The financial crisis facing the University of the Witwatersrand increasingly looks to be reaching insurmountable proportions as the struggle for the soul of tertiary education draws new lines in the sand.
Wits, which was among the hardest hit in the upheavals of last year’s violent and hugely disruptive #FeesMustFall demonstrations, faces its first deficit in 11 years and vice-chancellor Adam Habib pointed at a growing mountain of historical debt as being one of the chief causes.
According to Habib, the university is owed more than R405 million – R208 million by students, R67 million by the National Student Financial Aid Scheme and R46 million in pledges by defaulting donors.
Any budgetary shortfall in the estimated R300 million a month needed to run the institution will have serious consequences for the university’s future wellbeing. It will almost certainly lead to a drastic cut in grants, essential research material and possibly also to a reduction of staff and the resultant lowering of educational standards already under bombardment by the lowering of entry-level criteria.
It is unlikely that Treasury, which is already contemplating increasing VAT to fill the gaps in the national coffers, will be either eager or able to intervene.
Who in their right mind, one must ask, would want Habib’s job?