Stones and paintball splats after campus clash

2014-01-29 00:00

THE street outside the Durban University of Technology (DUT) Ritson Road campus was yesterday littered with stones and paintball splats after security guards and students clashed.

Students, unhappy over the new National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), had gathered at the DUT Steve Biko campus to listen to their SRC president, Ayanda Ngidi, speak.

The university responded to yesterday’s protests by suspending its full academic programme until further notice and informing all students to vacate their rooms by no later than midday on Thursday, as all residences will be closed, both those on and off campus.

At around 11 am yesterday, security guards fired paintballs at the students and chased them outside the gates. Undeterred, the students danced and sang struggle songs, and threw threw stones at the guards.

The cause of the strife is the new way the financial aid scheme is run, but the SRC said it is also irked that thousands of students will not be funded this year. DUT and Emfolozi FET College are using the new system.

Ngidi said they were opposed to online applications because the student body was not represented in the NSFAS national office, which is based in Cape Town.

He said the university has allowed 4 600 students to apply for NSFAS funding out of 9 000 students that applied to study there.

“The rest are told to go home. You can’t pilot a system at an institution where more than 8 000 students rely on NSFAs for funding.”

Professor Ahmed Bawa, DUT vice-chancellor and principal, said: “We are working hard and around the clock to get the university back to normality”.

He said DUT has unblocked 4 600 returning students so they can register and access financial aid despite their student debt being R155 million as of this month. “We want to enable our students to succeed. However, we also need to accept the NSFAS rules and regulations.”

However, Bawa said, there was no solution for Bachelor of Technology students because both the Department of Higher Education and Training and NSFAS have stopped funding students studying towards Bachelor of Technology degrees.

Only 2 600 NSFAS packages are available for first-year, first applicant students at DUT. “I can also confirm that NSFAS received 4 355 first-time, first-year applications from DUT applicants. The need for financial aid is much greater than the funding that is available from NSFAS.”

Bawa said they currently do not have the funds to secure more residences.

A first-year financial accounting student said she was still waiting for NSFAS to approve her funding and while she waits she cannot get accommodation in Durban.

She said the NSFAS website does not allow her to check if her application has been approved. But she is more worried that tests are starting soon while classes are halted.

Sandile Sibiya (21) joined the protesters because he was only informed this year that NSFAS no longer funds Bachelor of Technology students. “It’s not fair because I had just finished my diploma and I wanted to further my studies … My only hope is this strike,” Sibiya said.

NSFAS said they had received an additional R230 million from the Department of Higher Education and Training on Monday to assist students to pay unpaid 2013 university fees. They said NSFAS will now pay funds to universities to settle the outstanding fees of students who applied for NSFAS funding in 2013, but who did not receive it.

“These students continued to study for the whole of 2013 without funding and must now pay off their student debt for last year before they can register for 2014,” NSFAS added.

Their budget is over R9,7 billion for more than 430 000 students at all 25 public universities and 50 public FET colleges.

“Even with this increased budget, we will still be able to help only one out of every two students who apply for funding this year.”

Journalists also had to duck for cover as students and security guards clashed yesterday.

East Coast Radio reporter Khatija Nxedlana found herself flat on the ground and Witness photographer Ian Carbutt was shot in the leg with a paintball at close range.

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