- UCT says it will allow students with debt from 2020 to register for the 2021 academic year.
- The lifting of the fee block however does not "extinguish" any debt.
- The decision came after a meeting of the UCT council on Saturday.
The University of Cape Town (UCT) has approved a proposal by its executive to allow all students with historic debt to register for the 2021 academic year, the university said in a statement on Sunday.
"With immediate effect the student registration fee block in respect of 2020 debt will be lifted for South African students and students from the rest of Africa. The lifting of the fee block for students from Africa is consistent with UCT's Vision 2030, which positions it as a leading university in and for Africa," UCT said in a statement released by Elijah Moholola.
He said the fee block decision applies to both undergraduate and postgraduate students, excluding students from the Graduate School of Business.
"The lifting of the fee block does not extinguish the existing debt."
Moholola said the council also resolved that UCT "will make every effort to support students in the process of servicing their debt", with R30 million made available to support criterion-based debt appeals for both undergraduate and postgraduate students.
The decisions were taken at the council's virtual meeting held on Saturday.
Council chair Babalwa Ngonyama said universities needed to "work collaboratively to find creative and innovative solutions to the funding crisis".
"The UCT council remains committed to supporting all such efforts to ensure that academically eligible and deserving students are not denied the opportunity to study due to lack of funding.
"The funding crisis is a national crisis. No university can solve it on its own – the higher education sector urgently needs intervention from the South African government. We must put the students who are in desperate need of financial aid at the forefront of our thinking and planning, in order to support the future and sustainability of higher education in South Africa."
Ngonyama welcomed a recent call by the Ministry of Higher Education to review the National Student Financial Aid Scheme "in the best interests of students whose higher education funding is totally dependent on an effective, efficient and adequately-funded government financial aid programme".
She added that the UCT executive will engage stakeholders across the higher education sector to take up a sectorial approach to the minister of higher education to work towards a long-term solution to the funding crisis in the sector.
The council noted the "inordinate challenges inflicted on the South African education system by the Covid-19 pandemic".
"UCT is deeply concerned about the crisis in the higher education sector, which has been compounded by the pandemic, as well as overall budget constraints. The university believes that there is a need for national consultation on the impact of these factors on the sector. There is also a need for a national action plan to address both the crisis and the future skills development needs of South Africa," Ngonyama said.
Ngonyama expressed condolences to the family of Mthokozisi Ntumba who was killed during a student fees protests in Braamfontein, Johannesburg, this week.
"The loss of life under such tragic circumstances is deeply regrettable – our thoughts are with the family during this time of personal loss."
Ngonyama added that Council reaffirmed the value of the right to protest – to do so lawfully and peacefully and without fear of reprisal.
"Council also calls on all those concerned, including the South African Police Service, to exercise the necessary restraint…this is a time that calls for sensitivity, care and a humane approach to the funding crisis."