Account Number: 62015762322
Bank: First National Bank
Account Number: 62015762322
Bank: First National Bank
Our Original Statement
The Socialist Student Movement (SSM), Howard College branch, expresses solidarity with a group of engineering students who have decided to institute legal action against the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN)—established in 2004 following the merger of the University of Durban Westville (UDW) and former University of Natal (UND)—for "breach of contract" relating to the unilateral change of curricula.
Having been closely following the dispute between the institution and the students, all from the former UDW, the SSM fully supports the recent decision to take the legal route. We can attest that, the students, who have, since early 2007, been updating us on developments pertaining to the matter, have exhausted all other avenues to have the issue resolved in any other manner.
Amongst others, the UKZN Vice Chancellor, the Minister of Education, the UKZN Executive Dean of Students, the UKZN Students Representative Council (SRC), the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA) and some prominent parliamentarians have been approached for assistance, to no avail. Clearly, taking the University to court, therefore, comes as a very last resort.
The students, a few years prior to the formation of UKZN, entered into a contract with the then UDW for a Bachelor of Science (BSC) Engineering degree. The terms of the contract stipulated that:
The university would render educational courses in the discipline of Engineering culminating in a degree in BSC, Engineering,
The students would pay the University, in respect of each of the course subjects required for the degree of BSC Engineering,
According to the contract, the duration of the degree would be a minimum of four years and no longer than six years.
With the merger, a new 'merger agreement' with reworked provisions was entered into in 2004. It stipulated that if the students were unable to finish the degree by the end of 2006, they would have to register for the UKZN curriculum. At the beginning of 2005, the University suddenly reneged on this contract and compelled the students to register for the UKZN curriculum which meant additional courses, extra work and an added financial burden. By the end of the said year, some of them had managed to finish more than 95% of the modules required to complete a BSC degree in Engineering.
As a result, the students, in their court application filed with the Durban High Court, towards the end of 2007 and summons served on the University on November 30 2007, are seeking to have the University allow them to complete the degree as per the UDW curriculum. Alternatively, the University must subsidize their studies, with the relevant amount, in order to complete the BSC degree as per the UKZN curriculum.
This case highlights serious problems emanating from the merger which the University Management has either arrogantly refused to deal with or, in true South African style, has adopted a denialist attitude towards. Of course, the biggest impact has been felt by students. And compounding matters is that the merger has been coupled with the corporatisation of the institutions.
Students are no longer regarded as a crucial element of the University which advertises itself as "The Premier University of African Scholarship"—laughable considering the non-African Western nature of the curricula—but just as clients to purchase the commodified education. Ironically, also, it is mainly African working class students who are increasingly becoming victims of various forms of exclusions which the University, following the dominant neo-liberal policy of "Money talks, anything else walks", is vehemently implementing.
In recent years, the University has attracted a lot of media coverage as a result of, amongst others, legal battles, disciplinary hearings which have become a norm, plagiarism allegations, improper awarding of degrees, the most recent one being the rape of a student in one of the residences towards the end of last year. Not surprisingly, management is overly sensitive about, in the Vice Chancellor's words, "negative publicity." However, all point to the reality that, in many instances, the institution seems to, wittingly or unwittingly, through, inter alia, the neo-liberalism induced disdain treatment of staff and students; keep inviting bad publicity.
In early 2007, Director of Corporate Affairs, Dasarath Chetty, lost a R100 000 "defamation" case and resultant appeal, against Rhodes University academic, Jimi Adesina, with costs, estimated at a quarter of a million. Serious allegations of attempts to silence academic freedom and freedom of expression have been made against University management. There are further allegations that dissenting voices, particularly those from the left are being systematically silenced.
The University has finally filed court papers in opposition to the students' application. From the events of the past few days, it is clear, as part of their strategy, the institution intends, typically, to employ delaying tactics with the aim of frustrating the students financially and otherwise. There is no doubt about who is going to bear the financial burden. As in the frivolous and costly Adesina matter, which Chetty has hinted might still pursue, and quite a few ongoing matters before the CCMA, meager—in the backdrop of hundreds of working class students who are financially excluded every semester and deteriorating working conditions—University financial resources will be utilised.
Whilst we are adamant that there are serious shortcomings with bourgeois democracy, we hope this case acts as a reminder to the University that it is possible for people, even students, no matter how insignificant they may appear, in the 'new' South Africa, to utilize the various bourgeois institutions, albeit with limitations, to reclaim their rights whenever they feel these are being violated, regardless of the alleged 'culprit'.
At the moment, only six students have filed the court application, many more Engineering students were affected by the arbitrary change of curriculum. They have managed to find a benevolent Durban based Firm of Attorneys to pursue the matter on their behalf and remain highly confident that, ultimately, 'justice' will prevail!
SSM appeals to The University community, including staff members, academic and non-academic and the entire student body to also express solidarity with the Engineering students.
Attorney: Mr Govender, 083 786 0699
078 387 5792[mobile]
Socialist Student Movement