Collective failure lies behind university funding crisis – Adam Habib

Wits vice-chancellor Prof. Adam Habib.

Last month, Habib announced that he will step down as vice-chancellor of the institution at the end of the year.

University campuses continue to erupt into protests as a result of poor political decisions, a lack of policing and a flawed promotion system, outgoing University of the Witwatersrand vice-chancellor Adam Habib has said in a series of social media posts.

Habib’s tweets come amid protests over historic debt, which have been taking place over the last few months at universities across the country and claims that National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) allowances had not been paid. At the core of the current crisis faced by universities is funding, Habib reasoned.

In a series of tweets, Habib said that if higher education was “properly funded”, many issues – such as accommodation – would be resolved. Following Fees Must Fall protests, government offered students a full grant (covering tuition, accommodation and subsistence) for those with an annual family income below R350,000.

The alternatives were a loan plan via banks or comprehensive grant, both of which had pros and cons. The loan plan would have covered all students, but students would have incurred debt to be paid when they were employed. The grant would have resulted in no debt for students, but at an estimated R200 billion would have been too costly for the government to implement. Politics around the election prompted the decision to create grant for lower income families, Habib believes.

“The advantage was students had no debt. The downside: it covered only 50% of students. This left out the missing middle students. They were too rich for NSFAS, but too poor to pay their own way,” explained Habib.

The result, according to Habib, is that there are students who do not have access to funding, an accommodation crisis, ongoing protests and political instability. This would have been prevented by a loan scheme, which would not only have funded 100% of students, he believes.

Habib address the failure rate of students. Students who fail twice lose their funding and are unable to cover their costs. This exacerbates the accommodation crisis. Habib also laid blame at the feet of the police, saying arsonists who destroy university property needed to be arrested.

Last month, Habib announced that he will step down as vice-chancellor of the institution at the end of the year. Habib was expected to join the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London from 1 January next year.

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