‘A recipe for anarchy’

2014-01-23 00:00

STUDENTS at the Durban University of Technology in Pietermaritzburg will have to own a cellphone and have airtime to be able to eat this year, because they will be buying their food by sending SMSes.

They will no longer be able to swipe their meal cards when buying food in the cafeteria. Instead, they have to punch in a code and text an order for their food.

This is just one of the many changes implemented by the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), which caters mainly for poor students at tertiary institutions.

Other changes include first-year students applying for funding directly from the NFSAS head offices in Cape Town from this year, instead of at the institution where they intend studying.

Fourth-year students will no longer be funded by NFSAS.

These changes, which the students have labelled “barbaric, a hindrance and a recipe for anarchy”, are part of a pilot project the NSFAS is running at DUT and five other institutions.

Yesterday, students at the Pietermaritzburg campus demonstrated against the changes and delivered a memorandum to the university management.

Sbongimpilo Dumakude, the Students’ Representative Council president at the Pietermaritzburg campus, said most applications for NSFAS funding are made online, which excludes those without Internet access.

He said the new system of buying food was expensive and tedious, and made assumptions about the resources students had.

“Students will have to use their phone and send a message about what food they are buying, with this new meals system called sBux. This assumes students have cellphones and they have money for airtime.”

Dumakude said they also had difficulty accepting that NFSAS could turn down applications for funding and not give a reason.

“Many first-year students have not been enrolled. We understand that only 120 out of a possible 1 000 places have been filled.

“We understand that this is a pilot system, but they should have done this at an institution with fewer students depending on financial aid to avoid these complications,” he said.

DUT management said the changes were affecting their enrolment and had left them in limbo, as they did not know how many first-year students would be registered this year.

Campus director Martin Mandew said they did not know how many students had applied for financial aid. “We just get a list to say that these are the students that have been approved for financial aid.”

He said this had drastically reduced the number of first-year students coming through and would hamper DUT’s growth.

“This university takes up to 4 000 students. We were hoping to grow it to 8 000 in the next six to eight years, but at the rate this is going, that is unlikely to happen.”

Lauren Vanacore of NSFAS said the organisation had limited funds and some students did not meet the requirements to receive financial assistance.

She said the sBux system was meant to allow students to access their allowances in a safe manner.

“NSFAS will pay student allowances for food, accommodation, books and travel in the form of sBux vouchers accessible on their cellphones. They will be able to spend their sBux vouchers at registered sBux merchants,” she said.

Meanwhile, senior director of corporate affairs at the Durban University of Technology, Alan Khan, said the vice-chancellor has taken a decision — in consultation with the deputy vice-chancellor for academic affairs, the executive deans and the registrar — to suspend all lectures at DUT today and tomorrow.

“The suspension of the academic programme is as a result of a slowdown in the registration process due to technical challenges experienced for most of Tuesday and then on Wednesday morning,” Khan said.

Yesterday, the SRC tabled a memorandum that highlighted a list of demands and DUT admitted that the SRC did raise a legitimate matter concerning the fact that some first-semester students have not registered as yet and with classes having already commenced, some students could be compromised.

Lectures will resume on Monday.

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