Ex-Sants students in limbo

2014-02-10 00:00

THE squabble between the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education and private higher education institution Sants has left many students in limbo.

The former Sants students are crying foul after the department apparently convinced the students to dump Sants with the incentive that they would definitely be accepted to study at public universities.

But not all of them were absorbed at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), Durban University of Technology (DUT) and University of Zululand (Unizulu). The Witness understands that only a handful of students were accepted.

In 2012, the department issued a circular signed by head of department Dr Nkosinathi Sishi, offering bursaries to unemployed matriculants from Umkhanyakude, Sisonke, Umzinyathi, Uthungulu and Zululand districts to study towards B.Ed. at Sants.

This was done to address “the high rate of unemployment and a shortage of qualified teachers in Foundation Phase and Intermediate Phase”.

Students responded to the call, but now the very same students are anxious about their future studies.

The department was recently dragged to court after failing to pay the fees of about 1 260 underprivileged students who studied at Sants last year. The court attached 708 of the department’s vehicles in lieu of the debt. But the department recently announced that they paid R32 million to Sants, even though Sants claims there is still interest outstanding.

One student from Jozini, Zakhele Nongalo, said the department gave them papers to sign and choose any public university they wished to study at.

They were under the impression that all of them would be accepted for the second year of study because many of them had exemption passes.

Students received SMSes from the department saying: “All student-teachers awarded a KZN Department of Education bursary to study towards a B.Ed. degree, who wish to study at other universities will be inform[ed] as from Monday to register at [the] university of their own choice, Unizulu, DUT and Unisa. Students studying at Unisa will be attached to [a] school. Don’t panic.”

Another SMS said: “All KZN DoE B.Ed. degree bursary holders of 2013 who wish to study at UKZN must go there tomorrow morning [29/01/14] … Student residences are full …”

Nongalo said he resigned from his job to take an opportunity to study teaching.

Nongalo said Sants was not his institution of choice and when the department said they should apply at public institutions, he was happy to do so.

Their Jozini campus was located in a school and only had two classes and a hall. They had no electricity or computers.

Another student from Vryheid, Melusi Qwabe, claims their campus was unsafe. “There are no windows and we drank water from the toilet,” he added.

A group of these stranded students met briefly with the Minister of Higher Education and Training Dr Blade Nzimande, pleading with him to intervene last week.

But Nzimande told them he could not, as it is already being handled provincially.

The students are hoping to have a meeting with the MEC for Education, Peggy Nkonyeni, this week.

Department’s spokesperson, Muzi Mahlambi, said the department is restricted from telling students which institution they should attend. “We’ll continue to pay until they finish their degree and an institution is secondary,” he said. Mahlambi said there was nothing formal promising students space at the public institutions.

Kobie van Zyl from Sants said they are still finalising their number of students this year and still do not know how many of their students left for public institutions. He said due to the difficulty of securing suitable sites, the Student Support Centre in Jozini is located at a public school. “Sants is effectively addressing this situation to ensure that our students receive the best possible facilities in their community,” he said.

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