The 2016 academic year was marred by student protests demanding free education and the transformation of curriculum. The fees commission set up by the state president to look into the feasibility of free education is yet to conclude its work. While the discussion about the future of universities remains on everyone’s lips, the National Student Representative Council (NSRC) at Unisa is optimistic about a fresh start to avoid academic disruptions and to ensure that quality service delivery is an apex priority.
Zandile Sodladla, the first female president of the NSRC, a Bachelor of Social Work graduate and a first-year student of Bachelor of Arts in International Relations, said her priority is to create a conducive environment for students to study and to fast track service delivery to them.
“As a president, I will work with the team to formulate programmes that will assist students to progress efficiently with their academics. Build relations with all the colleges to make sure that challenges faced by the students are resolved immediately. I will also work closely with the Department of Communication and Marketing to ensure free flow of communication and dissemination of crucial information regarding our work so that students stay informed about the nature of our task,” she said.
However, she expressed concern that partisans amongst SRC members and coordinating regional structures to ensure unity and excellent service are challenges. She said the breakdown of communication amongst SRC members and between Management was a worrisome trend which topped the list of her priorities.
As they begin their two-year term of office, Sodladla vowed that she would remain an inspirational leader and accessible while ensuring that each member of her team honoured their constitutional obligations.
Wadzanai Mazhetese is a National Postgraduate Studies Officer of the NSRC and 4th-year Bachelor of Law (LLB) student. He is responsible for all academic matters affecting postgraduate students nationally, initiating a national platform to obtain opinions on the challenges affecting students, and also represents students in Senate.
Mazhetese didn’t mince his words when he outlined the challenges students endure on a daily basis, listing academic gatekeeping in fields that remain largely untransformed; systemic racism which, in the main, affected postgraduate students; and failure to improve access to higher education for disadvantaged students, which perpetuate what he refers to as a commodification of education, which inherently promotes social and economic inequality.
He said the continued neglect of people living with disabilities or impairments that may be physical, cognitive, mental, sensory, emotional, developmental, or some combination of these by failing to provide appropriate platforms that suit their specific needs is a challenge, which he will waste no time in resolving.
He also committed to use his term of office to promote a culture of qualitative academic progression which will improve the throughput rate of Unisa and encourage students to be more focused on their studies while pushing the university to introduce better models of teaching and learning.
Grace Sebake is a Sports and Cultural Officer of the NSRC and she is studying a Higher Certificate in Economic and Management Sciences. She is tasked with coordinating all sports and cultural forms and enhancement of the recreational activities on both provincial and national level of the SRC. She is also responsible of coordinating and obtaining sponsorship from outside organisations to support recreational activities in accordance with the sponsorship rules of the university, and performs all functions required by the SRC in respect of recreational activities.
She said her primary goal is to initiate policies and to rollout programmes that must address lack of sports and cultural activities in all regions. She said all students who are interested in sports and cultural activities must be given opportunities to showcase their talent and skills to enable them to compete with other universities.
Sebake acknowledged that the lack of infrastructure and a dedicated department to deal with sports and culture in the university would make her mission difficult to achieve.
Itumeleng Molefe is an Education and Training Officer of the NSRC and he is studying a Bachelor of Arts Honours in Psychology. He is responsible for coordinating student academic structures and coordinating research on behalf of the SRC. He also assesses the quality of services rendered to students and represents them at institutional forums.
He said his main goal is to serve students and be responsive and accountable at all times. He added that social distance between students and leaders breeds mistrust and must be avoided at all cost.
Molefe said he sees himself as an agent of transformation and advocate of student’s needs.
“I will make sure that I remain true to the ideals that got me elected, and use them as the guiding ethos of what I do to advance equity, advocacy, and transformation,” he said.
Rodney Mabusela is a National Undergraduate Officer of the NSRC and a final-year Bachelor of Arts (Human and Social Studies) student. He is responsible for tuition and learning matters affecting undergraduate students and he is expected to work with regional structures to ascertain best tuition, learning support and facilities for undergraduate students.
Mabusela believes that lack of essential academic support and student funding would be the greatest test that will define the strength of the NSRC. He said he will initiate a turnaround strategy to minimise both academic and financial exclusions.
“My plan is to create a platform that will encourage students to fully participate on decision making processes of the NSRC. Students must influence all decisions of the SRC and make sure that the NSRC act on their behalf. I will also make sure that decisions of the NSRC are communicated on regular basis to students,” he said.
Being in the SRC is often associated with lot of stereotypes, including poor academic results. However, the current NSRC seems to be alive to such perceptions and it has declare that academic excellency will be an overarching feature of their term of office.
NB: Not all NSRC members were available for comment.
*By Percy Mthombeni