Eleven out of the 12 TSC members went on the trip and were accompanied by two Department of Student Affairs staff members, Ms Fundiswa Sizani and Mr Jimmy Molautsi. Thabo Shingange, TSC deputy-chairperson, refused to go, labelling it “morally wrong”. Shingange explained, “I have nothing against a benchmark trip in principle, what I do have qualms with is a benchmark trip funded by the student budget in the middle of a fees crisis. As the deputy chair, and more so the study finance officer, I would be morally conflicted to have to explain, as I am now, to students who come to my office to apply for funds… that I have no money to assist, knowing very well that the money was used for a vacation in Egypt.”

According to the TSC, “There was a stage where two other members also excluded themselves from the excursion, as they were under the impression that the money could rather be utilised towards funding students. After clarity was given that the money requested to be allocated to the TSC budget for benchmarking, cannot be used towards student funding and that it is ring-fenced for benchmarking, clarity was reached and they changed their decision.”

The trip was funded by a “university budget, specifically ring-fenced for the sole purpose of student leadership development,” read the TSC statement. The TSC went on to say that, “TSC budget funds were used as bridging money as the money was urgently needed to make visa deadlines. Accommodation and flights needed to be booked before visa applications [could] be done. There was confusion in the payment for the two members who cancelled and then re-joined. The DSA staff members’ payment differs as some of their costs are covered [by] the DSA budget. There [is] also difficulty as some of the members are international students and their payments differ.”

Henrico Barnard, TSC chairperson, did not want to disclose the final cost of the trip, saying the TSC needed to finalise all expenses and that total cost would be indicated in the final report. The deadline for the report on the outcome of the benchmarking excursion for individual TSC members is 5 August, and the final comprehensive report, which will include a breakdown of expenditure for the trip, will be released on 7 August and made available to the student body on the TSC’s social media pages.

 

Focus of the trip

During the 6-day trip ending on 15 July, the TSC visited two universities, The Cairo University (CU) and The American University in Cairo (AUC). According to the TSC, AUC was chosen as, “The AUC stands as a crossroads for the world’s cultures and a vibrant forum for reasoned argument, spirited debate and understanding across the diversity of languages, facilities and human experiences”. South Africa also shares the challenge of integrating diverse cultures, which can be converted into a strength if managed correctly. There is a lot to learn from the esteemed AUC in this regard.”’

The TSC said that it focused on, among other things, how the tertiary institutions’ student life structures function, whether the universities have a co-curriculum for leadership development and CU and AUC’s general Constitution for student governance.

During an interview with the trip’s planning committee, which consisted of Barnard, Nosihle Msomi (academics portfolio) and Cara-lee Compton (TSC secretary), Perdeby asked the TSC what their mandate was with regard to taking such a trip as they were not a democratically-elected SRC. Barnard replied, “The discussion of the TSC’s rights has been a topic of discussion the whole year. The TSC has till this day fulfilled the role of a fully constituted SRC by dividing the portfolios of 19 individuals between the 12 TSC members. On responsibilities, the TSC has not excluded anything that a SRC will attend to and the powers [have] not been limited in other areas where responsibilities are allocated on a daily basis. Till this day there has been no investment in the TSC in the form of student leadership development. The TSC will also not attend the annual GIBS course which is aimed at this purpose, [whose] cost exceeds R300 000. Also, more than R700 000 has already been spent on study finance to students in need by the TSC. The benchmarking excursion is thus also aimed to invest in the leadership development of the TSC.”

“We are only 12 members so the costs are less”, added Barnard.

 

Previous SRC benchmarking trips

Written by Chad Johnston

The UP Temporary Student Council (TSC) embarked on a benchmarking trip to Egypt from 9 to 15 July.

Students took to social media when it was revealed that the trip would allegedly cost R200 000 to fund. Perdeby had a look at previous benchmarking trips of previous Student Representative Council’s (SRCs).

2015

According to a 2015 SRC quarterly report, then-SRC president, Mosibudi Rasethaba, proposed that the SRC should look at benchmarking trips with international institutions and furthermore that benchmarking trips should be earlier and more frequent throughout the SRC’s term.

This was just after they had visited four institutions around the country – University of the Free State, University of Fort Hare, Rhodes University and Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University. The proposed cost of this trip was between R96 000 and R100 000. The actual cost could not be determined as Perdeby could not locate a report on this trip.

 

2016

According to the 2016 benchmarking proposal, the SRC intended to discuss the radical transformation of higher education in the country.

They identified four universities that they would visit – the University of the Free State, University of Western Cape, University of Cape Town and Stellenbosch University. Thirteen out of the 17 SRC members attended the trip. Perdeby could not find any SRC reports online indicating the cost of this trip. Student governance did not supply this figure either.

 

2017

According to Barnard, R130 000 was proposed for benchmarking. However, this was never approved or added to the 2017 budget.

Barnard said that the TSC “has not received a clear budget approval stating which proposed projects with the required funds are approved and allocated”. However, according to Barnard, “funds used for the TSC excursion however, [are] directly from [the] student leadership development funds of UP after the approval and endorsement of both Prof. De la Rey and [Prof] Koornhof”.

Finances – 2015, 2016 and 2017 According to the SRC portfolio budgets of 2015, 2016 and 2017, the budget allocated to benchmarking increased every year.

In 2015, R96 920 was allocated for benchmarking. However, this figure rose to R100 000 in 2016. The proposed budget for benchmarking this year is R130 000.