Cape Town – A group of frustrated UWC postgraduate certificate of education (PGCE) students who face funding uncertainties have given the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) and the Department of Higher Education an ultimatum.
Just a week after the South African Union of Students (SAUS) ended a national shutdown over various student grievances, including funding and registration, UWC students marched to the Wynberg NSFAS offices yesterday.
They accuse the financial aid scheme of misleading them that they would be funded for the 2021 academic year, only to be left high and dry.
A memorandum of demands they handed to NSFAS’s Xolani Gobelo insisted that the defund decision for PGCE students be revised, claiming that it was a short notice and gave them until Friday to respond.
Student Shumeez Roberts said there were rumours on March 25 that funding in this course had been cut but she received confirmation that she was not among those students.
“UWC Financial Aid said there will not be funding. However, NSFAS confirmed that I am funded when I made contact but (they) were waiting for some of my registration details from the institution.
“This whole time I was relaxed because I had already registered and started classes in the institution. Last Wednesday, when I was trying to track the progress, a notice was issued that their funds have been cut for this academic year,” said Roberts.
She said students were academically stressed and could not afford to have financial stress as well.
“A formal communication should have been done early so that we can try to find alternatives. We don’t know what is happening or reasons for this cut. We don’t know if UWC will deregister (us).
’’We reject this decision by NSFAS and DHET (Department of Higher Education and Training) to defund PGCE during this time of a pandemic and limited time,” said Roberts.
UWC spokesperson Gasant Abarder said the institution could not comment, saying it was a matter for NSFAS to respond to.
NSFAS’s chief corporate services officer, Sibongile Mncwabe, said the financial aid scheme did not confirm anything to the students.
“Funding of programmes is a policy decision from DHET and HEQSF (Higher Education Qualifications Sub-Framework) and, as such, we advise that any questions relating to the funded and unfunded programmes be directed to DHET.”
Ishmael Mnisi, spokesperson for Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande, said guidelines were uploaded last week that do confirm the defunding following a number of communications.
“This is not a new thing that was introduced last week and uploaded last week. It was communicated even to universities, that approved funded programmes are all undergraduate, whole qualifications, degree and diploma.
’’Postgraduate qualifications, including postgraduate certificates, honours degrees, masters and PhD degrees, are not funded, except in the case of continuing academically eligible students from 2020 completing their qualifications.”
SAUS said it was meeting with Nzimande and other stakeholders to discuss student-related issues including PGCE students as UWC was not the only institution affected.
The organisation said about nine institutions across the country were affected.