‘Free’ university in battle with students over payments

More than 200 CIDA City Campus students have been told to leave without writing their exams or finishing their studies.

A student at the campus in Johannesburg, who did not want to be named, said he was told to raise R15 000 in less than 3 days or leave campus. He said the amount was impossible to raise under his circumstances.

CIDA is one of the first virtually free tertiary institutions in South Africa. Fees are funded through donations and sponsorships.

The student said he was supposed to start his exams last Friday, but was unable to write because of a rescue order granted in December to save CIDA from liquidation.

More than 200 students have gone back home without completing their studies.

A business rescue plan was put together in December last year to get the campus to pay its creditors and to ensure it continues. The reason given for the implementation of the rescue plan was that CIDA, with assets of R60 million, owes creditors R20 million. According to the Financial Mail, its creditors include the SA Revenue Service, Rand Aid and the City of Johannesburg.

Rob Devereux, a business rescue practitioner, of Sturns, who implemented the rescue plan on behalf of CIDA, said: “The students were informed in February about the rescue plan, but refused to be addressed. Creditors were told about the plan. Even the department of higher education is aware of it.

CIDA spokesman Stuart Round said: “Students who failed to obtain a 75% average in their studies, as well as students who took longer than the required three years to finish their studies, were told to raise the needed funds in order to write their exams or vacate the premises.”

Deveraux said: “At least 110 students graduated at the end of 2012 and have been asked to vacate the premises, another 236 students do not qualify for the scholarship and thus cannot be accommodated by the campus.”

But the students say the goalposts have been shifted to chase away students who are doing well, while other students who do not qualify, according to the same rules, have been left to write their exams.

SRC communications officer Grant Olifant said: “The University had agreed to give students until June 30 to improve their performance. This would have been sufficient for the students to write their first semester examinations. But the university backtracked on the initial arrangement and forced students out of the campus on May 16 2013.”

Olifant went on to say that “donors and funders have pulled out as a result of the mismanagement of funds”.

In a letter of demand, dated April 9 2013, students asked that the rescue plan be revised and its processes halted until outstanding issues were resolved. They also want 40 students to be re-registered and be treated as per the academic board meeting’s resolutions.

Mining company Xstrata is among the donors that pulled out from their partnership with the campus.

Xstrata spokesperson Christopher Tsatsawane promised to escalate the matter and respond to requests for comment, but had not done so by the time of publication.

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