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Students overjoyed at UCT council’s decision to scrap fee block

UCT students were protesting on campus over the fee block. Picture: Sisonke Mlamla/Cape Argus

UCT students were protesting on campus over the fee block. Picture: Sisonke Mlamla/Cape Argus

Published Feb 23, 2022

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Cape Town - UCT students with outstanding debt greeted with jubilation the university’s decision to remove the fee block prohibiting them from registering for the 2022 academic year.

This as the institution’s cummulative student debt stood at R317.8 million.

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Education activists have praised the “brave” Student Representative Council (SRC) which waged a relentless battle to demand that all students be registered.

The UCT council held a special meeting to consider the issue of unpaid fees after several days of student protests. The issue had blocked those in debt from re-registering for the new academic year.

Education activist Hendrick Makaneta applauded the council for taking the decision, saying it would certainly go a long way to ensuring that students were able to create a future for themselves.

“We owe these students a tremendous debt of gratitude. Their struggles did not go unnoticed,” Makaneta said.

Protesting students had blocked entrances at UCT, resulting in the temporary suspension of the shuttle service and some classes, charging that it had failed to live up to promises that all students would be registered by February 14.

UCT council chairperson Babalwa Ngonyama said it noted that student fee debt was a national problem, and that earlier this month Higher Education, Science and Technology Minister Dr Blade Nzimande reported that R16.5 billion was owed by students to public universities in South Africa.

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“At the same time, we provide financial support every year to about 50% of our undergraduate students and about 35% of our postgraduate students. For the 2021 academic year, this financial support amounted to about R1.7bn,” Ngonyama said.

She said for some students the council agreed to suspend the block on students re-registering for the 2021 academic year.

Ngonyama said suspension was for one year and for the 2022 academic year students with fee arrears of more than R10 000 have so far not been permitted to register, subject to appeal.

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“However, we also know there are students with fee debt higher than R10 000 who have the potential to complete their courses of study. The special meeting of council was called to consider the plight of these students,” she said.

SRC acting president Siya Plaatjie said the SRC welcomed “the toilsome victory and the council’s commitment to reviewing and mobilising its resources towards the alleviation and clearing of historical debt”.

Meanwhile Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) has announced that it had raised R26 million to finance student debt and that the funding benefited 246 students who graduated debt-free, or continued to post-graduate studies without the burden of outstanding student fees.

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CPUT vice-chancellor Chris Nhlapo said that accomplishment was only possible because of strong industry and governmental partnerships that had been built over many years.

UWC spokesperson Gasant Abarder said it did not exclude students on the basis of outstanding fees.

“The university is sensitive to the economic climate and profile of students that it serves. UWC has always had a process for allowing students with debt to register,” he said.

Abarder said that process was underpinned by the faculty allowing the student to continue studies in a programme for the new academic year.

“If a student has a new academic programme for the new year and has debt outstanding, they are encouraged to engage with student credit management and conclude an affordable payment plan over an extended period of time and/or a process of income and expenditure assessment for an Acknowledgement of Debt, which is to be signed, to gain financial clearance to register,” he said.

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