With Rhodes University lectures set to start on Monday, vice-chancellor Dr Sizwe Mabizela yesterday discussed the university’s readiness ahead of the academic year following a tumultuous 2016.
He said the university had been inundated with queries from the public concerning its stability following last year’s disruptions, but pointed out that Rhodes had completed the previous academic year successfully.
Speaking in Port Elizabeth yesterday, Mabizela said: “Given the instability we have had in our public higher education system over the past two years, there is some anxiety and nervousness about the start of the new academic year.
“Despite the disruptions we had last year, we are very pleased that our university had a successful completion.
“It was difficult but our students and staff managed to work together which we are grateful for.”
He said that as of February 1 the university’s student debt stood at about R48-million, which was significantly higher than previous years.
Mabizela said that while the private sector had contributed a handsome sum towards the debt, he was unable to disclose the exact amount.
“What the protests have done was to bring the structural inequality in our society to the fore and it would be naive to think this issue is about affordability alone,” he said.
“We cannot continue to be indifferent to the plight of the poor. In the short to medium term, we believe that free education should be provided to poor and academically deserving students.”
Mabizela warned that violence could not be used as a form of engagement.
“Those who can afford education will go overseas and into the private sector to access higher education and the poor will be left with nothing,” he said.
Mabizela said students with historical debt needed to engage the university to enter into payment arrangements so that they could register to continue their studies this year.
He said no academically deserving students would be turned away simply because they could not afford fees as the university had various funding programmes through which students could access financial aid.