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Sunday, July 25, 2021

Excitement at universities as new academic year gets off to a smooth start

Thabo Mohlala

The start of the 2018 academic year seems to have gone well on Monday without any reports of incidences of disruptions across most campus. The University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), the University of Johannesburg (UJ)and The University of South Africa (Unisa) are some of the main institutions that commenced learning.

This was a far cry from the past years where students used the first day of the academic year to highlight their concerns around registration fees and other forms of exclusions.

Several factors seem to have largely contributed to calmness experienced today. These include the announcement of free higher education which will see most first-year students not paying registration fees as well as the National Students Financial Aid Scheme’s revision of the funding threshold that covered most deserving students from indigent households as well as the universities managements’ decision to allow walk-in registration after they initially objected to it.

Minister of Higher Education and Training, Hlengiwe Mkhize and her deputy, Buti Manamela also helped paved the way by holding several meetings with vice chancellors and registrars of all the 26 universities to resolve some of the potential bottlenecks to avoid a chaotic start to the 2018 academic.

The state’s late announcement of the free higher education was one of the biggest concerns vice-chancellors raised saying it gave them insufficient time to configure their systems to deal with the influx of students at the beginning of the year.

A Wits university-based Economic Freedom Fighters Student Command (EFFSC) leader, Koketso Poho, told Inside Education this afternoon that the situation is calm at most institutions. He said they were waiting for the student command to give a formal report back on what transpired on Monday and on what issues needed to be pursued.

“We are still judging the mood on the ground but overall the situation is calm. We have not received any reports so far about any disruptions from students in all the universities that opened today,” said Poho.

Universities South Africa’s chief executive Professor Ahmed Bawa also said no news is good news as they have not picked up any problem today.

“Except for both Sol Plaatjie University and the Durban University of Technology (DUT), which are embroiled in a labour dispute with unions, things went smoothly overall,” said Bawa. Wits and Unisa settled their disputes with the workers to avert possible disruptions.

Though generally positive about today’s proceedings, Bawa said he is worried this may be short-lived because returning students may feel aggrieved as they are not covered by the new funding dispensation.

He said this could be used as a basis to mobilise and may be escalated to cause disruptions,” he said. Bawa said as the university leadership they did all they could to deal with all potentially problematic areas that could ignite student unrest.

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