A group of ANC Youth League protesters gathered outside the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) offices in Cape Town. Picture: Armand Hough/African News Agency(ANA)
A group of ANC Youth League protesters gathered outside the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) offices in Cape Town. Picture: Armand Hough/African News Agency(ANA)

Western Cape students not joining call to shut down universities

By Sisonke Mlamla Time of article published Mar 16, 2021

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Cape Town - Students at universities in the province have refused to join the call for universities nationwide to shut down after they secured deals over registration and financial exclusion.

UWC spokesperson Gasant Abarder said they had not been affected by the shutdown at all. He said all learning and teaching was being conducted online and that would remain the case for the first semester.

Stellenbosch University spokesperson Martin Viljoen said the shutdown had not affected them. Classes for undergraduate students had started and the registration process had continued.

University of Cape Town spokesperson Elijah Moholola said university activities had continued as scheduled, with no disruptions.

CPUT spokesperson Lauren Kansley said no incidents involving student disruptions were reported.

CPUT student representative council's deputy president Sihle Ngxabi said they had ensured that students who were progressing academically did register, no matter how much they owed the institution upon signing an acknowledgement of debt (AOD) form, and all National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) beneficiaries registered without any struggles.

However, he said NSFAS remained the stumbling block and could never be a replacement of free, decolonised afro-centric education.

"We therefore support the fight against NSFAS and its poor administration that continues to disadvantage our students. We are in solidarity with comrades from Wits and other institutions who are on the street against financial exclusions," he said.

Few students led by the ANCYL marched to the NSFAS offices in Wynberg to meet their bosses.

Former FeesMustFall activist and ANCYL member Lindokuhle Xulu said that the government had made a commitment that no student should be left out, however, he accused NSFAS of not committing to that call.

Xulu said they had visited NSFAS to seek clarity and certainty on whether they agreed that no student should be left out but NSFAS had not created certainty on most issues.

NSFAS chief executive Andile Nongogo said they had listened to the students. He said some of the issues the students wanted to know about were not NSFAS issues, but policy issues that had to do with the government. He said those included the pronouncements made to fund all deserving students, some of which included the period NSFAS took to make funding decisions for students.

"We have agreed with the students that they should send us specific cases that are urgent. We have given ourselves until Friday to address those issues," he said.

Higher Education, Science and Innovation Minister Blade Nzimande said the Department of Higher Education and Training was not in a financial position to be able to support institutions to clear all student debt of fee-paying students.

Nzimande said they were aware that there were many students whose families struggled to keep up with fee payments, and that many families had also been negatively affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

"However, given the difficult fiscal situation, all government departments, including the Department of Higher Education and Training have been subject to budget reductions in 2020 and 2021," said Nzimande.

"I am aware that many institutions are doing what they can to assist students in need, and to allow them to make payment arrangements to be able to register, where this is possible. However, institutions also have to remain financially sustainable in order to continue to operate effectively, and financial decisions are made at the level of university councils."

He said the historic debt of NSFAS-qualifying students was being addressed through a process between NSFAS and institutions.

"NSFAS-qualifying students with historic debt are able to register when they sign an Acknowledgement of Debt (AOD) form, while the process is under way," he said.

Education activist Hendrick Makaneta has appealed to the government to invest in the future by finding ways to deal with historic debt.

“There is a tendency for the government to treat student funding as an additional burden to the fiscus. We need to see funding for students as an investment rather than fruitless expenditure," said Makanetha.

He said the students who wanted to be funded could one day become the scientists and engineers who would make a meaningful contribution to the economy of South Africa.

Cape Argus

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