University of South Africa  (Unisa) students at Durban's main campus on the 27 January 2020 have embarked on a national shutdown of the institution. Picture: Motshwari Mofokeng/African News Agency (ANA)
University of South Africa (Unisa) students at Durban's main campus on the 27 January 2020 have embarked on a national shutdown of the institution. Picture: Motshwari Mofokeng/African News Agency (ANA)

Varsity students across SA vow shutdown as demands fall on deaf ears

By Sisonke Mlamla Time of article published Jan 28, 2020

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Cape Town - With the academic year not yet properly under way, students across the country are vowing to shutdown universities if their demand for historic debt to be scrapped is not met.

They are also demanding that those in debt be allowed to register. They want their academic records and certificates despite them owing universities.

South African Union of Students (Saus) spokesperson Thabo Shingange said students were also demanding that post-graduate and BTech students be allowed to register and receive funding, and that National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) applications be reopened for new students and walk-ins.

Last week, Saus delivered a memorandum of demands to Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande and gave him seven days to respond.

The union met on Saturday and decided that it would shutdown universities “because that is the only language he understands”, and accused him of not taking them seriously.

Shingange said the union had then called for a national shutdown of all universities from Monday after numerous attempts “engaging and trying to bring sobriety to the department in light of the difficult and demoralising realities of student issues on the ground”.

Following Nzimande’s briefing on Thursday, Shingange said they had hoped Nzimande “would take poor students, students from working class backgrounds and the South African nation into confidence by bringing practical solutions that would meaningfully contribute towards enabling access and success for thousands of students who have since been left destitute”.

“Instead student issues have been met with the arrogance and complete disregard by the minister and his department, which has now led us down this particular path,” he said.

Shingange said the response provided by Nzimande was process-driven and not satisfactory.

“Conversely, we are calling for a solution-driven response to ensure that poor students are not denied access to institutions of higher learning.”

Some of their demands included: “Fees must fall in all universities that increased fees without consultation with the student representative council (SRC).”

SRC members at Western Cape universities summoned mass meetings yesterday to discuss the situation with students.

DA Students’ Organisation (Daso) provincial chairperson Leighton September said the organisation was well aware of the issues.

September said: “We do not feel that shutting down of campuses is the best option. We believe that the best solution can be found by student representatives and management sitting down and negotiating for the best possible solution for the students.”

UCT’s new SRC president Akha Tutu acknowledged that some issues may be specific to certain institutions but “we are aware of many issues including, but not limited to shortage of accommodation, funding and historic debt”.

Tutu said they were trying all they could to help students and met them on Monday to note their demands.

Nzimande said that while NSFAS-qualifying students who carried debt from last year would be allowed to register, he was also aware of significant student debt from those who were not NSFAS beneficiaries.

“Unfortunately, public funds for the university system are constrained and there is no possibility that debts of students who are not NSFAS qualifying can be eradicated by government. A longer-term solution lies in improved funding opportunities for ‘missing-middle’ students and working with the private sector,” he said.

Nzimande said he hoped in future there would be a development of a more comprehensive student financial aid scheme. He clarified the importance of SRC and universities raising funds to support students who were not NSFAS beneficiaries, and has urged the private sector and other donors to continue providing bursaries.

Nzimande said the National Research Foundation was in the process of screening honours applications. Funding outcomes would be available by January 31.

@SISONKE_MD

[email protected]

Cape Argus

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