Protests loom over bursary funds

2017-01-15 06:01
#FeesMustFall protests at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology last year. (Melinda Stuurman)

#FeesMustFall protests at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology last year. (Melinda Stuurman)

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Cape Town - The SA Union of Students will meet Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande on Tuesday ahead of planned protests at universities across the country.

“We do not want any student left out of funding this year,” said a student leader.

“There are already signs that there will be protests countrywide.”

Avela Mjajubana, president of the union, confirmed the meeting to “deliberate on a variety of issues”, including Nsfas applications, funding models, the enrolment plan for this year and the clearance of historical debt.

“Our commitment is that no academically deserving student will be excluded on the basis of their financial status. We have also declared 2017 a year of free education,” said Mjajubana, adding that a final decision on whether to protest would be taken when students returned to campus next month.

The government announced on Thursday that it had allocated R15.2 billion to needy students battling to enrol at universities and other tertiary institutions this year – an increase from R10bn last year.

A number of universities said contingency plans were in place to clamp down on possible protests during registration.

Msulwa Daca, chief executive officer of Nsfas, said the scheme had yet to count how many students would benefit because some universities were still busy with registration, which was delayed because of last year’s protests.

Nzimande said on Thursday that Nsfas would fund 205 000 students entering universities for the first time or continuing this year, as well as 200 000 students at Technical and Vocational Education and Training colleges.

University of Cape Town (UCT)

UCT spokesperson Elijah Moholola said the institution received R168m from Nsfas for eligible students, adding that “the number of beneficiaries will be known after registration”.

Last year, UCT received R160m, with Nsfas covering fees and accommodation to an amount totalling R71 800 per student.

Moholola said there would be no fee increases for poor and “missing middle” students, whose annual family income totalled less than R600 000. He said the government would provide funds for these students.

“For students whose family income is above R600 000, there will be a tuition fee increase of 8% and a 10% increase in accommodation fees,” he added.

UCT has no space left for prospective students. Orientation and registration are scheduled to take place from February 27 to March 10.

Moholola said the university re-opened this month in the form of a mini semester, which would continue until January 20. Some faculties would use these mini semesters to cover work that could not be covered late last year.

Tshwane University of Technology (TUT)

TUT spokesperson Willa de Ruyter said Nsfas allocated more than R1bn in funding to the university this year and it was expecting additional financial aid from the funding body to be used as bursaries meant for other government-funded programmes.

The number of beneficiaries was yet to be determined, but De Ruyter estimated the figure to be between 25 000 and 28 000.

Registration starts on Monday. 

Results have yet to be finalised because re-examinations ended on Friday.

North-West University (NWU)

NWU spokesperson Louis Jacobs said more than R315m in Nsfas funding was allocated to the university this year.

He added that the financial aid body was selecting qualifying students and the university had not yet received the list. Last year, about 7 000 students benefited from Nsfas funding.

In November, the university council approved an 8% fee hike and “missing-middle” students could apply for gap funding.

All students are required to pay registration and minimum payable fees on registration.

“Only Nsfas-approved students, as well as students funded by other approved sponsors, are exempt from these payments. They will have to provide documentation as proof during registration,” he said.

NWU has space for 8 894 first-year students. The closing date for applications was September 30. Late applications will only be accepted in exceptional cases.

“First years at the Potchefstroom and Mafikeng campuses are reporting for registration and those at the Vaal Triangle Campus next weekend. Registration for first years will commence once they are on campus,” he said.

University of the Free State (UFS)

UFS spokesperson Lacea Loader said the university had received more than R189m in Nsfas funding for this year, adding that the UFS council approved an 8% increase in tuition fees and 8% in residence fees.

The registration centre on Bloemfontein campus dealt with matriculants’ enquiries last week.

Loader said security plans were in place and the university’s protection services were on ­stand-by in case protests broke out.

Stellenbosch University

Spokesperson Martin Viljoen declined to comment on Nsfas allocations, saying it was “confidential” information.

Last year, the university council approved an 8% increase in tuition fees and a 10% increase in accommodation fees, for which missing-middle students could apply for funding.

Viljoen said students were encouraged to use the university’s online registration system, which had been up and running since Thursday. Students could also register in person on January 23 and 24. Classes will begin at the end of the month.

“As with most other South African universities, we are also preparing for various possible scenarios. The safety of students and staff and the protection of campus property are non-negotiable and the institution has various contingency plans in place to ensure that the welcoming and registration processes take place without disruption,” Viljoen said.

University of the Witwatersrand (Wits)

Spokesperson Buhle Zuma said the Wits council had approved an 8% fee increase this year, adding that government had committed to pay the fee increase through a gap funding grant on behalf of missing middle families. Eligible students were advised to start applying from Wednesday last week, using the online form on the university’s Student Self-Service portal.

Zuma said students eligible for funding had to apply directly to Nsfas. She declined to reveal the amount of Nsfas funds which were allocated to Wits this year.

Online registration for returning students began on January 3, while online registration for first years began on Monday.

Walk-in registrations began on Wednesday, with different dates for each faculty.

Walter Sisulu University

Spokesperson Yonela Tukwayo said the university would know how much Nsfas funding it was allocated once registration was complete. “Nsfas has re-opened its application process, so it does not have the final figures. These will be determined by the total number of applicants who are approved after applications close on January 21,” she said.

“At this stage, there are no threats of protests. It is still early days because 10 of the 11 faculties started registration on Monday. Management will meet the student representative council to keep the lines of communication open and attend to any matter arising.”

Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU)

Spokesperson Zandile Mbabela said Nsfas allocations had not yet been finalised. “An integrated team has been set up to deal with all issues ... which may be used as a springboard for protests. Protection services are also monitoring the situation.”

Mbabela said the university had a larger-than-usual number of applications this year – more than 110 000, compared to about 80 000 last year.

NMMU has space for only 6 500 first-year students and has thus far offered places to 6 469.

A number of programmes are already full, but a short window of opportunity will open for late applications between Monday and Thursday. First-year registration starts on January 23.

Central Application Clearing House

Diane Parker, deputy director-general for universities at the department for higher education and training, said there were no available figures for prospective students who had applied through the department’s central application system.

“The system opened on January 3 and we have yet to get reports. Our call centre is still taking calls. We will receive reports weekly,” Parker said.

She said that last year, about 20 000 students applied through the system and 8 000 were accepted at higher education institutions, with 4 000 enrolling at universities.

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Read more on:    nsfas  |  blade nzimande  |  universities  |  bursaries

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