Wits pedestrian entrances to get facelift

Wits University Campus Planning and Development Unit will begin a Gateways Project intended to upgrade the pedestrian entrances on the main campus. Entrance that will be getting a revamp are the Oppenheimer Life Sciences (OLS) steps, on Jan Smuts Street, and create the Sutton Close entrance on Jorissen Street, between the Richard Ward Building and Solomon Mahlangu House. The construction to refurbish these entrances will commence March 7 and is expect to be completed in the next four months. These entrances will be closed during this period.

The objective is to improve access to the university by creating more welcoming pedestrian entrances for staff, students and visitors.

Re-imagining Wits Properties Programme manager, Yael Horowitz said, “OLS is the most popular and used pedestrian entry point, that is why it was chosen. We had done a movement study the year before for the whole university, how many cars and students enter the institution and gotten all the data from all the entry points. There are over 20 000 card swipes during a day at the OLS steps.”

“We realised that we needed to give a better experience to the students, by treating students with dignity. Wits is based in the city and we need to start being friendly and opening our door to the city in which we are placed. Wits has been very closed and concrete. If you go to the gate, you see a very strong barrier and uninviting entry. So, we relooked at how we make the edge more user friendly,” she added.

Some of the benefits of the upgrade include Wi-Fi connectivity hotspot, charging points, information points and maps, lighting for security purposes, iconic and more visible signage, CCTV surveillance and universal access to accommodate users with mobile and visual impairments.

MAKEOVER LOADING: One of Wits most busiest entrance will be one of the first to get a new look by Block 3 of the academic calendar.     Photo: Nomvelo Chalumbira

Wits Student Representative Council (SRC) spokesperson, Sandla Mtotywa said, “The SRC thinks they are unnecessary because it’s a whole expenditure of money that could be used for other things like accommodation and food security for students. This deal was signed at council by the previous SRC, so it’s useless for us to even try even do a protest of some sort, the deal is signed. However, what we commend is the Disability Rights Unit, which was also involved in the designing the entrances for making ramps for students using wheelchairs.”

Horowitz told Wits Vuvuzela that posters letting students know what is happening had gone up on February 28, inside and outside of the OLS stairs.

Second-year BSc Construction Studies student Won-Hyang Muthimba was not impressed at the timing of the project. “Most of us use that entrance in the morning and to get home. In the mornings, especially in the beginning of the year the line ends at the bottom of the road. Now that they are going to build it for like four-months, they should have done it in the holidays in November, they could have finished in February. Now it’s going to inconvenience a lot of people that stay on this side or the end of Braam to come around Senate House or WAM to enter. It’s gonna (sic) take a lot of time and waking up earlier. For me it’s gonna (sic) be an inconvenience but I guess it will be worth it,” she said.

Another second-year BSc Construction Studies student Thembelihle Nombewu said she is looking forward to the upgrade even though she will be inconvenienced. “I think it’s a good thing. If the end product is gonna (sic) be good then it’s worth it,” she said.

Horowitz encouraged students to use the Station Street entrance, next to the Wits Theatre as an alternative entrance and give themselves an extra 10-15minute walking time to classes.

Delayed study permits hinder international students registration

More than 30 international students are still unable to register for the 2018 academic year at Wits University as they have not yet received study permits.

The Student Representative Council (SRC) deputy president, Tshenolo Leshika, told Wits Vuvuzela that students the approached his organisation, the International Students Office and the Wits Zimbabwe Society for assistance.

Leshika said although the Zimbabwean students were the most affected, students from Swaziland had had similar issues earlier in the semester.

“The issues are being handled in the same way. It might just take slightly longer with the Zimbabwean students because of the volume issue,” Leshika said.

“We are liaising with the office of International Students, and they are communicating with Home Affairs and the embassy to speed up the process. We’re pleased with the cooperation we’re getting from the office of International Students and their willingness to go above and beyond for the student body. We are reaching out to faculties to allow these students to register late,” said Leshika.

Tinashe Dzinoreva, a student unable to register for his first-year of BA Law said he had applied for his permit on January 20. “I thought I’d be at school by now. I went to the Visa Facilitation Services Global (VFS) to ask what was the problem and they said they don’t know. I also found lots of other people in the same situation. We are just waiting, sitting at home and there’s not much we can do.”

VFS administers the visa applications so students don’t go directly to the embassy anymore.

Dzinoreva is hopeful that the SRC’s advice to get in touch with his faculty and plead his case will work. “I sent an email to the Faculty of Humanities on Friday [February 23] to ask for permission to register late but I haven’t gotten feedback yet,” he said.

The Faculty of Humanities told Wits Vuvuzela that the official deadline for late registration for their students was February 12.

Wits University’s Senior Communications Officer, Buhle Zuma said, “By law, the University is not permitted to register international students who do not have a valid study visa. The Wits International Students Office has been in contact with officials at the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) to highlight the challenges faced by applicants. The Office requested intervention from the DHA as they are the custodians of the Immigration Act. The University permitted late registration for students who were experiencing delays; these were also specific faculty requirements. Students should check with their Faculty for the last possible date. It is not in the student’s academic interest to register late as many classes have already commenced with tests and other assessments.”

Zuma told Wits Vuvuzela that this is not an unusual occurrence. “In previous years, there has always been a backlog at the South African Embassy in Zimbabwe; this is mainly due to the high volume of applications submitted. To expedite the process the DHA deploys additional staff in Pretoria to assist. In 2018, the South African High Commission in Swaziland introduced new requirements for study visa applications which were outside of the standard check list,” she said.

International Students Office’s manager, Gita Patel, said, “The returning students should have applied for renewals here in South Africa and always have the correct supporting documents when they apply for new or renewal of visa. The faculties have to agree because you also don’t want to disadvantage the student. It’s already three weeks into the term and some courses may have already covered a lot.”

Tafadzwa Chikanya 20, a student unable to register for her BCom Honours told Wits Vuvuzela that she is also one of many struggling to get her study permit. “I hear that there is a go slow happening with either the South African Embassy and/or the Zimbabwean embassy. I know of people who applied for their visa on the 10/11th of January and already got theirs last week yet I applied for mine on the 9th of January and I am still not sure when I will actually get it.

“The past two weeks I have contacted the SRC and they have tried to help. Previously we had asked for our respective faculties and International Students Office to extend our registration dates. They agreed to extend mostly up until February 28, although some faculties are not allowing this. For my programme I have been given up until March 2, to explain what is going on. My faculty accepted my reasons and they haven’t really expressly allowed me to register late but there has been ongoing communication between us. There is a big Whatsapp group I’m on of 106 participants, where we update each other and some people say that they got offers to get their visas quickly at a hefty charge of $600,” said Chikanya.

Leshika said the SRC had plans to make sure such delays don’t occur in the future. “We intend on reminding international students to apply much earlier for their visas through heavy campaigning, their school councils, faculties, CSO’s and house committees,” said the deputy SRC president.

Graduate tax is a possible solution to education fee crisis

A GRADUATE tax was suggested as a way to help fund free higher education because wealth tax alone won’t solve the education fees crisis, said Judge Dennis Davis, chair of the Davis Tax Committee, at a panel discussion on whether wealth tax would make a difference to the government’s budget.

“There really isn’t money for free higher education [right now]. And there is even less money in the budget than last year because of the economic recession,” said Davis, who chaired the discussion, hosted by the Wits University School of Governance (WSG) on August 21st.

But what is wealth tax? Professor Imraan Valoodia, Wits’ dean of commerce, law and management, who was one of the panellists, explained, “Wealth is defined as all the things that you earn that are outside of your income. It’s the asset base that you have and the things that you own. So with wealth tax, you’re taxed on the holdings of those assets. So the more assets you hold, the more taxes you would pay.”

Wealth tax is not the sole solution to the higher education crises, Valoodia said. “There are good economic grounds for why there should be a graduate tax.”

“In my view, the essence of the fee problem is that you have people who need to pay fees now. If they pay fees and they graduate, then we are almost sure that they are going to earn much higher incomes. You can give someone money to pay fees now and collect the money back when they start earning incomes,” he said.

Professor Pundy Pillay, WSG research director, shared Valoodia’s sentiments that wealth tax should be one of the avenues. “We are not achieving what we need to in education and health to address issues of inequality,” said Pillay.

Personal income tax is the biggest source of tax revenue for the government, according to National Treasury’s 2017 Budget Highlights. “Growing the economy by 5% or hiking tax at 5% from about 1.5-million tax payers, we would have about an extra R50 billion in the kitty to spend and start dealing with the issues of higher education,” said Davis.

Justin Logie, a master’s student in accounting who attended the event, said he didn’t think a wealth tax was the best way to fund higher education. “The best thing is to have some kind of contribution that is then tax deductible,” he said. “So companies make a contribution and then for that contribution they get a tax refund.”

“You don’t want the effective tax rates on companies to go higher because then they just go overseas. And you need to keep companies within the country in order to make sure that they continue to employ people,” said Logie.

Davis concluded that, “all people in South Africa should be responsible for this country and its development. We need a government that delivers on equality to reconstruct our society.”