University management responds to protesters’ demands

by Pierre Durandt

Rhodes University management responded to the demands of protesting students, following the #NationalShutDown protest march, and presentation of the student’s demands earlier in the day. These included plans for the structuring of fees, as well as the university academic project. The academic project being the regular attendance of students at lectures and tutorials, as well as the submission of essays and writing of tests.

Management began their response by commending students for their conduct throughout the protests, with Director of Student Affairs Dr Colleen Vassiliou claiming that “we [Rhodes] are the only university who had a peaceful march today.”

Management then addressed issues of finance, responding to protesters’ demands for a 15 percent reduction in university fees in 2016. Dr Iain L’Ange stated that seeing as a 15 percent reduction in fees would result in a R54 million reduction in university budget, “reduction of fees cannot be managed without seriously damaging academic project.” However, L’Ange also committed to an investigation of areas in which costs can be cut, in order to reduce university fees.

With regard to the fees of international students, Dr Peter Clayton stated that work would commence on Thursday reviewing the international levy, which had already been reduced to 50 percent of fees following Monday’s protests.  Clayton added that attempts would be made to standardise the international levy with other institutions. Fee structures are also due to be reviewed, particularly for international students, as well as the matter of interest on default on student loans.

Vice-Chancellor Dr Sizwe Mabizela reaffirmed his commitment that financially needy students will not be excluded, stating that: “I have signed surety for students in that position, if you have passed all your courses.” This follows from his earlier statements, wherein he stated that no student should be excluded on grounds of financial need.

Mabizela also praised the protesters, expressing his admiration by stating that “your actions today should be emulated around the country,” and expressing solidarity with those protesting, claiming “this is not your struggle – it’s our struggle.”

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However, protesters seemed displeased with Mabizela’s stance on fees, as well as his proposal that students return to their classes on Thursday. His stance was reiterated by Vassiliou, who made it clear that “we would like to return to the academic project tomorrow”. Many protesters felt that this approach did not appreciate the significance of the protest, and was “dividing the student body.” One speaker claimed that Rhodes students cannot go back to “business as usual”, and that protests would continue in solidarity until students countrywide had their demands met.

Some protesters also directed their ire at the money spent by the university on paying residence sub-wardens, calling for the removal of this pay. Others called for the national extension of protests, urging students to encourage their parents to strike in protest against  “government arrogance at parliament.” This follows the use of stun grenades to disperse crowds of students protesting at parliament earlier in the day.

However, the meeting was soon called off by SRC President Zikisa Maqubela due to the rain, and is due to be reconvened at an unspecified point in time.

The SRC will be visiting residences this evening from 8:30pm, to answer questions posed by students regarding recent developments.

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