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Pretoria - With the 2014 academic year barely a few weeks old, tumult has descended upon the South African universities over student fees, and already one institution has shut its doors.
Lectures were suspended until further notice at the Durban University of Technology on Monday after protesting students pulled others out of lecture rooms.
The suspension applied to lectures in Durban and at the Midlands Centre in Pietermaritzburg, vice-chancellor Ahmed Bawa said.
Students were urged to continue with the registration process.
Universities were hit by protests on Monday as students expressed dissatisfaction over a shortage of funds from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS).
NSFAS executive officer Msulwa Daca said this year they would help more than 430 000 students at all 25 public universities and 50 public FET colleges. “Even with a budget of over R9 billion this year, we will still be able to help only one out of every two students who apply for funding,” he said.
About 100 students were protesting outside the University of Johannesburg’s (UJ) Kingsway campus over the shortfalls of the scheme.
Professor Tinyiko Maluleke, deputy vice-chancellor: internationalisation, student affairs and institutional advancement, said universities administered funds according to NSFAS guidelines on behalf of NSFAS. “Unfortunately, it goes without saying that universities can only allocate funds which they received from NSFAS,” he said.
“In this case, UJ did not receive sufficient funds to assist all students who qualify for NSFAS funding. We understand the students’ concern.”
He said in order to be able to accommodate the 7 800 qualifying students on the NSFAS loan at UJ, the university had to add R30 million from its own coffers. “Unfortunately, for 2 170 qualifying students (who would need R113m) NSFAS has not provided funding. The university is in discussion with the NSFAS office and the Department of Higher Education (and Training),” he said.
On Monday, students burnt tyres, branches and papers at the campus’s entrance and disrupted classes, saying no teaching would take place until the department responded to their grievance.
Mangosuthu University of Technology, in Durban, was also hit by protests that led to disruptions of lectures. Protesting students demanded to be re-registered despite unpaid student fees. “This year, the university has received a grant from NSFAS (that is) only 6 percent more (than) last year’s grant.
“This is a challenge because even last year NSFAS could only fund 20 percent of first-year students. This is beyond the control of the university because NSFAS is an external and autonomous body in its own right,” MUT spokeswoman Mbali Mkhize said.
NSFAS had not paid last year’s fees for some students, she said.
Lesego Modibane is one of these students. He has qualified for funding and was accepted into a human resource management qualification but had not relieved the funding. He said he had nowhere to turn if he was not given the funding. “I am relying on NSFAS, I have no choice,” he said.
Lectures were stopped on Monday, but Mkhize said security had been beefed up and she expected lectures to resume on Tuesday.
At Durban University of Technology there were similar scenes, as protesting students pulled others out of lecture rooms.
Students’ representative council president Ayanda Ngidi said a meeting with the university’s executive on Monday revealed that the management had failed to act on any of its demands.
Students presented their grievances to vice-chancellor Bawa last Wednesday. “They didn’t even attend to one issue,” Ngidi said, adding that the students had embarked on a full-blown strike.
DUT spokesman Alan Khan said lectures were cancelled shortly before midday in an attempt to ensure the safety of staff and students who were not participating in the protest.
He said the police were called, but because of the size of the three campuses – Steve Biko, Ritson and ML Sultan – it was impossible to ensure the safety of those who were not protesting.
The SRC’s main demand was that students whose fees had not been paid by NSFAS should be allowed to reregister despite the non-payment.
“We have no jurisdiction over what NSFAS disburses. The majority of students are not part of the protests,” Khan said.
He rejected Ngidi’s assertion that DUT had not tackled any of the students’ demands.
He said the book allowance had been increased from R1 000 a student to R1 500.
“It wasn’t pleasant being on campus today,” said Khan.
He said the management was due to meet later on Monday to decide what action to take and when lectures would resume.
On Sunday, the SA Students’ Congress (Sasco) called for mass student protests over the shortages.
“No registration at the universities until all students are given equal opportunities,” Sasco president Ntuthuko Makhombothi told reporters in Joburg.
Makhombothi said the lack of funds prohibited poor prospective students from gaining access to higher learning.
He said the NSFAS continued to cater for few students and exclude the majority of those who were poor, even if they met the requirement of being academically deserving and financially needy.
He called on South African students to rally behind their action.
“Everything we have achieved in this country was through united actions. This is not a time to lock ourselves in boardrooms and have permanent meetings that do not resolve the plight of our students.”
He said it was shocking and extremely disturbing that the institutions that were confronted with the problems were the previously black institutions where children of the workers and the poor studied.
“It is therefore an attack on the poor and it ought to be responded to with serious mass action. In the principle of unity... Sasco is engaged in preparations for a... strike in the entire tertiary landscape,” he said.