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07 May 2019 | Story Valentino Ndaba | Photo Charl Devenish
Noko Masalesa
Noko Masalesa, Director of Protection Services, in conversation with students and stakeholders to plan a safe way forward.

Safety and security are human rights that constitute social justice. At the centre of the agenda at the University of the Free State’s (UFS) Social Justice Week held on the Bloemfontein Campus from 17-22 April 2019 were discussions about off-campus safety. Stakeholders agreed on an upgrade to security measures in order to ensure the success and wellbeing of the student population.

A call to students

Prof John Mubangizi, Dean of the Faculty of Law, in his capacity as representative of the UFS Rector and Vice-Chancellor, Prof Francis Petersen, expressed his view on institutions of higher learning no longer functioning as ivory towers. “For any initiative to succeed, collaboration is necessary between key roleplayers,” he said.

He aptly pointed out that: “We cannot underscore the importance of safety and security, not only for the university but also for the communities around us. What the university does benefits the community and vice versa. I pledge the university’s commitment to play a leading part to ensure that the collaboration works,” said Prof Mubangizi.

Beefing up security: Who is involved?

In view of the collaborative effort Prof Mubangizi alluded to, the engagement was twofold. First was the roundtable discussion facilitated by Protection Services which then escalated into a public dialogue where students had the opportunity to interact with external delegates.

The South African Police Services, Community Police Forum, Private Security, Mangaung Metropolitan Municipality, Provincial Commissioner, and Deputy Minister of Police were well represented in this critical conversation. Internally, members of Protection Services, Housing and Residence Affairs, Student Affairs, Institute for Social Justice and Reconciliation, Student Representative Council, and the Department of Criminology heard the plight of off-campus safety faced by students.

Changes in the horizon

The discussions culminated with recommendations which will see the future of student safety take a different direction. According to Skhululekile Luwaca, former SRC president, these include “the municipality’s commitment to immediately address issues such as street lights and enforcing by-laws, ensuring an integrated accreditation system, and drafting a policy for off-campus accommodation, running more crime awareness campaigns, and giving police patrols more visibility.”

In addition to resolving to set up a student safety forum with all the stakeholders, the Mangaung Metropolitan Municipality has invited the UFS to join Reclaim the City – a safety forum where practical solutions to crime are devised and implemented on a weekly basis.


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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