‘Universities can’t solve financial aid issue alone’

2014-02-13 00:00

THERE is little that a university can do to prevent protests, because most of the strikes are triggered by the lack of financial aid from government, which falls outside the control of universities, institutions claim.

“The challenge lies in developing sustainable strategies that will cater for the increasing number of matriculants that require financial aid to fund a university education,” University of KwaZulu-Natal’s spokesperson Lesiba Seshoka said.

“Over the last few years the applications to UKZN has grown exponentially and exceeds the number of places available in undergraduate degree programmes. In addition, there is an increased demand for financial aid despite the fact that UKZN has awarded substantial financial aid to deserving students who meet the academic requirements of the various degree programmes,” he added.

UKZN said providing students with a supportive and a stimulating teaching and learning environment could be one of the ways to curb the protests.

In 2014, UKZN allocated R260 million from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) to fund approximately 6 500 students.

This is in addition to about R100 million, made up of university and National Research Foundation (NRF) funding, allocated for tuition in the form of loans, bursaries and scholarships this year.

Universities across the country, including Durban University of Technology (DUT) and UKZN, have been in the spotlight as students took to the streets to express their frustration over NSFAS. Many students are crying foul since many of them were not funded for this academic year, while DUT also had a gripe with the NSFAS’s new look that forces them to apply at the head office at the campuses where they are based.

Classes were disrupted on UKZN campuses this week when student protesters with sticks got into lecture halls and forced students to leave.

Seshoka said the university promotes continuous engagement and dialogue with the student leadership and that the central Student Representative Council (SRC) as well as campus- based SRCs are supported to provide a platform through which students’ grievances should be channelled.

Vice-Chancellor and principal of DUT, Professor Ahmed Bawa, said they have noted that the key issues raised during student protests relate to national issues such as the lack of sufficient financial aid and to date, the new NSFAS system.

“These are not issues that can be resolved by the university,” he said, adding he hopes to engage with NSFAS and the Department of Higher Education and Training to ensure that the national issues are removed from the slate of issues that are raised by SRC.

“DUT has been engaging with NSFAS on a daily basis whilst engaging with the Department of Higher Education and Training and the SRC. The university also uses all forms of media and social network sites to address broader audiences,” he added.

DUT said they have not yet assessed the full cost of the student protest.

Student Village CEO Ronen Aires said they see these protests every year.

“Students organise these protests to affect change and some of the issues are warranted and some are not,” Aires said. “It is a difficult situation for a government to be in because they keep on increasing funding but it will never be enough until it’s free.”

NSFAS has a budget of about R9,7 billion this year, but it is still inadequate to cover everyone.

• About 200 students embarked on protest action at the UKZN’s Edgewood campus yesterday morning and attempted to disrupt lectures.

The police and the University Risk Management Services managed the situation to ensure the safety of both staff and students.

Police arrested 13 students. The university said lectures will continue on all campuses.

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