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Members of the international student associations at Wits University have admitted that there is friction between them and the Student Representative Council (SRC). The SRC drafted an international students’ memorandum at the end of last semester which international students are not entirely satisfied with as they felt their concerns simplified and that were not sufficiently consulted. They plan to meet with Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Zeblon Vilakazi by next week Friday ion order to find a way forward.
Tension between international students and the Wits Student Representative Council (SRC), has caused the various international student associations’ at Wits University to join forces.
“We have to admit, there has been friction between us and the SRC,” said Tinovimbanashe Gwenyaya, deputy president of the Zimbabwean Students Association.
The friction stemmed from unhappiness around the international students’ memorandum which was drafted by the SRC and handed to Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Vilakazi at the end of last semester. The memorandum was aimed at highlighting concerns faced daily by international students studying at the University.
“There was no adequate consultation by the SRC with International students with regards to the contents, as had been earlier agreed during the mass meeting,” Gwenyaya said.
He added that there is an “attitude of patriarchy towards international students,” and stressed that all they want is not to be treated as “second class” students.
According to Gwenyaya, along with Ayotunde Awosusi, president of the West African Students Union (WASU) and Cedrick Tshizainga, president of the Congolese society, international students “were unhappy about how the meeting was handled,” which called international students together to voice their grievances.
Their concerns were jotted down, however the memorandum was created based solely on those concerns.
They added that the memorandum “simplified the everyday challenges” and “realities” of international students. “It failed to highlight issues on the ground,” Gwenyaya said.
Awosusi said the idea to draft a memorandum was raised last year and was an initiative driven by the international students, not the current SRC.
It was however only drafted in May this year as there were “communication issues”.
“Last year’s SRC council did not have an International Students Affairs Officer,” Tshizainga said. He added that even though they created the portfolio this year, it seemed as though the “SRC did international students a favour by appointing someone.”
Awosusi said that “xenophobia amplified the situation,” which speeded up the drafting process. He said their concerns are usually seen as, “the same old, same old, where nobody sees these guys and nobody hears these guys.”
Their aim is to convey their issues themselves, with the SRC as a bridge between their associations and management.
Gwenyaya said “it does not make sense to have a local student as the SRC’s international student’s officer.”
“You’re looking up to a local student to represent you but she does not have awareness about our realties,” Awosusi said. “She’s trying her best to help us but she doesn’t know anything about us,” Tshizainga added.
The international students and SRC plan to meet with Vilakazi by next week Friday, however Awosusi said they are not “expecting a happy response.”
“We just want to hear the challenges international students face in reality as they are not immune to these ongoing challenges.”
Tanya Otto, who is currently the SRC’s International Students Affairs Officer could not be reached for comment.
- International students’ memo drafted, May 2015.
- Foreign students complain of unfair treatment at Wits, April 2015.
The SRC has drafted an international student’s memorandum which highlights their issues surrounding registration, the application process and up-front tuition payments among several other concerns. The memorandum will be handed to Deputy Vice-Chancellor Vilakazi on May 26.
The SRC has drafted a memorandum highlighting some concerns faced by international students at Wits.
The memorandum is said to detail issues which were raised at a meeting held by the SRC on April, 23 which invited international students to voice their grievances.
Students highlighted the registration fee, application process and 75% up-front tuition fee payment as some of their serious concerns.
Tanya Otto, the SRC’s international affairs officer, said the complaints were raised more strongly as a result of xenophobic attacks last month.
“The anger of international students came across when they said that these issues have been happening forever,” Otto said.
“The violence is an aftermath of what has been happening and institutionalised xenophobia is what’s allowing it to happen.”
The memorandum was compiled by Otto and other international student representatives.
Shaeera Kalla, acting president of the SRC, described the initial meeting as “hostile” and said her concern is to get international lecturers at Wits to help “push the agenda for international students at Wits and their own issues”.
“I am looking at this memorandum as a first step to negotiations around international issues,” Kalla said.
“The SRC aims to create a platform for international students to feel comfortable enough to speak about their issues without feeling it is just going to be dismissed,” Kalla said.
The SRC felt there was a lack of response from international students at the initial meeting and said she saw the current memorandum as a “working document”.
“There needs to be more issues addressed in the memorandum that relate to other stakeholders,” Kalla said. She said these were international lecturers and international non-academic staff at Wits.
The SRC aims to have events throughout the year in which they can promote international cultures in order to “create a safe environment where international students feel like they are heard,” Kalla said.
Kalla added that the extent to which local students are willing to get involved in international students’ issues and assist them also needs to be acknowledged.
Otto said the memorandum was compiled last week Friday and the SRC will present the memorandum to Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Professor Zeblon Vilakazi on May 26.
Otto and Kalla said of the 15 international student associations on campus, only four have responded and provided input for the memorandum.
“We can’t blame it on unresponsiveness and say that that is the reason for not addressing issues,” Kalla said. “What we need to do is create a space to encourage participation where international student societies don’t feel as though they don’t want to be involved.”
Kalla said the SRC is focused on creating an environment which can foster discussion.
She said they aim to eventually extend the memorandum to focus on broader issues regarding international students and academics issues with home affairs and issues faced by all international visitors.
“We want to contact other universities to discuss these issues and do something about it.”
The SRC held a meeting for international students on West campus yesterday. Wits’ international community expressed their grievances about paying seven and a half times more to apply to Wits and highlighted the issues of finding a place to live before the beginning of the academic year due to the registration system. A memorandum will be drawn up and given to the vice chancellor later next week.
International students have accused Wits of treating them unfairly by forcing them to pay most of their fees upfront and charging them an application fee 750% higher than that of South African students.
The students aired their grievances at a meeting held by the SRC which accused Wits of “institutionalised xenophobia”. The meeting, chaired by the SRC’s international students officer, Tanya Otto, encouraged international students to voice their concerns in light of recent xenophobic events.
“Our problems are not monolithic,” said Gwinyai Aubrey, the SRC’s strategic planning officer and himself an international student.
One issue singled out by international students said the application process needed to be reviewed and highlighted fees as a big issue.
International students are required to pay an application fee of R750 and a 75% upfront tuition fee, as opposed to a R100 application fee and 25% upfront tuition fee for local students.
“The university may not deliberately do this, but [it] does exclude some of the best minds in Africa from applying,” said one international student.
International students said the online registration only for South African students was a major problem as many of them study on scholarships from their governments and do not have funding to live off campus before lectures begin.
“It makes no sense to make us come and register in the middle of January when lectures only begin in February,” an international student said.
“Where am I to live for almost a month and who will pay for that?” she added.
Delayed financial aid and a lack of cohesion between local and international students were also highlighted as some of their major concerns.
The SRC has undertaken the task to draft a memorandum which will be given to the vice chancellor, Prof Adam Habib next Thursday.
International students can forget about applying for jobs in South Africa, unless they have an identity document (ID) or work permit. This was the general message at a careers fair, held earlier today at the Old Mutual Sports Hall at Wits.
The Counselling and Careers Developmental Unit’s (CCDU) graduate recruitment programme organised the fair for students from across all faculties but there was little on offer for students from outside South Africa.
International student Tinashe Chuchu, Masters in Marketing, attended the fair to look for potential recruiters and employment opportunities. He said the fair was a good initiative by Wits, however his choices are limited given his degree and nationality.
“There were a wide variety of opportunities for engineering students, social sciences students and commerce students,” he said. However he was turned away by companies who were not looking foreign students. “I left out all the banks, for obvious reasons. They do not take anyone who is not South African,” Chuchu said.
“I think the labour department puts (sic) regulations for companies to fulfil quotas,” he said. In his own experience of looking for jobs, Chuchu found that there were positions advertised for international students, but only for specific and scarce skills sets.
Laws and regulations
Kwame Owusu-Ansah, masters in Chemical Engineering, shared Chuchu’s views. Although there were many opportunities, Owusu-Ansah said some of them were very “shaky”. You can apply for some positions, but then you have to make sure you can get a work permit.
“I have a wide variety of choices because I’m an engineer. But until they find out I’m an international student, it slashes by three quarters.”
He explained that South African labour regulations are more stringent than in previous years. “They often refuse permits for international students, even if they give you an offer,” he said.
Lloyd Uta, an international student completing his Masters in Marketing, found companies that were looking for applicants from South Africa and abroad. Those were big multi-national companies and a few smaller companies looking to increase their human capital, he said.
However, Uta admits, “Choices are limited. I have to keep switching between what I want to do (marketing) and what I can do (IT),” to find job openings.
Amos Kova, a graduate recruitment manager at a bank explained why applicants had to be South African citizens, “We believe that we have an obligation to South Africa”.
Bohlale Paile, also a graduate recruitment manager at a bank said: “We don’t take international students at this point. We did before, but we ran into problems when it came to getting work permits”.
She explained that the Department of Labour required recruiters to motivate why non-South African citizens were chosen over South African citizens.
The motivation process and applications for work permits take time, which holds international graduates back from starting the graduate programme timeously.
Raj Naran, the Career Development Educator and Team Leader Career Services at CCDU said this year, the careers fair was open to everybody. “It does not have a specific focus.”
Companies came from industries where there was a shortage in a skills set, such as “accounting, engineering and commerce” he said.
Naran added that students should earn their jobs, develop themselves and prepare well, “and certainly, academic records play a role”.
Another careers fair is scheduled for September this year.
- Wits Vuvuzela. Postgraduate students still struggling with SA visa regulations. July 30, 2014.
- Wits Vuvuzela. International students stranded in SA. April 25, 2014.
- Wits Vuvuzela. No career fair for humanities. May 17, 2013.