able to resolve some of them. A number of measures had already been taken by the university to address fee blocks and outstanding student debt prior to this latest protest action..”

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These issues are listed by UCT as follows:

  • In 2023, more students will be able to register despite outstanding debt by raising the fee debt threshold to R10 000 approved by the UCT council.
  • Students meeting the criteria for financial aid who meet the criteria for debt appeals have been allocated funds within the current financial constraints to help them.
  • According to university data for 2022, financial aid support to UCT students was at least R1.9 billion (unaudited). It represents a 100-million-rand increase over 2021.
  • In recent years, close to 50% of undergraduates and 30% of postgraduates have received funding assistance.
  • In order to enable students with outstanding debt to access academic projects during this grace period, the university provides a grace period of up to 6 months.

In an urgent meeting held on Monday, management discussed other measures that can still be implemented, Moholola said.

The council’s policy must, however, be taken into account in making any decisions on fee blocks.

Despite not having been on financial aid before and not having participated in a grace period, there are a significant number of students who haven’t approached the financial aid office about receiving aid.

He further stated that his administration would continue to engage with the SRC, as well as relevant stakeholders, to resolve issues as quickly as possible and ensure the resumption of in-person academic activity.

 

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