Susanna Anbu and Amukelani Makamu
An announcement sent out by the Vice Chancellor of the University of Pretoria, Professor Tawana Kupe on 24 July confirmed that the duration of the second semester would continue online. Furthermore, the announcement stated that “as soon as negotiations with service providers have been finalised and the University has clear timeframes regarding the conclusion of the 2020 academic calendar, a decision on fee rebates will be taken”.
The Student Representative Council (SRC) published a statement on 28 July that reiterated the timeline of deliberations that were undertaken regarding the topic of fee rebates. The statement mentioned that the SRC sent a Memorandum of Concerns on 13 April to the UP Executive. In the Memorandum of Concerns, the SRC Study Finance Officer raised several concerns regarding student finances, and among the concerns that were raised was the adjustment of tuition fees. The statement confirmed that the use of facilities is included in the fees.
“the second semester would continue online“
On 24 May, the SRC received a response from the UP Executive that stated that “There are multiple factors that should be considered and a range of stakeholders to be involved in the process of adjusting the budget”, with the UP executive committing itself to the successful completion of the 2020 academic year, hence the response concluded that any decisions made pertaining to the adjustment of the fees are contingent on how the 2020 academic year unfolds.
The SRC’s statement concluded that the matter of fee rebates has been forwarded to the Office of the Director for Finance, and acknowledged that “no clear answer can be provided until the end of this year and therefore no adjustments can be made until clearer academic calendar timeframes are concluded”.
A petition titled Facility and Library Fees Must Fall!, was created on 25 July in light of the discussions surrounding fee rebates in tertiary institutions and the subsequent shift to online learning. The petition requested for financial respite through the cutting-out of facility usage, library and copyright fees, which the petition noted, “make up nearly 5% of the total fee for the first semester alone”, as well as a reduction in residence fees. The petition asserted “We the students are not asking for the fees to fall away totally, we still want to pay for our tuition that is being provided for us”. The petition called for Facility Usage fees to fall away, asserting that lecture halls, offices and other venues are not in use currently. “We are asking for Library and to an extent copyright fees to fall away or be reimbursed, as paper for notes, tests and exams are not being printed and distributed to students as everything is being sent online now” concluded the petition.
The petition was subsequently shared on social media platforms. Meme pages on Instagram posted the petition, calling on the Student Representative Council (SRC) and the University of Pretoria to consider the matter. The life_at_tuks admin team asserts that all students are supportive of reducing facility usage fees and res fees, with the only concern being that “this might lead to job cuts, but we feel that the university has more than enough capital to absorb this cost”. The admin team affirmed that “a reduction in fees will help everyone attending the University”, and hoped that the university reaches a conclusive decision before the end of September, expressing concern that once payment deadlines pass, the university will affirm that accounts are payable in full and deny a rebate because everyone has paid already. Stellenbosch University serves as one example where students were refunded residence fees.
“There are multiple factors that should be considered and a range of stakeholders to be involved in the process of adjusting the budget”
The life_at_tuks admin team confirmed that they have received support from other Instagram pages such as sujustkidding, ujhumour, Tuks Faculty of memes, Tuks engineering and Tuks nightmares. As of date of when this article was written, the petition’s signatures amount to 2555.
The meme page admin team clarified that multiple students had reached out to them mentioning that the library fees were not solely used for printing, but library maintenance and book licences as well. Their final stance calls for the printing fees component of the library fees to be rebated. Subsequently, the post was adjusted to say “our final aim for Library fees is to reduce it, after listening to [the] feedback we have released that library fees need to stay as that money is utilised”.
The Director of Institutional Advancement at the University of Pretoria, Rikus Delport, explains that the shift to online learning has imposed a significant increase in copyright clearance applications in order to place works on ClickUp. Delport confirmed that the total number of copyright applications from January to July 2020 is 18% higher than the total applications received for 2019. He stated that the “Copyright applications received from mid-March 2020 total R2.3m compared with R1.9m for the same period in 2019”.
“our final aim for Library fees is to reduce it, after listening to [the] feedback we have released that library fees need to stay as that money is utilised”
Delport cited that there was an increase in requests for materials from other libraries, stating that “although we always try to first request material from libraries, which provide material free, this is not always possible because many libraries still do not provide interlibrary loan services, we need to use other means to obtain articles and book chapters for students, such as ReprintDesk, where the cost of obtaining information is much higher than the normal interlibrary costs”.
Furthermore, Delport affirmed that the university incurred additional costs pertaining to eBooks and information sources due to the restrictions in accessing physical collections. Delport confirmed that “since 20 March 2020, eBooks to the value of almost R1 155 027 were ordered, with new orders coming in on a daily basis”. To address the high demand for eBooks, the University invested in two additional eBook subscription databases (ProQuest and EBSCO), amounting to R800 000. Delport concluded that “owing to the needs of students for online access, we spent 10% more on e-resources in the first part of 2020, compared to the total expenditure for 2019.”
The UP acknowledged the financial challenges facing students as a result of COVID-19, stating that the situation was being closely monitored. The university has stated the extension of payments of student accounts to end of September, and recommended students facing financial constraints to contact the university by sending an email to Ayanda.firstname.lastname@example.org to make financial arrangements.