UCT slams ‘unlawful’ shutdown, moves lectures online – but protesting students double down
While the university insists it is doing all it can to help students without accommodation who are struggling with fee blocks, the student representative council has said protests will continue until its demands are met.
As University of Cape Town (UCT) students vow to continue protesting over the “housing crisis”, the university has denounced their actions as “unlawful” and shifted lectures online until further notice.
The protesters, led by its *student representative council (SRC), shut down campus activity on Monday – the first day of the academic year – over fee blocks, financial exclusion and National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) allowances. Entrances at the university were blocked and students were encouraged to not attend lectures.
On Tuesday morning, the SRC asked students to meet again on Lower Campus, where entrances had been blocked again.
In the weeks leading up to the start of the academic year, the SRC has been in negotiations about the decision by the student housing department to withdraw accommodation offers for students with fee blocks. This has left many unhoused and without helpful solutions. The SRC views this as exclusionary and notes that it affects black and poor students disproportionately. The NSFAS capping accommodation allowances at limits deemed unfeasible by the SRC has added another layer to the protests.
Read in Daily Maverick: “Shutdown rocks UCT on first day of study as students fume over fee blocks, housing”
The university responded to the shutdown by saying it had tried its best to help struggling students.
Media representative Elijah Moholola said: “It is of concern that the SRC resorted to this latest course of action without having had any engagements with the university management. In the previous round of engagements, as recently as two weeks ago, the management and the SRC worked on the issues tabled and managed to find a resolution to some of the pressing issues.”
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The provisions UCT had made for unhoused students struggling with fee blocks included:
- The UCT Council approved the amended fee debt threshold from R1,000 to R10,000, enabling more students to register in 2023 despite their outstanding debt;
- The university set aside a budget, within the current financial constraints, to assist students in good academic standing who meet the criteria for financial aid through the debt appeals process. For 2022, at least R1.9-billion (unaudited) was spent in providing financial aid support to UCT students, an increase of R100-million from 2021. The support to students has increased in recent years and close to 50% of undergraduates and 30% of postgraduates receive funding support;
- The university’s grace period enables students with outstanding debt to access the academic project while working on settling the debt. In 2023, UCT had 251 students whose applications for a grace period were successful, and 30 with pending outcomes;
- The finance department secured additional sources of funding through two corporate entities;
- Students in holiday accommodation were allowed to remain in residences while they were engaging with the finance department on reducing their fee debt, or with their relevant faculty regarding readmission appeals on academic grounds; and
- The university is currently providing emergency accommodation to a number of students who are yet to reduce their debt.
The university went on to condemn the SRC’s protests as “unlawful”.
“While UCT continues to uphold the constitutional right to protest action, it is of concern that the nature of some of the disruptive action on campus today falls outside the bounds of lawful protest. The management of the university calls on the student leadership and anyone participating in protest actions to do so within the confines of the law,” it said.
Due to campus disruptions, UCT had also decided to move all academic activity online from Tuesday, 14 February until further notice. An emergency rapid response task team would engage with the SRC to come to a resolution as quickly as possible.
Following the university’s response, the SRC stated its intention to continue protesting until its demands are met. DM
This article was corrected at 9.25am on February 15, 2023 to remove a reference to the SRC being EFF-dominated. The SRC is in fact made up as follows: 3 EFF, 2 ActionSA and 10 independent members.