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02 May 2018 Photo Charl Devenish
South Campus UAP celebrates 27 years of access to education
Mr Francois Marais, Prof Kalie Strydom, Prof Daniella Coetzee (South Campus Principal), Prof Francis Petersen, Dr Nthabeleng Rammile (Vice-Chairperson of the UFS Council), and Dr Khotso Mokhele (Chancellor of the UFS).

More than 27 years ago, international funding from the Human Sciences Research Council and Anglo American was put to an unusual use for that time. Prof Kalie Strydom’s research unit at the University of the Free State (UFS) was tasked with reviewing how institutional missions would change in the new South Africa. Prof Strydom worked closely with surrounding communities in Bloemfontein to develop a bridging course which would help students who showed potential to access tertiary education, although they did not meet the requirements. His vision brought to birth the University Access Programme (UAP), as it is known today, which is hosted on the UFS South Campus, and is still providing unique access to higher-education institutions in South Africa.

People with a passion for human development
March 2018 saw the 27th anniversary of this remarkable initiative, which has given a second chance to over 18 000 students. Special guests at the event included Prof Strydom, Mr Francois Marais, and representatives from the Department of Higher Education and Training and Investec’s corporate social investment office.

Dr Sonja Loots, researcher in the UFS Centre for Teaching and Learning (CTL), singled out two key individuals in the formation of the UAP: Prof Kalie Strydom, who initiated the programme, and Mr Marais, who has been Director of the UAP since its inception. Dr Loots highlighted one of the driving forces behind Prof Strydom’s perseverance, vision, and determination with the UAP by quoting from an interview with him for an upcoming book on student access and success. He said, “It was a decision based on principle … to be part of the solution to a better country.”

Access and success still an issue today
In his presentation on the “Importance of Access”, Prof Francis Petersen, Rector and Vice-Chancellor of the UFS, pointed out the vital role of access in South Africa, especially the value it offers for the betterment of the country’s people. However, he said that student success is also an issue, and institutions need to be accountable for it. Quoting Prof John Martin of the University of Cape Town’s Faculty of Engineering, “We must be flexible on access, but robust on success.” Only by “closing the loop” in this way, can the UFS and other higher-education institutions ensure a valuable contribution to the economy of the country.

News Archive

UFS responds to concerns around high costs of higher education
2015-10-15

 

Dear Students

UFS responds to concerns around high costs of higher education

There is an understandable and shared concern among students in the country around the high costs of higher education. As you know, this also is a matter of deep concern on our campuses, which the University of the Free State (UFS) has made a priority in discussions with student leaders - and through new strategies to relieve the burden of costs on poor students and their families. In fact, in the past two weeks, the UFS leadership has again engaged students on the matter of fees in the future.

This is what we have done so far. We have maintained our position as one of the universities with the lowest tuition fees in the country. As you would have seen from recent newspaper reports on the cost of a degree at various institutions over the past five years, the UFS has had consistently low fees. This is not an accident; both the University Council and the executive leadership of the UFS is of one mind that we must offer a high quality education at minimum cost to all our students, despite the rising costs of operating a large multi-campus university with 30 000 students. Our commitment to you is to continue to keep those costs to students as low as possible, without compromising on the quality of education.

In addition, we took a decision earlier this year to become the first university to drop application fees for first-year students. We are proud of that achievement, since so many students fall at this first hurdle as they contemplate post-school education and training. We also waived registration fees for postgraduate students and now Research Master’s and PhD students can study tuition free under certain conditions. We raised more than R60 million from the private sector to enable talented students, who do not receive NSFAS funding, to complete their degree studies at the UFS. We set aside some of the university’s own funds to enable even more students to access finance for their studies. And we now have a special office set aside to counsel and assist students to apply for more than one scholarship to support their studies. The university does not follow a policy of maximizing exclusions. It has endeavoured and succeeded to turn around the majority of its potential deregistration cases. During 2015 we had 2 700 students at the risk of being de-registered, but our serious efforts resulted in only over 200 instances of exclusion we could not mitigate. As is the practice for the past few years, these students’ debt for 2015 has been reversed.

But, we do not only look for funds from outside to support our students. Last year we set up a Staff Fund to which ordinary members of the academic and support staff can contribute from their own, and sometimes very modest, salaries to enable Kovsie students to finish their degrees. We have volunteers who work on the No Student Hungry (NSH) Bursary Programme to raise funds for students who cannot afford a regular meal. We have an open line to rural and township schools to nominate poor students with good results for support by the Rector’s Fund, and some of those students are now in their final year of studies. And many of our staff support individual students in their homes and with their families, without being asked to do so. This is what we call the Human Project and it remains central to the way in which we deal with students.

We will of course continue to make representation to government, the private sector, and individuals to increase funding, especially for first-generation students, and for families where more than one student is at university. We will continue to take to the road to raise funds from companies and foundations to finance our students. We will expand on-campus opportunities for limited working hours for students who wish to earn some money to support their studies. As we have said often before, no student who passes all their courses or modules will be turned away simply because they do not have the funds to study.

The UFS discusses and agrees to fee increases with our students well in advance of the next academic year. None of these decisions are taken without the agreement of the student leadership and thus far these engagements, while tough, have always been done in good faith and with the students’ interests at heart.

It is important for you to know that, with the declining government subsidy, in real terms, and the expanding needs of our students, we will not be able to keep the university running without fees - even though this source of revenue comes mainly through scholarships and bursaries. We need to compensate staff, purchase new library books and renew journal subscriptions (which is very difficult given the low value of the Rand), upgrade computers and software, pay rates and taxes, purchase laboratory equipment, pay the water and electricity bills, expand internet services, upgrade campus security, and hire more academics to keep class sizes reasonably small. It is important for you to know that the university has managed to avoid increasing student fees as a result of much higher municipal rates. Our lecturers are not the highest paid in the country and financially we run a tight ship. We consistently achieve unqualified audits and we are known to be one of the universities that manage its NSFAS contributions with great efficiency. We do this because of our commitment to ensure that our students are able to enjoy a high quality of education on a stable campus where there is a deep respect for all campus citizens.

Despite all these efforts, the most important message we wish to communicate, is that the door remains open for continued discussion with student leaders as we continue to find ways of keeping university education open and accessible to all qualifying students. At the same time, the UFS leadership is involved in discussions with government about how to best manage the escalating cost of higher education for our dents.

Thank you for your support and understanding at this time and be assured, once again, of our commitment to students as a matter of priority to the university leadership.

Best regards

Prof Jonathan Jansen
Vice-Chancellor and Rector

University of the Free State
19 October 2015

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