By Akhona Matshoba
This article is exclusive to the Online Edition 8 of VARSITY.
With exam season approaching, somewhere in between now and then, the expectation will be upon students to get their ducks in a row. From ensuring positive DP status to navigating that deferred exam ACA44 application form, a helping hand in making your way through these stresses would always be appreciated and welcomed with open arms. VARSITY contacted faculty student council representatives to find out how they can help us. The student council is a faculty-specific body of student representatives whose concentrated purpose is to embody the students’ voice.
The Academic Chair of the Humanities Student Council, Aleya Ramparsad Banwari, tells VARSITY, “I think faculty councils perform a really important function of student governance,” she says. “Our main function is to assist students when it comes to their academics, to inform them, and guide them through whatever the process may be.”
As the intermediary between students and management, the student council needs to be able to not only voice the needs of students, but also ensure that those needs are met. A point reiterated by the Chairperson of the Engineering and Built Environment (EBE) Student Council, Ntokozo Mahlangu.
Ntokozo believes that, “The role of Student Councils is to serve as the representative structure that is aimed at championing the concerns raised by students”. He goes on to state that, although the council ought to provide academic support to students, it cannot isolate the impact of social realities that students face from their overall academic performance. That is why the EBE council invests in events that promote social awareness among students, tackling issues such as mental health, gender inequality, and the decolonisation project.
So, what have our faculty student council representatives actually done this year?
Aleya explains that the HSC is currently in conversation with management in connection with implementing a more frequent Jammie Shuttle schedule for the fast approaching exam season. Although she notes no significant progress has been made, the HSC will continue to communicate issues that matter to the students with management.
The Health Science Student Council’s (HSSC) Public Relations and Marketing Officer, Regan Boden, notes that although the council is chronically underfunded, the HSSC still manages to induce real policy change in the university with its appointment of various committees. These include the Clinical Teaching Platform Committee, Faculty Undergraduate Education Committee, and the MBChB Programme Committee. The HSSC is also currently launching a university wide research programme through the mental health task team which will investigate curriculums as a source of psychological upheaval in students. The Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS) recently started a food pantry programme for FHS students, saying “We recently received our first donation from the Tygerberg Pantry Project which will be distributed to FHS students.”
Ntokozo speaks of the faculty’s student distress fund which is meant to assist students with outstanding debt and those who cannot afford basic needs. The council collaborates with Career Services in order to seek donors for the fund, saying, “Even though the money is not that much, it does make a difference to students”. The EBESC was also successful in amending a 30-year-old faculty policy that didn’t allow students to write supplementary examinations explaining that now “EBE Students will have supplementary examinations starting from the 1st of January 2019.”
When should you approach your faculty student council for help?
Students should approach their faculty councils in any moments when they need help. Whether they need access to mental health services, need their advertisements to be displayed, or are being victimised by staff members. It’s important for students to come to the faculty councils often and with anything, even if it doesn’t seem serious as there are often little ways in which the councils can benefit students’ positions, says Regan.
Faculty councils are the first ports of call for students, says Aleya. She goes on to say that there are “several different portfolios on our team such as Academic Chairs, Transformation Representatives, and Health and Safety Officers which enable us to holistically assist students – not simply as a people who study at a university, but as people who have material, social, and psychological needs as well.”
Mahlangu ends off by saying, “any situation where a student feels unfairly treated should be brought to the student council and it shall be dealt with accordingly. We are representatives of students and we shall speak on what students want us to speak on.”